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Sagoe-Oviebo: Lagos has made agriculture attractive

Mrs. Oluranti Sagoe- Oviebo is the State Project Coordinator of Lagos State Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS) Project. In this interview, she speaks agriculture in Lagos State, funding and technology, among other issues. WALE ELEGBEDE reports

What are the core objectives of the Agro- Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS) Project in terms of the value chain target on Lagos State?

The core objective is to enhance productivity of our products. We also have to increase process output and to improve the livelihood of our farmers. But beyond that, we have the food security aspect of it; to improve food security in the nation. We are also looking at ensuring that Nigerians eat good food. So, we are looking at nutritionsensitive technologies and then export potentials. I think it is high time for our farmers to get into the international market and that is one of the objectives of this project.

In terms of the three value chains; poultry, aquaculture and rice production; what would you say has been the biggest intervention across those value chains for farmers in the state?

For every one of them, it is been unique. For rice production, part of the things we have been able to achieve is the aspect of Ofada rice. What we have been able to do in APPEALS Project is to look at a pure strain of Ofada rice that will give our farmers good money. We are looking at having the likes of Basmati rice for Ofada rice.

What we have done is to look at the strain of Ofada rice in Lagos, and we looked at the ones that have high yield and we have done that working in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). So, that is one area that is so exciting and I know that this year, we will get a better result because we are already working with out-growers to get our foundation seed and all of that.

In aquaculture, the cage culture is mind-blowing. Everybody asks; how did you do it? And it is all because we have the cooperation of the Lagos State government. First of all, it is actually an initiative of the state government because they have a project for young people in cage culture.

The project looks at how we can align with the state government’s initiative. We built on that and today we have cages in over three water communities where we have had over 40 cages in each of them and this year we would even do more. And for me, that is one area that has been so good.

In the area of fish crackers, our dream is that before the end of this project lifeline, we don’t want any fish crackers made in China (imported). It is high time for us to empower our own people. And when you look at the nutrition-sensitive technologies, the fish crackers most people eat are actually flavoured. But the one we have been able to introduce in Nigeria is the real fish turned into cracker. So, that is something that when a child eats it, you are sure that that child is eating a wholesome food as snack.

For poultry, the few months of the closure of the borders helped us to look inwards and today, you will find out that a lot of our poultry farmers are doing so well in the poultry sector for broilers’ production. Over time, our farmers in eight weeks were attaining 1.8kg but with the improved technology we had, we introduced a technology on pelletized feeds and nipple-fitted drinkers. The pelletized feeds allows for poultry birds to eat wholesome food, so when they eat a pellet, you can be sure that they have eaten everything they need in that diet. And so in six weeks, we are attaining about 2.2kg – 2.3kg as against the eight weeks to 1.8kg.

So, that translates to more cycles for our farmers and that means they will make more money. We are not stopping at that. We are looking at business alliances because when you talk about sustainability, if there is no business alliance, you have done nothing.

We have looked for offtakers that would buy from producers and it is a continuous exercise. In fact, we have supported some farmers who have gone over three production cycles since we started the project. That is one area of the project that is very encouraging, as well.

We are also looking at the egg powder, which is one area that I know we would make a big impact in the industry, because overtime, our farmers, once in a year usually have glut issue. And we thought about what we can do to address the issue and so we are converting the egg to powder so that it eliminates the issue of glut and loss for our farmers.

So, that is one area that we are really doing so much. Talking about the uniqueness of Lagos, for people who are not residents here, there are perceptions that Lagos does not have farmers; what we have are eaters, people who are just ready to consume, the huge market.

From that perspective, how will you say the Lagos APPEALS have harnessed the huge market in Lagos particularly the farmers who are producing?

Under APPEALS Project, we have been able to identify over 10,000 farmers already that we have verified. It is not like we have farmers that are not there, they are real-time farmers. We have facts and figures, if you can go on our website, you will find them and their locations. You can go and verify on your own and you can find all their details on our website. It is not true when they say Lagos doesn’t have farmers. Lagos farmers are high-tech farmers. Lagos farmers are not the regular type of farmers. With our little space, we maximize space, it is all about efficiency. It is not about the space that you have. That is why when we talk about high technology farmers, they are found in Lagos. We also have the market and that is an advantage for us. We are maximizing all of these things and with the support of the APPEALS Project, I think we are bringing out the best in our farmers.

What does Lagos APPEALS Project have for the youths and what kind of opportunities can they look out for with Lagos APPEALS?

The target of Lagos APPEALS is actually 10,000 beneficiaries but the 10,000 does not say that they can’t be young people. Even though, we have a special component for women and youths and the target audience there is 1,700; we also have People With Disabilities (PWDs), five per cent of 1,700, which is 85 but we still have about 9,000 which is the minimum.

Who says 50 per cent of them cannot be youths? Basically, it is just making the whole business attractive and that is one of the things that APPEALS Project has been able to do to make agriculture attractive. We are looking at technologies that are simple, adoptable, technologies that are interesting. We are looking at aquaculture, cage culture.

It doesn’t have to be the old way of doing things. With the new modern way of doing things, you will make more money. It is so easy, knowledge is power. It is not necessarily the physical power; it is the ability to think outside the box, that is what makes the difference. And so this has made agriculture very attractive to a lot of our young people.

Could you shed more light regards the implementation of Women and Youth under the APPEALS Project?

For the women and youths component, we have identified 1,621women and youths who have gone through intensive screening. Initially, when the expression of interest advert came out in 2018, we had over 11,000 applicants who filled the forms but we had slots for just 1,700. Then a lot of screening processes came into play and we came down to 1,700 and at the end of the day, there was an interview where we had 1,621 who had gone through the trainings in the three different value chains for two weeks. They have gone through how to write their business plans, because if you train somebody and they cannot develop a business plan, then you have not really done so much.

They were trained on the economic and financial aspect and some of them have developed their business plans and the projects have been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), because we want them to start a business. It is not just to go into farming as the normal farmer; we want them to know what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

The counterpart funding from Lagos State Government for APPEALS Project is a huge statement of intent. How do you see the collaborations between Lagos APPEALS and the Lagos State government?

Lagos State government has done so much. I keep telling people that if not for the encouragement we get from the state government, I honestly don’t know what we will do because there are times that it can be tough but we have a governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo- Olu, who is very passionate.

Lagos State is the only state that has 10 per cent People With Disabilities (PWDs) that are going to benefit from this project. Other states are five per cent but Lagos State is going for 10 per cent and the remaining five per cent is going to be funded by Mr. Governor himself. I think that is one thing we should appreciate him for. He is always paying the counterpart funds timely.

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