Having subsidised food importation for many years using earnings from oil, there have been calls to develop and implement a sustainability plan that will ensure that the opportunities in the agriculture sector are not only properly harnessed but maximised to drive non-oil revenue.
While the effect of mechanization may have limited the number of hands required in farms, the opportunities inherent in agricultural enterprises and allied industries in developing countries remain enormous.
In Nigeria, agriculture is the largest employer of labour, especially in rural communities, according to the World Bank, considering the amount of labour generated through various out-grower schemes.
It is in line with this thinking that many investors like Aliko Dangote and even the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, in pursuit of the promise to create 200,000 jobs in the state, are consolidating their job creation drive with various fertilizer plants.
For the Edo State Governor, the revamping of the Edo Fertilizer Plant and Chemical Company Limited, in Auchi was envisioned as a tool for unlocking the agricultural potential in the State by providing the people with low-cost inputs to grow sustainable agribusinesses, attain food sufficiency, diversify the local economy and increase the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, in the company of Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh and Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, inaugurated the 60, 000 metric tonnes of fertilizer a year plant, at Auchi.
Indeed, the plant was revived under a public, private partnership arrangement, between the Edo State Government and WACOT Limited, a market leader in agricultural input processing and distribution, and the Federal Government.
The project is part of the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, designed to disrupt the importation of blended NPK fertilizer into Nigeria, by directly negotiating discounted contracts for procuring core raw materials, blending same locally and selling NPK fertilizer to farmers at a significantly lower price. For the Edo Fertilizer Plant, NPK fertilizer would be sold for half the market price.
In his speech, Osibanjo said: “The President Muhammadu Buhari administration is committed to making it easy for investors to do business in the country. We want to achieve this through the promotion of transparency and efficiency. We want every state to be involved in this drive and create the enabling environment for business to thrive in their domain.”
He commended the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, for creating the enabling business environment for the revitalization of the fertilizer plant, adding that the revived facility was proof that the Edo State government was in sync with the Federal Government’s initiative to diversify the economy away from oil to the agricultural sector.
He stressed that fertilizer blending plants were being revitalized across the country as a result of the presidential initiative to diversify the economy from crude oil, boost farming activities as well as develop the agriculture value chain.
In his inauguration speech last month, Obaseki said that the project had died pre-maturely because the PDP administration squandered the opportunity for pecuniary gains, noting, “The facility was never operated for a day after it was fraudulently launched by the opposition party about 14 years ago.
What the opposition could not do for nearly a decade, this government, with the support of the Edo people, has done, in only about nine months.”
Obaseki said the revitalization was an effort to make the state self-sufficient in food production, noting that the ceremony was a milestone, as the facility was moribund for a long time, depriving the people of the benefits of having a fertilizer blending facility in the state.
According to him, “The aim of revitalizing this plant is to make the state self-sufficient in food production and enable farmers to get fertilizer at affordable prices. We in Edo State are determined to make food available in the country.”
The plant will serve not just farmers in Edo state, but also those in neighbouring states, making it a hub for the supply of agricultural inputs.
He said the facility would go a long way in providing fertilizer for farmers in neighbouring states such as Kogi, Delta, Ondo, and Anambra, as it is the only blending plant in the region.
Obaseki commended the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative as well as the management of WACOT Limited for partnering with the state government in revamping the plant.
“This achievement is an open call to other investors to bring in new technology, create more jobs and expand our economic opportunities,” he added.
The governor called on the Otaru of Auchi, the community where the plant is located, to ensure the protection of the facility against vandalism as it would provide several economic opportunities for the community and state.
Strengthening diversification drive
The Edo Fertilizer plant is a bold step in the campaign to diversify the state’s earnings, and provide essential inputs for farmers in the state, many of whom have had to go through the drudgery of farming with little or no stimulus for improved yield or income. It is expected that inputs sourced from the facility would serve as a stimulus to revitalizing the business of smallholders and medium scale farmers in the state.
A key highpoint of the revamping project is that it somewhat justifies the argument for Public Private Partnerships (PPP), as the private partners in the project, WACOT Limited has shown that much can be achieved if dedicated public servants mount the saddle of state. Instructively, the turn-around of the facility happened in just nine months after a 14-year hiatus.
Acknowledging this, the Group Managing Director of WACOT, Rahul Savara, commended Osinbajo for commissioning the plant and Obaseki for fostering the partnership between the state and his company.
He said the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative has made local production feasible and sustainable in the country, adding that the company’s employees would be made up of 95 per cent indigenous workers.
Job creation and agriculture
Already, about 500 persons have been engaged on the project, an indication that the ripple effects of the plant on farming communities would spell a turnaround for agriculture in the state.
Osinbajo, during the commissioning ceremony, expressed delight at the 500 direct jobs created by the investment, stressing that much more employment opportunities would result from ancillary economic activities to be generated by the plant.
The promise of increased agricultural activity and increased yield for farmers in the state and its neighbours would mean not only would farmers have inputs at reduced costs, but also that the increased yield from the farms would attract younger people to consider agriculture as a viable form of self-employment.