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Interview

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Mirror www.nationalmirroronline.net

‘Zimbabwe farmers have opened our eyes on agriculture’ CONTINUED FROM PAGE 15 while Kwara State University (KWASU) and Al-Hikmah University will start soon. We don’t have a problem in training general practitioners but we have a deficit issue in taking them to specialisation areas. We also want them exposed to best practices on how to manage the noncommunicable diseases. We would sponsor them under a bond, bring them back to serve the state and it would become a yearly scheme. How can the youth key into the International Vocational Centre you established in Ajase-Ipo, Ifeloduin Local Government Area? It is a vocational centre that is of international standard and I am proud to let you know that it will be the first of its kind in the country. I am not aware of any vocational centre that was started on that kind of platform. We are a little bit proactive; we are not just building any other vocational centre, we are building one that will train youths that will be marketable beyond the shores of the country. This is largely informed from what we have seen on various trips abroad. We have seen artisans, work men who are trained and they work outside their environments. On close enquiries, we found out that most of them have been certified with qualifications that are acceptable outside their shores and that quickly brings to mind what form of certificates would be available to products of the centre that would make them marketable outside the boundaries of the country. The one that easily comes to mind is the City and Guilds which is recognised globally. The youth that would be enroled into the scheme would be expected to feed companies like the marine, building, telecom industries and all business that require hands with skills that would be available in such places. As it is today, we are partnering with C and G of London to help us design the curriculum and training scheme so that our youths can go through that scheme, train and become entrepreneurs. They are also helping us with what is called incubation centres and those enroled are first taken to an incubation centre where they would be moulded and prepared for entrance into the vocational training. Are there centres that would cater for the trainees of those schemes? Incubation centres would be set up in the nook and cranny of the state in preparation to feed people to the Ajase-Ipo centre that is largely designed in partnership with the C & G. The regulators of technical education in Nigeria recently called me and stated that under the act that established it, it is the only body that is allowed to administer technical education in the country. It was also stated that the act has enabled them replace C & G of London and as such we may not be able to ask C & G to run the school. I said no, C & G is not running the school, they are just helping us to set it up and design the programme. The kind of scheme we are coming up with would also make people useable anywhere in the world and we would export

them. India is a large country, every 8th man in the world is an Indian, and every 5th black man in the world is a Nigerian. With the population we have, it means we are under-utilising our capacity to feed Africa with entrepreneurship. We love to refer to the country as giant of Africa but we can only be a giant when we truly begin to position ourselves and be supportive in most of these areas. So our youths are to be trained and equipped for marketability anywhere in the world. More youths are interested in agriculture; what is your administration doing to carry them along in this regard? Agriculture as it were has been seen as a job that is left with the man in the village to continue producing food through tilling the ground with the normal old system. We have all seen that this thing has not been able to go beyond putting food on the table. We recognise the fact that the last administration took up promoting commercial agriculture in the country. We have since picked it up from where the last administration stopped to drag commercial agriculture. Agriculture can only be made into business if it is clearly understood as been driven under a value chain. The Federal Government is also into agriculture As a state, we are a little bit further because, the bringing in of Zimbabwe farmers to start commercial farming here in 2003 has opened our eyes into the way commercial farming is done. It is not the same way we used to do it. You see there is a lot of what we call planning that goes into agriculture and for our youths to be beneficial of this, we must go back to the basics. The basics require that we must begin to let them see what you mean by value chain agriculture. How do they come as youths? How do they see it as a scheme they can key into and develop themselves and create wealth? That took us to firstly looking at what commercial farming in Kwara looks like. How do we translate what we have learnt into our people with the Zimbabwe farmers? That saw us setting up what we call the ‘Youth Agric Training’ in Malete. It was a scheme designed to train youths on commercial agriculture so that they would continue to see agriculture not as the old man business in the village, but as a one that can create jobs, planned ahead for and you can use it to create wealth. They can sit down and plan and the most important thing is that we’ve made funding available for them through a single digit lending window which the Federal Government made arrangement for. We have some hitches in trying to access this fund in Union Bank in the last few weeks, especially from the second tranche of it, but the first batch of people have benefited from a single digit interest scheme that enables them to access funds and grow crops. What are your other expectations from the youth? For our youths, we want to see a complete turnaround in terms of understanding how agric can become a business. That took us to selecting 10 farmers from each of the local governments because we cannot do with over 20-30 farm-

Ahmed

ers at once. We firstly try with the small numbers of farmers. The success would now enable us to begin to expand it. That is why we chose people from the 16 local governments who largely would become what we call “change agents”. This scheme will now be replicated in all the senatorial districts in the state. Can we get an update on the youth entrepreneurship scheme? As a government, our responsibility is to make the environment enabling and to use the platform to create access to input. We know that one of the biggest challenges that our youths usually face is access to funding, and that is why government on its own has set out what we call a debenture and has made it available to micro-finance banks which have been trained in the business of lending and collection. As a government, we don’t have the capacity to give out money to people but to make sure that they pay back, which is the purpose for which micro-finance banks were set up in the first place so that they can deal with these small terms entrepreneurs. Those who ordinarily would not be able to get money from the GTB, UBA and Zenith are supposed to access money from microfinance banks. We have already created room for our youths to access funding but that fund cannot be accessed except you switch into two categories. Firstly, you must be part of a cooperative group. Cooperative group will enable you to access money under a scheme where you will self guarantee each other. They also understand the concept of cost of money. You see the days are gone when you expect somebody to just give you a largesse and say you want to do business. You have to come out with proper report that is bankable which will be seen we have people that can help you produce that if you cannot produce it, there are people that can help you produce it. Then the money will be made available to you, you will use and pay

back and it will keep growing as such. With the various youth-oriented programmes and policies initiated by your administration within the last two years, what other interventions can Kwara youths look forward to in the coming months or years? We will be doing a lot of advocacy on all the programmes we have outlined. They have not been fully tapped by the youth. They require to understand the scheme. When they do, they’ll begin to key in and expand. The scheme outlined under agriculture for instance has been seriously under-tapped. Same with those under master trainer and micro finance banks. The major thing that we will be seeing when the year runs out in addition to creating additional funding window would be advocacy, sensitisation for our people to know that these schemes and programmes exist. They can tap on them, come up with new ways of improving on what we are doing. The whole thing is about firstly taking advantage of what we have on ground, then we must begin to see how we can grow organically and inorganically. We would begin to see how our youths would begin to truly move their mindset away from expecting government to employ them. Rather they should be looking forward to how government can create employment for them. The advocacy is a continuous thing. I think generally people keep imagining that government should be the employer, so we must begin to let people know that government’s responsibility is only to make it enabling for the jobs to be created and for employment to happen. So, our youths that ordinarily would have been in Olaiya’s place learning welding, in Adisco learning panel-beating, maybe some other persons learning mechanic, should have optimism now that there is hope for them to start things on their own after they have graduated. There is a window where they can access money and drive businesses of their own.

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