Bold Imprints In Agriculture, Employment, Wealth Creation
With the creation of Akwa Ibom on September 23, 1987, various strategies were adopted to develop the agricultural sector of the state, which led to employment and wealth creation for the people of the state.
Spanning from the military regime to the civilian administration, agriculture has always received priority attention as a veritable sector that can jumpstart the economy to enviable heights.
Considering this significant role that agriculture plays the first military governor of the state, Col Jonathan Tunde Ogbeha, initiated structures that laid a solid foundation for it to take-off through the creation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Col Godwin Osagie Abbé, the second military governor of Akwa Ibom, who retired as a major general, succeeded in addition, established the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Development Programme (AKADEP) to offer extension services to farmers in the state as backup.
Various agricultural programmes were introduced towards broadening the scope and redefine the agricultural perspective in the state. AKADEP particularly brought accelerated changes and innovations to agricultural growth and development in the state. AKADEP programmes increased 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.
The third military administrator of the state, Wing Commander Idongesit Nkanga, now retired commodore, as third military administrator of Akwa Ibom, gave agriculture top priority as demonstrated in the acquisition of farm implement in addition to evolving sound policies and initiatives to expand agriculture in the state.
Nkanga’s regime acquired six tractors to prepare ground for mechanized farming towards ensuring food sufficiency in the state by the year 2000 in line with the vision of government at the centre. His administration went a step further by establishing the School of Agriculture as replacement of the school of Agriculture, Obio Akpa to build the capacity of Akwa Ibom youths on various aspects of agriculture.
The experimental democratic administration in the state led by the late Obong Akpan Isemin, as first elected governor of Akwa Ibom, witnessed the launching of a well-known oil palm reforestation, popularly known as “red gold” as his pet project. The significance of the oil palm reforestation scheme played out in December 1991 when a 20.6 milion US dollars 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 appreciable level in the state.
The Obong Victor Attah’s administration was committed to providing a conducive environment for the agricultural sector to thrive. During his tenure, 290 young farmers of Akwa Ibom had two months intensive training in all aspects of farming under an agricultural programme tagged: Integrated Farmers Scheme (IFS) and graduated on record time.
For the implementation of IFS by that regime, the state government to source for and obtained N93 million loan package used to empower the participants as part of a systematic approach towards achieving food sufficiency with the involvement of private partners.
That government’s good gesture succeeded in engaging the youths productively in the agricultural sector thereby generating employment for them and alleviating poverty among them, 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 with the initial capital of N50 million that was disbursed at the rate of N200,000 in year 2000 by the Attah’s regime. That amount for the IFS implementation was later reviewed upward to N300,000 for the 163 participants who executed their projects in viable agro enterprises of crops and livestock ventures. That administration’s interest in the growth and development of agriculture led to the release of N146.5 million to 740 individuals and 51 cooperative organizations as agricultural loans.
In 2007, the Attah administration provided the sum of N270 million as loan to farmers in the state to complement the existing microcredit schemes earlier created to empower farmers.
The administration of Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio as the third democratically elected governor of Akwa Ibom also placed agriculture on the front burner to not only ensure food security but also to provide to the teaming 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.
These schemes represented an unprecedented policy framework through which that administration intervened in livestock and fisheries development across the three senatorial districts of the state. A total of N11.8 billion was earmarked for the implementation of the Accelerated Livestock and Fish Production Programme for 30 community-based livestock and fish production, among others.
On the Integrated Farmers Scheme (IFS), Akpabio reviewed upward the financial benefit to each of the 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 set the stage for radical agricultural revolution in the state. Governor Emmanuel made it known to Akwa Ibom people at a special agricultural summit at the Le Meridien Ibom Hotel 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 strengthened the value chains of some specific agricultural produce including cassava, maize, rice, oil palm, poultry, cocoa, fishery and coconut especially in terms of processing and marketing as well as establishing agro-based food processing industry in the state.
The Emmanuel administration regards agriculture as a critical sector of the economy due to its strategic role and capacity to drive the state from consumption economy to a production-driven economy. The governor’s vision is to make Akwa Ibom a leading food producing state in 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, at inception of his administration, constituted a Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency headed by Professor Edet Udoh to work with Mr Udom Inoyo as vice chairman among others in partnership with officials of the Ministry of Agriculture to revolutionalize the sector for a better future.
To practicalise his standpoint on agriculture, the 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.
So far, the coconut plantation has offered employment to many young men and women of the state while the St Gabriel Oil Factory, executed through public private partnership (PPP) has reached a little above 55 percent job completion and would be ready for commissioning before long.
The huge investment in cocoa and coconut plantations in the state is linked to the fact that prices of these agricultural products at the international market are higher than that of crude oil, coupled with the need to diversify the state economy from total dependence on crude oil.
In Akwa Ibom today, alternative to crude oil has been found in agriculture, acknowledged globally that there is something more revenue generating than crude oil.
Prominent among agro-allied investments of the Emmanuel-led administration are the Akwa Prime Hatchery at Mbiaya Uruan inaugurated on May 29, 2016, where 10,000-day-old chicks per week are produced as well as the 2,100 hectares of cassava plantation in 15 local government areas through FADAMA assistance.
To the credit of the Emmanuel administration are the participation of more than 3,546 registered rice farmers in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme; training of Akwa Ibom 450 youths on cocoa maintenance; distribution of 500,000 improved cocoa seedlings to farmers at highly subsidized price in 28 cocoa producing local government areas; procurement and distribution of 50,000 hybrid plantain suckers to about 500 farmers.
Others are free distribution of improved maize seedlings to farmers; construction of vegetable green house; cultivation of more than 1,200 hectares of rice farm; construction of 33 cassava micro-processing mills; provision of Tractors’ Hiring Enterprise Centre for accessibility to farmers and procurement of 600,000 bags of fertilizer for farmers in the state.
Additionally, Emmanuel’s administration has recorded a landmark achievement with the commencement of production at a fertilizer-blending factory by Messrs GreenWell Technologies in Oku Abak, inaugurated on June 1, 2018 as part of activities for 2018 Democracy Day in the state.
The fertilizer-blending factory has offered employment to about 100 youths of the state and is 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.
To encourage food sufficiency in the state the government installed upgraded five metric tonnes daily cassava-processing mills at Nung Udoe in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government and another at Ikot Ekang, Abak Local Government, inaugurated between May 30 and June 1, 2018 respectively, as part of activities for the 2018 Democracy Day celebration.
Two of the three mills have offered employment directly and indirectly to about 100 young men and women as well as contributing to food security through the processing of cassava into garri; odourless foofoo; cassava flour; starch for industrial and pharmaceutical purposes; production of animal feeds; cassavita and production of animal feeds from dry cassava peels.
The administration also installed maize preservation and shelling machine at Nung Udoe, headquarters of Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government and drilled borehole as part of infrastructural benefits of FADAMA to facilitate rice production at Nung Obong in Nsit Ubium Local Government, in addition to facilitating the implementation of Akwa Ibom San Carlos Vegetable Green House. The government is soon to commence a Cattle Ranch project.
The recent flag-off of the second season planting at Awa Iman in Onna Local Government by Governor Emmanuel, where 10 brand new tractors were inaugurated, paved the way for the state government to acquire many truck loads of 419 improved cassava cuttings for distribution, free of charge, to farmers 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 N300,000 each for them to venture into agricultural enterprises of their choice as well as for 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 Akwa Ibom, pointing out that for now, the state 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 operation would offer employment to many indigenes of the state thereby creating wealth.
According to him, Akwa Ibom has reached the level of employment generation and wealth creation in agriculture, that currently there is a rice cultivation programme going on in the state that involves 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 provided to rice farmers as 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 executed through Public Private Partnership (PPP) and inaugurated by Governor Emmanuel under Agricon arrangement.
It is expected that with the constitution of Akwa Ibom Agricultural Loans Board with Mrs Elsie Esara as chairman and Mr Vincent Ekpo as secretary, efforts would be geared towards providing serious minded farmers with loan at single digit interest rate to expand their farms and boost agribusiness in the state.
To benefit from the avenues for employment generation and wealth creation provided by government in the agricultural sector, Akwa Ibom people must key into the various agricultural initiatives and be part of the revolution by cultivating available land at their disposal, contribute to food security and take farming as a business.
Government, on its part, should place as priority the provision of silos for the preservation of perishable agricultural produce and make available essential farm implement such as planters and harvesters to complement the recently inaugurated tractors to encourage large-scale mechanized farming to boost food production, generate employment and create wealth in the state.