Legal icon and Edupreneur, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) gave out N13.2 million to farmers in Ekiti State on Sunday.
This, he said, was part of efforts to encourage farming and lift farmers financially.
Babalola, who is also the founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), is reputed to be the biggest farmer and highest taxpayer in Ekiti State.
The gifting of money to farmers took place at the grand finale of this year’s edition of the Annual Afe Babalola Agricultural Expo and UNESCO Youth Empowerment, held at the university’s sports pavilion.
At the event, Mr Aribasoye Emmanuel, from Ado Local Government Area, got the star prize of N2 million as the overall best farmer in the state for the year.
The five best farmers in each of the 16 Local Government Areas, got N250,000, N150,000, N100,000, N75,000 and N50,000 respectively.
Babalola said distributing money to hardworking farmers on annual basis was a fulfilment of his dream.
“This is in the realisation of my dream. It all started like a dream which translated into reality in 2015.
“The dream was my burning desire to make people realise that farming is a divine vocation.
“It is also part of my contributions to ongoing efforts at revitalising farming as well as reducing unemployment in the country.
“Another reason why I started this Expo was that I found it utmost painful that many Nigerians have abandoned farming for white-collar or menial jobs and also for no jobs
“Many of us in the country are familiar with the story of the Garden of Eden in the Holy Bible where we were made to understand that God, in His wisdom, established the Garden and asked Adam and his wife, Eve, to look after the Garden.
“There was a time in this country when whatever one’s profession was, such a person would still have a small garden at the back of his house, if only for vegetables, tomatoes, pepper and garden eggs, among others,’’ he observed.
“Let me use this opportunity to appeal to the Federal Government to establish a special Agriculture Bank, which will be completely different from those before it.
“This is where farmers can obtain loans at low-interest rates with their cooperative societies serving as guarantors,’’ he added.
The ABUAD founder expressed regret that farming has suddenly become abandoned and discouraged in Nigeria.
“Farming has been abandoned in Nigeria today and Nigeria is the worse for it. For instance, the time was when Ekiti State alone was producing 52 per cent of the Internally-Generated Revenue of the defunct Western Region.
“Today, Ekiti State is the poorest state in Nigeria. There was no beggar in Ekiti State at that time as everyone was gainfully employed, but today beggars are found everywhere.
“Regretfully, Ekiti State has become the poverty capital of Nigeria,’’ Aare Babalola said.
Continuing, Babalola said “Also, no thanks to the spate of insecurity ranging from kidnapping, robbery and invasion by herdsmen ravaging the country, life is no longer safe at home, on the farm, on the road or even in classrooms.
“The combination of these ills has led many farms to be destroyed with many farmers having to abandon their farms.
“Thank God that despite all these, Ekiti State farmers have been able to forge ahead. I believe in farming because I grew up on the farm and I am still a farmer as many of you know,’’ he said.
He added that he included the study of agriculture in the curriculum of his university, with a 50 per cent slash in tuition fee for the course.
“In my university, we provide seed money for graduates of agriculture to start their businesses.
“That was why in addition to all of these, in 2015, I thought of how to improve a lot of our farmers.
“That is why I started this programme. I started with a prize of N5 million, but it has risen over the years, thus this year, we are giving out N13.2 million,’’ he said.
The Local Organising Committee Chairman and UNESCO Chair in Entrepreneurship Education for Sustainable Development, Prof. Abiodun Ojo, also donated 48 spraying machines to select farmers.
He said that partnering with ABUAD was to commend the good work which Aare Afe Babalola was doing to return agriculture to its old days of glory.
Mr Olugbenga Odesanmi, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Ekiti State who stood in for the state government, commended Babalola’s efforts and promised the government’s enabling environment at all times.
Earlier in her address of welcome, the Acting Vice-Chancellor of ABUAD, Prof. Miranda Olarinde, appreciated the founder’s gesture to farmers.
She said that the best way the beneficiaries could show gratitude to him was to invest wisely, the monies received so they would be able to fend for themselves and also provide employment for others.