At this time recession and food crisis appear imminent coupled with the plummeting oil price, the return to agriculture has become inevitable. Based on recommendations of agriculturists, agribusiness experts and other stakeholders, the surest way to achieve this is to rejuvenate the farm estate schemes, which are considered as the right avenue to rediscover the country’s dying agricultural potential.
In the 1960s, farm estates were introduced across the regions in line with their agricultural policies for the survival and sustenance of the economy.
The estates were occupied by farmers who engaged in the production of various cash, edible crops and livestock for revenue and food for the teeming population of the zones and beyond.
The establishment of the settlements reportedly brought development to the regions, as revenues generated from there were used to build institutions that have continued to sustain the economy of the country.
But the story has changed. The farm estates are no more. Findings showed that in states where they still exist, land grabbers, encroachers among other unauthorised intruders, have taken over the estates, thus hindering agricultural initiatives for which they were set up.
During an assessment of the farm estates, The Guardian observed that the majority of them have been encroached, redundant and under-utilised, while the farm settlers have been disengaged, turning their contributions to the food security to a mere dream. The common question begging for answer is:
How did the farms get to this level?
TO stimulate the economy of the old eastern region, which currently comprises Southeast and South-south geo-political zones, the late Michael Okpara administration of the 1960s introduced farm settlements across states that made the zone.
Investigations revealed that based on the agricultural policies of the administration, such farm estates as Ada Palm in Imo State; Umudike cassava, yam and palm produce in Abia State; the Obudu ranch for rearing of local cattle (Muturu cows) in Cross River State; Cashew Settlements in Oghe in Enugu and Okigwe in Abia, as well as Ada Rice in Enugu, among others, were established.
The schemes brought so much fame to the zone, as revenue generated from them were used to build institutions that have continued to sustain the economy of the country. Such institutions as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN); Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; Golden Guinea Brewery in Umuahia; moribund Nigercem, Abakaliki; and AVOP, among others were said to have been set up with proceeds from agriculture.
Currently, the farm settlements have disappeared long a go. Many factors are responsible for this, including land grabbers, encroachers and unauthorised users, who took over the estates, thus hampering the original plan of being farm settlements.
Sources said policy summersaults as a result of lack of continuity in government, shift from agriculture to petroleum oil as mainstay of the economy, neglect by successive governments, and dearth of modern farm implements, among others, have also compounded the situation of the farms.
While in some cases, some of the settlements have been abandoned and their facilities rotten; others have been turned into other uses by settlers.
In Enugu, the Oghe Cashew Settlement upon which the Oghe Cashew Industry was established has since gone moribund. Every budget year, succeeding administrations in the state had spoken of the need to revive the industry to enable it harness the massive cashew produced yearly in the state and care for the farms spread in Eziagu, Umulokpa and Udi among others, but all were to no avail.
It was the same scenario with the Ada Rice in Umulokpa, Enugu State, which is now in comatose. The massive land, which grows local rice has been dogged with lack of access road, lack of farm machines among others, which have been aided by the activities of kidnappers.
The administration of Sullivan Chime had brought in agricultural experts, Shongai Farmers from Zimbabwe to revive the massive farm. The company had indeed taken off with the renovation of dilapidated structures and set up training for willing youths of the state.
The state government also ensured that the willing youths were taken to Zimbabwe farms, to understudy their mechanised agricultural system to replicate in the state with the provision of government land.
The initiative, however, kissed the dust after the graduates returned following lack of political will-power by the government to continue with the initiative. It became a source of revenue for the state Ministry of Agriculture, which now resorts to collecting certain amount of money from farmers (who are mainly natives) to farm at the place.
Few weeks ago, the Imo State Government disclosed its readiness to turn the Ada Palm Settlement into a money-yielding venture with plans to employ thousands of Imo youths to transform the place.
A source revealed that the problem of the Ada Palm was lack of government’s willingness to invest in the place, stressing that, “they still see it as something that should not receive priority.” He added that the move by the current administration in the state to revive the place is due to the dwindling oil revenue, stressing that “should oil rebound tomorrow, nobody will remember the place again.”
A development expert, Ikem Udechukwu, told The Guardian that with farm settlement, the southeast zone could have solved a major socio-economic challenge – job creation. He stated that the southeast zone started experiencing difficulties in her development when it decided to neglect farm settlement practices, stressing that, “Now, we cannot even solve our problems and feed our people without federal allocation.”
Udechukwu said COVID-19 has presented a good opportunity for the people to return to agriculture if there must be development in the near future, as well as cure for looming hunger.
Enugu State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Mathew Idu, said there was need for the rehabilitation of the farm settlement scheme to solve the numerous problems facing the country.
He said: “The economy, as it is will depend solely on agriculture to rebound and if that is going to be possible, then farm settlements have to be established, adding that the state is seriously diversifying into agriculture by ensuring that it pays its counterpart funds for agricultural purposes.
“The state government is thinking good of the people. The projects that are ongoing in Ada rice was awarded by the Federal Government, but the problem with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and Federal Government, who are working with the African Development Bank, is that they are working on a millipede or centipede speed.
“For about five years now, such project is on and nothing substantial has been done. The state government on their own has been paying counterpart funds to projects that come around us. For instance, when FADAMA came, the state government paid their counterpart fund. The state has also paid their counterpart fund to the Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS), there is another one from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is coming and government is ready to pay their counterpart funding,” he disclosed.
IN Cross River State, farm estates were the mainstay of the state’s economy in 1960s. The farm estates are located in Oban and Calaro in Akamkpa Local Council Area and the Ibiae Farm Estate in Biase Local Council. The rubber estate was also established in Uyanga community of Akamkpa and that was the mainstay of the Cross River State Government until the late 1990s.
But with the advent of oil, everything changed and the estates, especially the palm estates, were allowed to overgrown with weed without any care. The yields were not much due to old trees.
The then government acquired the land from the various communities with little areas left for farming, which led to a decline in agricultural activities by the locals.
However, a former governor of the state, Senator Liyel Imoke, in 2007, started a deliberate policy of privatising the estates for maximum benefits. Accordingly, Wilmar PZ took over the palm estates of Ibiae, Calaro, Kwa Falls or Oban and later the Obasanjo Farms at Ekong Anaku.
Today, Wilmar is developing over 26,500 hectares on the palm estates out of the 50,000 hectares it acquired through an agreement with the state government. It felled all the old trees and replanted new ones with an investment of over N45 billion.
A recent visit to Wilmar showed that a new 45 tonnes per hour palm oil mill has been commissioned. Production has also started as the company is searching for more lands, to meet up with the capacity of the new plant.
The Managing Director, Wilmar West Africa, Mr. Santosh Pillai, had in an earlier interview said: “We are actively developing 26,500 hectares in Cross Rivers State. The development is across four estates. Our development started in 2012 and fruits (FFB) from our first phase of planting are being harvested now. We have an existing Palm oil mill of 20 tons per hour.
“The acquisition by Eyop Industries, a Wilmar subsidiary of the Obasanjo farms was completed in 2012. The part of the plantations that overlapped the Ekinta and the Oban East Forest Reserves had already been de-reserved in the publication of the Gazette on August 1, 2007 by the Cross River State Government.”
Though the estates have been revived and repositioned for better palm production, the communities and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) like the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of The Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and Coalition for Environment (NGOCE) said they were alarmed over the influx of oil palm activities by Wilmar and their expansion on community lands without due recourse to them, saying their land were taken through their chiefs and elders who were given money to convince them to sell their lands at cheaper rate. They alleged land grabbing issues, poor remunerations, deforestation, labour exploitation and other defects.
One of the persons in Mfamosing Community, Mrs. Mary Ekpe, lamented that some of their chiefs have been bought over by Wilmer with scholarships meant for only their family members noting that the chiefs have compromised by supporting the ideas of Wilmer in selling their lands at a cheap rate.
IPAPO, Ilora, Eruwa, Ogbomoso, Iresaadu, Iyaiye, Akufo and Lalupon are locations of farm estates in Oyo State, which are currently in sorry state.
To revive the estates, the current administration, last year, decided to devote a sum of N7.6b loan to bring the farm settlements in Eruwa and Akufo areas of Ibadan back to life.
The scheme, which started in western Nigeria in 1960, was modeled after the Isreali Moshavim. This was to ensure dignity in farming by providing infrastructure, and thereby stimulating rural development.
Since farmers were mainly subsistent, the scheme was aimed at promoting small-scale commercial agriculture that would be market-oriented. All these are expected to be achieved through government intervention (through extension agents) by supervising and disseminating important information about farming activities.
Dr. Olubunmi Alawode of Agricultural Economics Department, University of Ibadan, said: “The objectives of the scheme were to provide employment and income for school leavers, check rural-urban migration, increase agricultural productivity, demonstrate modern technique of farming, and solve the problem of land tenure.
“Due to inconsistency in policies, the farm settlements are now shadows of what they ought to be. The farmers staying on the farms are growing old. This is due to policy instability, poor implementation and weak institutional framework for policy coordination.”
Alawode said to revive the farm estates to attract young people; government intervention is needed again to turn the farm settlements around. “The complementary institutions that are necessary for agricultural development include good land tenure systems to facilitate land access credit facilities, social organisations among farmers.
“The problem of inadequate access will be solved when government allocate the farmland. Other supporting services are necessary to attract young people, especially availability of credit at one-digit interest rate, government providing farm input and equipment, purchasing farm produce, and provision of good internet facilities,” he said.
On his part, a professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Ibadan, Omobowale Oni, said: “We can revive agriculture in so many ways. One is to see it as a business, not just anything. Make it professional. Everybody just jumps into agriculture these days. That should not be the case. One of the things I think we should do is to convince our youth that it is something they can go into and guarantees them a robust livelihood. That is one of the reasons young people don’t want to go into it.
“They feel if they go into it, it is not something they can live a good life with. And we must provide that evidence for them. When young people are convinced that what they can make is good enough for them to live well, they will go into it. Again, you must encourage the value chain. It is not just enough to produce things on the farm, the processing and every other thing. Those are the evidences we need to show to the young ones, because the youth are the future of agriculture….”
IN Ogun State, there are eight farm estates created by the late Premier of the Old Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Three are located in Ogun Central, three in Ogun East and two in Ogun West.
They include Owowo Farm Estate, Coker, Ikenne, Ijebu Igbo, Ipokia, and Isaga-Orile, among others. As it is in other states, the farms are rotting away. While some have turned to residential areas, others have lost their appeals. One of the reasons attributed to this is policy summersaults and lack of will-power by successive administrations in the state.
The Guardian’s visit to some of the farms revealed sorry state of affairs, as the farms are perpetually under-used. At the Coker Estate, in Ifo Local Council Area, though the immediate past administration had succeeded in wading off activities of trespassers encroaching the settlement, it was learnt that before now the occupants of the over 3000-hectare farm settlement were living in fear due to the invasion and destruction of their plantations, which serve as their source of livelihood, without prior notice, to pave way for construction works.
It was learnt that several plots of land were carved out of the settlement in the last few years and sold to developers for housing development and other construction activities, as the settlement has become a target for encroachment not only by other communities, but also by individuals, including traditional rulers and families.
The Secretary General, Coker Farm Settlement Association, Mr. Kazeem Adediran, told newsmen during the visit that the chairman of the association, Major Adeola Olubakin, died in the struggle, as he was inflicted with machete cuts by land grabbers for disturbing them.
“There are two phases; the residential and the allotted phases. No fewer than 124 houses are built in the residential phase, with an average of a family of five living in each of the houses, while the rest is for farmland.
“For each settler, there is an allocation of three hectares; then, the remaining part of the land belongs to the allottees and anyone that needs land for agricultural purpose. People have been encroaching on the farmland; what the encroachers do is to destroy the crop and sell the land for building construction. They also dig sand for sale. But this has reduced because of the assistance of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Taiwo Oluomo,” he said.
Adediran, who lamented that for the past eight years, the entire estate has been living in darkness as the only transformer has been vandalised, said they all depend on hiring tractor to prepare their land at an exorbitant price of N17,500 per hectare.
“Many graduates are on the farm, but most of the facilities here are done through self-help. The government has neglected the farm. Most of the subventions are not provided.”
It is the same scenario in other estates, where settlers are crying of encroachment and abandonment that have actually scared prospective farmers away from the estates.
Just few weeks ago, the state promised to resuscitate the settlements soon. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Adeola Odedina, said the state government was working to resuscitate all its farm settlements to boost food security.
Odedina said there were issues with all the farm settlements, which needed the urgent attention of the state government.
He said the government had noticed widespread encroachment into most of the settlements, saying that people had taken over government’s property illegally.Odedina stated that the state government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, is working to restore the farm settlements.
The Speaker of the Assembly, Oluomo, also called on the state to set up a committee on how to reclaim and make the state farm settlements work again.
“People have encroached on the farm settlements, the government should go there and reclaim the farm settlements,” he said. He appealed to the government to re-engage farm settlers on how to make them more productive and contribute to the food security in the state.