Abdul Oroh is the Edo State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources. In this interview with FEMI ADEKOYA, he sheds more light on efforts by the state government to exploit opportunities in the agricultural sector, especially in a bid to drive the nation’s diversification agenda, while attracting new investments to the state. With major investors like Dufil Prima, makers of Indomie Noodles making in-roads in to the oil palm sector, and Dangote, into the rice industry, he unveiled the advantages of such investments in the face of unstable global oil prices.
How has the agricultural ministry fared especially in respect to its contribution to its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)?
The key thing is that it cannot be measured in tangible terms because you cannot say out of the N1.5 billion we get every year as revenue, and of course you get money from other revenues but the key thing is that it puts food on the table of about 60 per cent of our population. Our population in the state is dependent on agriculture to pay their bills, pay for their children’s school fees and run their families. We were all trained based on proceeds from agriculture, my father was a produce buyer and also a farmer, so predominantly, and we have an agrarian population.
So, it is difficult to say how much it has contributed directly to our GDP, but I know it cannot be less than 70 per cent. I remember that there was a time in Edo State, where a particular market in Edo sold about 600 tonnes of garri and it was shipped to the North in two months and you know what a tonne is, we are the largest producer of cassava in the South-South zone. In terms of oil palm, I think we are number two and most of the fruits consumed in the North and even in Lagos are from Edo State since there have been problems in the North. We are heavily involved in agriculture. We are also into cocoa and cashew too. We do about 51,000 metric tonnes annually and we are trying to upscale all these in various areas where we have comparative advantages.
So we are happy with where we are in terms of the productivity we are seeing. Right now, there is a cassava glut in Edo State because people are not harvesting as demand is poor. All those gimmick from the federal government about processing and developing the value chain has not materialised. I have a farm about 150 hectares and I planted cassava in all of it but cannot harvest because there is no market for it and many farmers are suffering from this too. During the Obasanjo regime, this happened too where the farmers were told to grow cassava which they did but could not find the market. The scenario is playing out again under this administration.
Talking about investors, I have a long list and if you want me to mention them I will. We have a request from Dulfil United foods industries for 60,000 hectares of land to oil palm and other products, we have the land reserved and we are on the verge of surveying the land and also to do crop and demographic enumeration. What we are doing now is community relations because our policy is based on the principle free trial and informed consent of the communities. We want to achieve this policy through the discussions with them because we want them to be part owners of the process and we do not want a repeat of what happened in the Niger Delta where communities fight with the investors, but I am sure from what your people have seen here and for almost two years that we have been having this discussion, they have found our people to be very hospitable. No major investor here can come out to say they have issues with the community they are operating in.
We also have some companies that have already started operations here. The Edo State Governor has said we should give them more lands if they are doing well. We are also giving them more lands to expand their operations. We have also leased the rubber estate to the rubber estate of Nigeria formerly known as Michelin and also giving them an additional 4000 hectares to expand their plantation. Edo State is a nodal state connecting all the communities and economic centres easily. You can reach everywhere with perfect good routes from Edo State and we feel we can establish the biggest fresh food market in Africa. We also have a lot of gas here and the two biggest Independent Power Projects (IPP) are here. We also want to be part of the energy hub because the major transmission lines and gas pipelines are here. We also have a rubber research institute, as well as a branch of the cocoa research institute and the Nigerian institutes for oil palm research all here in Benin. We hope to maximize all these opportunities.