Delta Raises Stake In Agro Jobs Creation
• Farmer Cooperatives Receive Tractors, Entrepreneurship Training
Weaning Delta State of its over dependence on crude oil by massively investing in agriculture is a task for the present government that must be done if the slogan of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ is to be realised.
Regaining the paradise lost through a prioritisation of agriculture was a promise made in the heat of the electioneering campaign by Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa. The Governor made clear that he was not only going to attempt to put food on the table of people, but also create thousands of jobs for the teeming youths by investing in agriculture.
That promise was obviously at the back of his mind, when he approved a bilateral agreement between the Delta State Government and 20 farmers-based cooperative societies in the state for the ownership and management of 45 tractors and their component implements a few weeks ago in Asaba.
Going by the terms of the pact, each of the cooperative society is mandated to pay 40 per cent of the total cost of a tractor and its implements, which amounted to N6.2 million.
As for payment, the agreement which is aimed at allowing farmers to take their destinies in their own hands, is spread across four years with each of the benefiting cooperative being required to pay 10 per cent of the amount from the onset as a mark of commitment.
Chief Job Creation Officer of the state, Prof. Eric Eboh, who signed on behalf of government, explained that the cooperatives were painstakingly selected from a pool of 962 that initially applied for the tractors.
Eboh explained that the selection process was very transparent, adding that the selected cooperatives that made the final list were foundcapable, credible and met the terms of agreement.
To those cooperatives that did not meet the basic requirements, he advised that it was a wake up call to get better organised.
Comrade Jurist Umeri, who spoke on behalf of the selected cooperatives, said that he was satisfied with the terms of agreement as the initiative will spur youths into agricultural activities.
It was a promise kept on October 7 in Asaba, when Okowa distributed 25 tractors and implements to farmers and about N30million to cooperative societies as part of the inauguration of the Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP) under the job and wealth creation scheme of his administration.
At the ceremony, he lamented the pathetic state of small-scale farmers, who do not have access to finance; a situation, which he said has made farmers unable to invest in basic farm inputs such as implements, seedlings and fertilizers.
Okowa challenged financial institutions to make the diversification of Nigerian economy a reality by introducing robust credit policies on agriculture.
While noting that due to the challenges of financing, farm yields have remained abysmally low, leading to widespread poverty and stunted economic growth, he advised that financial institutions must rise up to the challenge of agricultural financing if the country is serious about economic diversification and self-reliance.
The governor observed that the state has not tapped the abundant natural resources, very favorable climatic condition, vast arable land and fertile soil in agribusiness for economic growth, employment creation, import substitution and sustainable development.
According to Okowa, the PPSP initiative was conceived to help overcome the problems of resource scarcity, poor technology and infrastructure deficit. He added that his administration is determined to ensure that the state is not only able to feed herself but feed the nation as well.
The governor charged the first set of beneficiaries of the PPSP to apply themselves diligently to their business noting that the fortunes of many other people and small-scale businesses are inextricably tied to their success in their business.
PPSP, the Chief Job Creation Officer emphasised is not a fluke as it is designed to facilitate the flow of inputs, equipment, technologies and technical assistance to farmers, agro-processors and agricultural value chain operators. The aim is to increase outputs, productivity and incomes, thereby creating jobs and wealth towards prosperity for
Eboh said that the initiative included a total of 1, 000 producers and 1, 600 agro-processors (individuals and groups) from now through the end of the year.
He said: “In our selection process, we have been inclusive, objective, fair, equitable and thorough. The process started many months ago with the initiation of the data base of farmers in the state. Within the data base, we screened to shortlist farmers using benchmarks regarding the nature and size of farm enterprise. Furthermore, we conducted
field verification visits to a sample of farms and did interview checks, and both exercises have helped to eliminate wrongful inclusion of non-farmers in our final selection.”
He noted that a major thrust of the production support and principal element of the ongoing agricultural reforms for job creation is the new private sector tractorisation policy.
According to Eboh, the policy aims to promote private sector ownership and management of tractor services, adding that the first stage of PPSP covers six commodities: cassava, plantain, vegetables, poultry, fishery and piggery.
AT the flag off of a training programme for 1, 645 youths at the Songhai-Delta Farm Amukpe, Sapele local council on August 26, he said that his administration’s interest in Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) was due to the deep conviction that it is the best way to tackle youth unemployment.
Eboh said that more than 90 per cent of businesses in Nigeria employ less than 100 persons, which qualified them into the category of micro, small and medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) category, a sector that can get most of Nigerian youths off the street.
He said: “By definition, MSMEs are companies that employ less than 250 persons and available statistics indicate that 97 per cent of all businesses in Nigeria employ less than 100 persons and they account for about 50 per cent of Nigeria’s productive workforce and 46.54 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” adding, “while multi-national companies and big corporations get all the public attention and acclaim for their capacity to induce foreign investment capital, MSMEs remain the backbone of economic growth and social development in any society.”
To him, the event was undeniable proof that his administration’s SMART agenda is well and truly on course as it goes without saying that job and wealth creation are the bedrock of the agenda, with YAGEP and STEP as the flagship programmes.
While SMART stands for Strategic Wealth Creation and Provisions of Jobs, Meaningful Peace Building Platforms, YAGEP and STEP mean Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme and Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme respectively.
He defended the programmes, saying that they have been strategically designed, stringently planned and specifically tailored to tackle the problem of youth unemployment and produce lasting and sustainable prosperity across board.
The governor declared: “While previous programmaes sought to prepare people for employment, the Job and Wealth Creation Scheme seeks to produce wealth and job creators; critical differences exist in the selection and screening process, training approach, management system and collaboration with the organized private sector.
This scheme is not your typical empowerment programme that is often cash based; it is a wealth and job creation scheme, it is not about skill acquisition; it is about building a knowledge economy and the overarching goal is to equip participants with the technical know-how, vocational/technical skills, values and resources to become self-employed and employers of labour.”
The Governor said, the scheme which was being executed in phases had enabled the government to develop a database of the unemployed in the State, assuring that in six month’s time when the next phase begins, all that the government will simply do, is to pull out the next set of participants from the database as there are opportunities for as many as are qualified to be enlisted in subsequent phases of the scheme.
The training module for the one-week Orientation Programme included courses in personal effectiveness, leadership and problem solving to give participants the requisite life skills and mindset change essential for them to become successful entrepreneurs.
The Chief Job Creation Officer said that after the Orientation Programme participants will further undergo apprenticeship training in selected training centres after which they will proceed for internship in existing businesses in their chosen field. The training will then be rounded up with an intensive course on entrepreneurship and business management at Songhai-Delta after which graduates will be given starter packs to start their businesses.
In order to avoid cases of participants dropping out along the way Eboh disclosed that a monitoring and mentoring mechanism has been incorporated into the scheme to track performance of participants and provide them counseling when necessary.
After decades of neglect, initiatives like these may just turn out to be the panacea to the declining fortune of agriculture and high youth unemployment in the country, if well handled.