We are turning Eti-Oni into a smart town 120 years after its existence —Adaeze, CEO, Eti-Oni Development Group

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120 years after Eti-Oni, located at Atakunmosa East Local Government Area of Osun State earned its right as the birthplace of cocoa in the South-West, the largely agrarian community, which also boasts of cultivation of other crops such as bananas, plantain, tangerine, oranges, vegetables among others, especially in commercial quantity, is preparing its grounds for true development.

For a community without basic amenities such as a functional health centre, schools and even employment opportunities, a situation which has resulted in much abandonment and stark underdevelopment, at the just concluded cocoa festival organised by the Eti-Oni Development Group (EDG), the community, headed by the descendant of Gureje Thompson, the first settler in Eti-Oni, who also discovered cocoa, Oba Dokun Thompson, opened its proverbial doors to the world as it hosted traditional rulers, government officials, among other dignitaries, who travelled from far and wide to express their support to develop Eti-Oni.

Speaking on the membership of the EDG and plans to develop Eti-Oni, Chief Executive Officer at the EDG, Adaeze Udo Ekwueme, stated that “the EDG was born out of the need to transform Eti-Oni from its present-day state into its real potential. The EDG is a group of people, companies, education institutions, and even countries from all over the world, who are committed to the development and transformation of Eti-Oni community, following the passionate move by Oba Dokun Thompson to see that the community achieve its true potential as Nigeria’s birthplace of cocoa. This is in line with the theme of the recently concluded cocoa festival – peace, love and development.”

Noting that the idea of development of Eti-Oni would not just be about copying popular ideas of what is expected of a developed community, Ekwueme stated that “the idea is to develop Eti-Oni into a sustainable town, while still embracing our African identity. We are developing in line with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The people of Eti-Oni have been farming for four generations. There will be development programmes and we will also focus on ways to add value to the lives of the people.

“The recently concluded cocoa festival was a way to bring awareness to the community, boost tourism, and tackle poverty. There are plans to establish a cocoa processing plant, production of premium chocolate products. We will also address the issue of gender equality, which is part of the UN’s 2030 SDGs. Around fifty per cent of farmers in Eti-Oni are women. However, we discovered that when there are training sessions for farmers, only men show up and people’s perception of farmers are men. Luckily we have the support of the Osun State government which has set up a farmers’ training school which the women, with our encouragement participated actively. We will keep encouraging women to embrace such opportunities.”

Citing the approach regarding plans to transform the community, Ekwueme stated that creativity, innovation and practicability will come into play.

“The community is at an advantage because there are more innovative ways available to transform society, especially as it relates to technology. A lot of people in Eti-Oni are unbanked and don’t have valid means of identification. We are teaming up with a company in San Francisco and the Oxford University to offer identity checks for residents and onboard them digitally, that is, make digital identification available for them to access financial institutions, health care and quality education. This will also help to gather data for developing the community which we can make available as a model template for other communities to replicate,” she stated.

While commenting on government’s support for the development of Eti-Oni, which she described as commendable, especially with the recently graded access road which led into the community and which was done very recently, Ekwueme stated that “the government has been very supportive for several years. There was no access road into Eti-Oni prior to the cocoa festival. However, for the first time, people were able to drive in because the road has been graded. We also expect that the government will continue the good work by also tarring the road and supporting the community with other development initiatives. The Osun State government understands that by helping the people, they are also helping government. We want to make it a smart town.”

For the Eti-Oni community, the EDG also plans to ensure that it will be a community of integrated services and products to generate sustainable employment opportunities and increase the per capita income of the people. The EDG is targeting at changing the lives of 25,000 to 50,000 Eti-Oni residents within the next 10 to 20 years

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