The joy that enveloped the creation of Akwa Ibom on September 23, 1987 has made it possible for various governments to have adopted several strategic measures for agricultural development and job creation for the benefit of both the government and its people.
Spanning from the military era to the civilian administration, agricultural programmes have always been accorded priority attention, being a veritable sector that could jump-start the economy to greater heights for the overall interest of the general public.
It was in appreciation of the significant roles agriculture plays in human existence that the first military administrator of the state, Col. Tunde Jonathan Ogbeha, who retired from the service of the Nigerian Army at the rank of a Brigadier General, initiated structures to lay a solid foundation for its take-off through the creation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the development of agriculture at all levels to encourage job and wealth creation in the state.
Col. Godwin Osagie Abbe, the second military administrator of Akwa Ibom, who retired at the rank of a Major General, succeeded in midwiving the establishment of the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Development Programme (AKADEP).
Various agricultural departments including AKADEP were in this regime made to be actively involved in policy articulation and programmes aimed at broadening the scope and redefining the perspective of agriculture in the state.
AKADEP having been established, brought accelerated changes and innovations to agricultural growth and development in the state.
A programme of action drawn up by AKADEP as at then was meant to increase the production of food crops, especially staple crops such as cassava, yam and rice, with a view to improving farmers' income, thereby alleviating their suffering in farming in the state.
The arrival of Wing Commander Idongesit Okon Nkanga as the third military administrator of Akwa Ibom, brought about the execution of capital development projects that impacted positively on the lives of the people.
Nkanga gave agriculture top priority as reflected in the acquisition of capital farm implements in addition to evolving sound policy initiatives for the benefit of the government and the people.
It was Nkanga's regime that successfully acquired six number of tractors to prepare ground for mechanized farming, aimed at ensuring food sufficiency in the state by the year 2000.
That administration did not stop there as it went a step further in conceiving the idea of establishing the School of Agriculture as a replacement of the Obio Akpa Campus of the Polytechnic, Calabar, to assist his administration in giving bolt imprints in agriculture for employment generation and wealth creation for the collective interest of the Akwa Ibom people.
The coming on board of the experimental democratic administration in the state led by the late Obong Akpan Isemin, witnessed the launching of a well- known oil palm reforestation, popularly known as "red gold, which was his pet project.
The significance of the oil palm reforestation scheme played out itself in December 1991 when a $20.6 million loan for the cultivation of 8,000 hectares of oil palm was sourced for and obtained from the World Bank and European Investment Bank with the aim of taking agriculture to an appreciable level in the state.
The Obong Victor Attah administration at inception was committed to providing a conducive environment for agricultural sector to thrive in the interest of the people and the government.
It was during Obong Attah's regime that 290 youths of Akwa Ibom were recruited and engaged in two months intensive training in all aspects of farming under an agricultural programme called "Integrated Farmers Scheme (IFS) which were graduated on record time.
The Integrated Farmers' Scheme implementation by that regime made it possible for the state government to source for and obtain a N93 million loan package for the empowerment of the participants as part of a systematic approach towards achieving food sufficiency with the involvement of private partners.
The government gesture was aimed at developing agriculture at all levels for employment generation and wealth creation from among the youth of the state, thereby reducing their dependency on government for elusive white- collar jobs.
The scheme started in the state in 1998 with the recruitment and training of 184 pioneer participants and initial capital of N50 million was disbursed in the ratio of N200,000 per participant by the Attah regime.
That amount for the IFS implementation was later reviewed upward to the sum of N300,000 for the benefit of the 163 participants who were made to execute their projects in viable agro- enterprises of crops and livestock ventures.
That regime, having been interested in the growth and development in agriculture, also caused the released of N146.5 million to 740 individuals and 51 cooperative organizations as agricultural loans.
The Attah's administration did not stop there as he went a step further in 2007, providing the sum of N270 million as loan to farmers in the state to complement the existing microcredit schemes that were created by the government to empower farmers to generate employment and create wealth.
The emergence of the administration of Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio as the third democratically elected governor of Akwa Ibom on May 29, 2007 placed agriculture on the front burner for the transformation of the sector.
The objective of Akpabio- led administration in agricultural sub- sector of the economy was not only to ensure food security but also to provide to the teeming unemployed youths of the state.
In furtherance of his vision, Akpabio implemented what he called "Accelerated Livestock and Fish Production Programme (ALFIPP); Integrated Farmers Scheme (IFS); Agricultural Land Management Scheme (ALMS) and the FADAMA farm projects among others to ensure food sufficiency in the state.
The schemes represented an unprecedented policy framework through which the administration was able to intervene in livestock and fisheries development across the three senatorial districts of the state for the purpose of registering bolt imprints in agriculture for employment generation and wealth creation in the state.
In this regard, a total of N11.8 billion was earmarked for the implementation of the Accelerated Livestock and Fish Production Programme for the benefit of 30 community-based livestock and fish production among others.
Implementing the Integrated Farmers Scheme (IFS) in the state, Akpabio reviewed upward the financial benefit to each of the scheme's participants from N300,000 to N500,000 and went ahead to empower 4,500 Akwa Ibom women with the sum of N250,000 under the platform of Women Agro- Entrepreneurship Development Programme ( WAEDEP).
The coming on board of Mr Udom Emmanuel as the fourth civilian governor of Akwa Ibom has set the stage for radical agricultural revolution in the state.
Governor Emmanuel gives agriculture top priority with a view to recording strategic imprints in the sector for employment generation and wealth creation.
Emmanuel made it known to the Akwa Ibom general public at a special agricultural summit at the Ibom Hotels and Golf Resort, Uyo, that his administration identified agriculture as one of the key areas for achieving sustainable development in the state.
In line with this vision, the administration set out to strengthen the value chains of some specific agricultural produce including cassava, maize, rice, oil palm, poultry, fishery and coconut, especially in terms of processing and marketing as well as establishing agro- based food processing industry in the state.
Agriculture, Governor Emmanuel said, occupied a critical sector of the economy due to its strategic roles and the capacity to drive the economy from consumption to a production-driven economy.
Emmanuel's vision is to make Akwa Ibom a leading food producing state in the country Nigeria through development and implementation of strategic agricultural policies that will ensure internal food sufficiency, industrial development and export for agro-products.
It is also the mission of the present administration to aggressively harness the agricultural potentials of the state for the realization of food security, job and wealth creation through revolutionary and competitive agricultural production, processing and marketing strategies.
Emmanuel in an attempt to actualize his dreams has constituted a Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency to operate harmoniously with the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Women Affairs to revolutionalize the sector for a better future in the state.
To practicalize this standpoint of view on agriculture, Emmanuel-led administration has cultivated 11,000 hectares of coconut plantation in addition to working assiduously for the commencement of production at St Gabriel Oil Factory in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area before the year ends.
The coconut plantation has offered employment to many young men and women of the state while the St Gabriel Oil Factory, being executed through public private partnership (PPP), has reached an advanced stage of job completion for commission before long.
The huge investment in coconut plantation in the state has to do with the fact that price of this agricultural produce at the international market is higher than that of crude oil, coupled with the need to diversify the state's economy from total dependence on crude oil.
As a state, today, alternatives to crude oil have been discovered through agriculture. We have discovered globally that there is something more revenue generating than crude oil.
Interestingly, the cooperation between the management of the Ministry of Agriculture and Women Affairs and the Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency is yielding positive results in the state via optimal application of public private partnership ( PPP ) in the execution of agricultural scheme.
Prominent among the agro- allied investments of the Emmanuel- led administration's success in the development of agriculture for employment generation and wealth creation are the Akwa Prime Hatchery in Mbiaya Uruan, inaugurated on May 29, 2016, where initial 10,000 day old chicks per week production has been successfully raised to 17,000 currently in addition to processing of poultry products; establishment of out-growers scheme for the hatchery; training of poultry farmers.
To the credit of the present administration under Governor Emmanuel are the establishment of 3,240 hectares of cassava plantations in 15 local government areas through FADAMA assistance, cultivation of more than 1,200 hectares of rice, registration of 2,318 farmer cooperatives and groups made up of 49,318 farmers through the Rice Anchor Borrowers Scheme; training of 450 youths of the state on cocoa maintenance, distribution of 500,000 improved cocoa seedlings to farmers at a highly subsidized amount across the 28 cocoa producing local government areas, procurement and distribution of 40,000 hybrid plantain suckers to farmers across the 31 local government areas of the state.
Others are free distribution of 54,538,100 kg improved maize seedlings free of charge to farmers for cultivation on 11,858 hectares of farmland in the state, installation of maize preservation and shelling machine in Nung Udoe, Ibesikpo ; construction of vegetable green houses ; construction of cassava micro- processing mills in the state; provision of tractors' hiring enterprise centre for accessibility to farmers ; procurement of 600,000 bags of fertilizer for farmers ; the provision of Caterpillar Force - agrochemicals to maize farmers for the control of armyworms from attacking their crops in addition to the provision of interest-free loans to maize farmers in the state by the present administration.
Additionally, Emmanuel's administration has recorded a landmark achievement through the commencement of work at the fertilizer blending factory by Messrs Green Well Technologies in Oku Abak, where inauguration was performed on June 1, 2018 as part of activities for that year's Democracy Day in the state.
The fertilizer blending factory, having offered employment to about 100 youths of the state, is succeeded in producing NPK- 15:15:15;12:12:17 and 20:10 for both the Federal and state governments as well as Nigerian farmers, thereby encouraging rapid agricultural production in the country.
The administration in an attempt to encourage food sufficiency in the state has installed upgraded five metric tonnes daily cassava processing mills at Nung Udoe in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area and another at Ikot Ekang, Abak Local Government Area, that were inaugurated between May 30 and June 1, 2018 respectively as part of activities for the celebration of Democracy Day for that year in the state.
The two cassava processing mills and that of Ikot Okudom, Eket , being leased out to private operators are currently offering employment both directly and indirectly to the young men and women of the state as well as contributing to food security through the processing of cassava into garri, odourless foofoo, cassava flour and starch for industrial and pharmaceutical purposes; cassavita and production of animal feeds from the dry cassava peels.
The administration also drilled borehole as part of infrastructural benefits of FADAMA to facilitate rice production at Nung Obong in Nsit Ubium Local Government Area in addition to facilitating the training of 300 youths of the state under Graduate Unemployed Youth Scheme ( GUYS ) ; cultivation of 500 citrus seedlings; 1,000 pineapple suckers at the Horticulture Garden in Uyo LGA and establishment of large hybrid rubber nursery at Ebighi Anwa , Okobo LGA in partnership with Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria ( RRIN ) for onward distribution to rubber farmers in the state at subsidized rates.
The flag-off of second season planting campaign at Awa Iman in Onna Local Government Area, last year, by Governor Emmanuel where 10 brand new tractors were inaugurated has provided a platform for the government to provide farmers in the state with many trucks load of 419 improved cassava cuttings for onward distribution, free of charge, for cultivation in their individual farms.
The second season planting campaign was equally used as a platform by the state government to provide 249 graduates unemployed youths with the sum of N 300,000 each to venture into agricultural enterprises of their choice as well as the inauguration of 10 tractors in the custody of the Committee on Tractors' Hiring Services.
The director of agriculture, Mr Emmanuel Akpan, while commenting on the achievements of the present administration, noted that agriculture has witnessed radical transformation in the state, pointing out that for now, Akwa Ibom is operating a commercial level of agriculture with the employment of young men and women.
Akpan expressed optimism that the St Gabriel Oil Factory in Mkpat Enin on commencement of operations for refining of coconut oil would offer employment to many indigenes of the state, thereby creating wealth.
Akwa Ibom, he said, has reached the level of employment generation and wealth creation in agriculture, noting that currently there is a rice cultivation programme going on in the state that involved members of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) and CBN in collaboration with the state government where rice, fertilizer, agro- chemicals, water pump and other incentives were made available to rice farmers as an encouragement.
He was optimistic that before long, more than five rice mills would be established in the state including the rice mill in Ini Local Government Area, executed through public private partnership (PPP) which inauguration was performed by Governor Emmanuel under Agricon arrangement, noting that the rice processing in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area that produces Ibom Golden Rice was making progress through commercial rice cultivation by farmers in Ikot Esen community.
It is expected that with the constitution of Akwa Ibom Agricultural Loan Board headed by Mrs Elsie Esara, with Mr Vincent Ekpo serving as secretary, among others, efforts would be geared towards providing serious-minded farmers with loan at single digit interest rate to expand their farms to boost agribusiness in the state.
To ensure the development of agriculture for employment generation and wealth creation, the people of the state must key into government initiatives in agriculture by cultivating available land at their disposal, contribute to food security and taking farming as a business for profit maximization, while government on its part should place as priority the provision of silos for the preservation of perishable agricultural produce. In addition, it should make available essential farm implements such as planters and harvesters to complement the recently inaugurated 10 of tractors to encourage full scale mechanization farming to boost food production, generate employment and create wealth in the state.