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Breaking the cycle of dependence

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Rauf-AregbesolaWe should also cut the importation of food to less than 25 per cent of the current volume. This is to enable us develop agriculture. It has been the policy of our administration since day one to promote food production in order to be able to feed our people. It is really shameful that in spite of our endowments in natural resources, we are still dependent on imported food items as a nation.

We should return to farming, not just at the subsistent level, but as big business. We should strive to increase agriculture productivity and yield. While Nigeria is the leading producer of cassava for instance, the traditional yield per hectare has been around 10 tonnes while global average in 2010 put at 12.5 tonnes. However, India’s average yield in 2010 was 34.8 tonnes per hectares and Thailand’s yield is reported to be a whopping 120 tonnes per hectare. 

If we can double our food output from cultivating the same land size as we currently do, it is possible to eliminate hunger from the country. But this will require innovation in crop science, agriculture mechanisation, extension services, improved inputs and agriculture entrepreneurship.The  agriculture knowledge base has to be widened and scientific findings have to be brought to (and applied by) the farmers.

There must also be a transition from producer of primary goods to value adding. Adding values create a value chain that increases the momentum of development. For instance, the value of one kilogramme of cocoa beans that we export is multiplied 5,000 times by the time we import it as chocolate. If we can make the same quality of chocolate, we could have earned 5,000 times the value we derive from cocoa beans in a value chain that includes revenue generation, wealth creation, job creation and spiralling effect of developing ancillary industries around this product.

The primary engine of development is education. This is where innovation is most needed. A functional system of education that develops and put to use the creativity of Nigerians is urgently needed. 

I conceive of education as the preparation and development of worthy citizens for the immediate society and the world at large. Education is that infrastructure of the mind that develops our youths to become models of good character, innovation and competence. This is what we call Omoluabi in Yoruba. 

Omoluabl is the epitome of virtue. An Omoluabi persona is honest, courageous and rational; one who excels in character, innovation and competence. The educated person is well connected to his or her culture and heritage. Everything he/she does with others, the society, family and friends is driven by the desire to live and demonstrate good deeds. It is only when we interrogate this definition that we can know if we are meeting the objectives of education.

Education has not been an engine of development, rather, it is a system of social stratification where bland certificates are issued in order to separate the political and economic elites from the others. This is one of the factors responsible for poor productivity. Those who have certificates without the requisite skills cannot drive enterprise or provide leadership. They only see their certification as entitlement to privileges. 

It is always embarrassing to hear employers say our graduates are not employable. The bright ones among them have to be trained and retrained to be found suitable for the jobs on hand.

Education, therefore. has received the greatest attention and resources from our administration. One of our first tasks was to convene an education summit, headed by the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka. That summit produced the blueprint of our education reforms. In a state of roughly four million people, we embarked on an ambitious programme of building from scratch 100 elementary schools, 50 middle schools and 20 high schools. Each of these schools has capacity for 600 pupils, with the high school being a three in one, each designed and equipped to sustain 1000 pupils. These new public schools soon began to displace private schools.

We provided a stand-alone e-learning tablet, which we named ‘Opon Imo’ (tablet of knowledge), for final year students in public schools, in share display of creativity. This tablet contains all the recommended 56 textbooks by the three examination bodies for senior school certificate examinations in Nigeria. It contains also past questions of these bodies, a virtual classroom, extracurricular zone and the themes of Yoruba traditional religion. This tablet was the saving grace in a year when teachers went on strike for eight months and did not prepare the final year students for their examinations.

We also pioneered in a sense, the home grown school feeding programme (OMEALS), in which sumptuous meals are provided for 252,000 elementary school pupils on every school day. We say ‘in a sense’ because the programme had existed in an attenuated form prior to our coming, but our administration gave it a new identity and prominence. Excerpts from Governor Aregbesola’s speech at the public presentation of The Point in Lagos

Because of its success in Osun, it has now been nationally adopted by the Federal Government. Very recently, our state organised a national induction for other states understudying the programme, preparatory to implementing it in their own states. I have also been invited twice to the British Parliament to share our experience with the world.

The interesting aspect of this programme, as it relates with innovation, is that it is integrated with our agriculture policy and local empowerment. Under it, 3000 community-based caterers were employed, trained and assisted financially to set up their business. 

Also, to be able to feed these pupils, 15,000 whole chickens, 254,000 eggs, 35 heads of cattle and 40 tonnes of catfish are purchased weekly from farmers and food vendors. This has kept the farmers in profitable business and even attracted other youths to farming.

In keeping with the original objective of making the programme home grown, the O’MEALS has an input supply chain that is linked to our various agricultural development projects. Consequently, our Osun Fisheries Out-growers Production Scheme (OFOPS) provide the catfish used for the school feeding programme while Osun Broilers Out-growers Programme (OBOPS) provide part of the chickens.

We also need a national policy on entrepreneurship development. The most successful and leading enterprises in the country are owned largely by foreigners, with our people being minority shareholders. A system where it is easier to prosper and succeed in business through buying and selling is inherently anti-development. Entrepreneurship training should be part of education at all levels.

In all, we should change the direction of our economy from dependency to self-sufficiency. It will take sacrifice, hard work, determination and unrelenting pursuit. If we fail to do this, we should be preparing for another recession when next there is a fall in oil price.

Once again, I thank Right Dev Limited for the invitation to be here and I wish your new born baby a successful entrance into the media world.
I thank you all for your kind attention.Excerpts from Governor Aregbesola’s speech at the public presentation of The Point in Lagos


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Rauf Aregbesola

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