It is the dawn of a new era in Ogun State where efforts are in top gear to achieve self-sufficiency in food production.
Under the three and a half months old administration of Governor Dapo Abiodun, the Anchor Borrowers' Scheme is also targeted at easing the problem of youth unemployment in the sense that the initiative has the capacity to take thousands of idle persons off the streets.
For a start, 2, 000 persons have been enlisted under the scheme which signals the commencement of what can aptly be described as agricultural revolution in Ogun.
The icing on the cake for the beneficiaries of the scheme, called Agro-preneurs, is that each of them will get a hectare of land free from the state government.
There cannot be a better way to encourage our youths to go into farming. While flagging off the scheme at the June 12 Cultural Centre, Abeokuta, Abiodun said his government plans to turn the state into an agricultural hub capable of feeding itself and other states across the country.
According to him, the Anchor Borrowers' Scheme is another avenue to boost the nation's self-sufficiency in agricultural production in line with the Federal Government's agenda on food security, and to save foreign exchange spent annually on importation of food items that could be produced locally.
The 2, 000 beneficiaries, he announced, would be given Certificates of Acceptance and Leasehold.
This is not a new scheme altogether in the country as it was started by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) some years ago as a tripartite scheme with state governments and beneficiaries.
What is new, however, is that the previous Ogun administration failed to take full advantage of it while several other states keyed into it with the benefits now glaring for everyone to see.
The governor expressed surprise that his predecessor shunned the funds available under the scheme to help farmers improve their production.
The governor called on the recipients to be committed and responsible in their repayment plan.
"Outside of the one hectare of land that we are giving out free to each of the beneficiaries, we will also provide clearing, seedlings, fertilizers, extension services and we will pay upkeep allowances until the first harvest," Abiodun added.
The governor disclosed that the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) is set to site the largest Agro-Processing Zone on the continent in Ogun. According to him, the development was the result of several engagements by his administration with officials of the AfDB who had been in his office twice in the last two and a half months. AfDB is headed by a former Minister of Agriculture and an indigene of Ogun, Prof. Akinwumi Adesina.
"The bank decided that they were going to have two Agro-Processing Zones in Nigeria and Prof. Adesina decided that the biggest must be sited in Ogun State. This is the result of our constructive engagements with the Bank over the last 70 days or so," the governor said.
Speaking earlier, the Permanent Secretary, Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture, Mrs. Abosede Ogunleye, described agriculture as a viable sector that could absorb the teeming unemployed youths, expressing delight that the state has signed its counterpart fund and keyed into the scheme.
Head of Developing Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria, Mrs. Oluyemisi Olukoya, said Ogun had not done well in accessing the scheme as only 5,249 farmers in the state were in the scheme as against 20,000 from Kebbi State.
Chairman, Ogun State Anchors Borrowers' Scheme, Prof. Bola Okuneye, said the programme was designed to link off-takers of agricultural products with producers so that farmers would know that there was demand for their products at an agreed and beneficial price to improve production so as to guarantee abundant agricultural products in the nation.
"Ogun State is leveraging on its advantages in cassava, rice and maize value chain. There is a guarantee of off-takers, which means it is profitable from Day One," Okuneye said.
The Anchor Borrowers' Scheme is a win-win development for not only the beneficiaries, but also for the state that is hungry for economic development and residents.
For the 2, 000 beneficiaries, many of whom may have been graduates of many years standing but without job, it is a chance to make a decent living in line with the welfare agenda of the Abiodun administration.
And they are only the first batch of the scheme as other batches will come in quick succession.
This is a well thought-out scheme that recognises the fact that the beneficiaries are farmers and will ultimately require the market to dispose of their produce.
Whereas there is already a market for those among them that may choose to go into cassava production, as a factory has said it can buy off their entire produce, the state government is said to be setting up a board for others as an avenue to prevent the selling of their produce at a loss.
There is no doubt that the Anchor Borrowers' Scheme will ultimately boost food production in Ogun but when that happens and there is excess, it is incumbent on the authorities to put in a place a system to ensure that beneficiaries don't sell their produce at a loss.
Meanwhile the scheme has the potential to create more job opportunities. The current beneficiaries and successive ones will sooner or later break even and this will pave the way for employment in their different businesses.
Now imagine the multiplier effect as youths who otherwise would have taken into social vices like robbery, cyber crime or even prostitution will have prospects of employment.
Government also benefits as successful beneficiaries inevitably will have to pay tax to its coffers for the developmental agenda of the state administration.
In the end, Governor Dapo Abiodun not only realises his dream of ensuring food security, but also solving the problem of youth unemployment and growing Ogun economy.
Bolu Adeosun contributes this piece from Kuto, Abeokuta.