*Beats nominees from nine African countries
By John Odunjo
“Sequel to our country office verified records, we have confirmed your diverse investment portfolio as follows: ABUAD Planetorium, ABUAD Bio-diversified Farms, Afe Babalola Annual Agricultural Grant, Talent Discovery Centre, ABUAD Industrial Park, ABUAD FM Radio and ABUAD Multi-system Hospital”
With excitement and sense of fulfilment, renowned farmer, elder statesman, legal giant and educationist, Aare Afe Babalola, received the news of his emergence as the 2024 African Man of the Year in Food Security.
The ABUAD founder, in view of his numerous investments in agriculture and encouraging others into agriculture, beat nine nominees from across Sub- Saharan Africa to clinch the prestigious award.
Babalola is appreciative of the award, especially coming from Initiative for Green Sustainability, which Global Food Security Committee is notable for promoting interest in agriculture and emphasizing the importance of food security.
The Initiative’s Country Lead, Caleb Osasona and Award Committee Lead, Tim Grunhuis, has in a letter to Afe Babalola dated December 21, 2023, said, “We are pleased to inform you of your nomination as winner of this prestigious award for the record second time since 2014.
“Your impressive high score was set against other contending nominees across Sub-Sahara Africa namely Botswana, Malawi, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Cameroun, Rwanda, Zambia and Liberia.
“Sequel to our country office verified records, we have confirmed your diverse n investment portfolio as follows: ABUAD Planetorium, ABUAD Bio-diversified Farms, Afe Babalola Annual Agricultural Grant, Talent Discovery Centre, ABUAD Industrial Park, ABUAD FM Radio and ABUAD Multi-system Hospital”.
Babalola, reputed to being one of the leading farmers in Nigeria, and the largest single farmer in his home State, Ekiti, where he also doubles as the highest tax payer and second largest employer of labour after the state government, said he was elated by the nomination.
He said the award would spur him to do more in his singular efforts, aimed at returning agriculture to its rightful place and lift it to the expected destination of competitive revenue earner.
The senior advocate, who spoke while intimating journalists of the honour, seized the opportunity to make far-reaching suggestions to government at all levels on how to reposition agriculture to revitalize the country’s economy.
He promised to continue with his efforts in agriculture, saying, “As part of my resolve to encourage agriculture among Nigerians, especially youths, I reduced school fees of students in my university studying agriculture by 50 per cent. In addition, I give a seed money of N250,000 to every graduate in Agriculture.
“In the last 10 years, I have been organizing the Annual Agric Festival in Ado-Ekiti, with the best farmer in the state going home with N2million. The best three farmers in each of the 16 local governments in the state go home with N1million among themselves”.
He appealed to the Federal Government to toe his line of Agric revolution, by commencing the process of reviving all moribund farm settlements across the country.
Babalola lamented that governments at all levels were not doing enough in the agricultural sector, saying Nigeria which used to be one of the leading exporters of cocoa and palm oil had lost its place due to neglect of the agric sector.
He said that revamping the moribund farm settlements in different regions of the country would boost food security, agricultural production for local consumption and export and as well provide raw materials for industries.
The ABUAD founder, who thanked President Bola Tinubu for recognizing his contributions to the development of the country which he said included agriculture, however, advised, “The government should revive the old Farm Settlements by the former premier, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in the former Western Region and extend it to other states in the country today.
“Government should ensure that farmers do not only produce food crops but cash crops. This will ensure the revival of the Cocoa in the West, Rubber and Palm Oil in present Edo and Delta States and the Groundnut Pyramids of the North in those days.
“Government should also encourage adding value to agricultural products just like we are doing in 124-unit large, medium and small scale industries.
“Government should make agriculture compulsory in primary and secondary schools. I can remember vividly in my days in Emmanuel Primary School, Ado Ekiti, every Wednesday was devoted to agriculture.
“Government should provide viable and healthy seedlings to farmers and making local governments to provide agricultural implements for hire by farmers,” he advised.
Babalola recalled how Awolowo, as premier of the defunct Western Region promoted agriculture through farm settlements to boost the region’s revenue base which ensured building of critical infrastructures and institutions that have continued to be the pride of the Southwest.
He said consideration for the revival of the farm settlements in the country with the goal of rediscovering the country’s dying agricultural potentials was a necessity.
The ABUAD founder said that such would also create job opportunities for the unemployed youths in the country and as well reduce the level of insecurity reduce to barest minimum”.
Babalola called for increased annual budgetary allocations to the agriculture sector, which he said had potential to lead millions of Nigerians out of poverty and provide food security.
He equally stressed that the government must as a matter of urgency, implement sustainable policies and provide modern farm implements, improved seedlings and soft loans to make agriculture more attractive so that the youths would develop interest in it.