Agriculture: Akwa Ibom Is Moving From Regular Farming To Business Farming
The Chairman, Technical Committee on Agriculture, Prof. Edet J. Udoh, in this exclusive interview with the Directorate of Marketing and Brand Management (Dakkada), Mr Sam Edoho, bares his mind on the development, successes recorded so far and the challenges faced in the Agriculture sector of Akwa Ibom State. Excerpts:
Prof, you’ve been in this role for three years now, what would you consider the biggest achievement that you have brought to this state?
First of all, we want to thank God for the vision and conviction He gave His Excellency, Gov Udom Emmanuel, to envisage, conceive and constitute this committee, and to also make sure that the committee works with the Ministry of Agriculture. Ever since we were inaugurated in 2015, I would say that the committee, on a mandate given to it, has tried to meet the mindset of the Governor. What do I mean by that? His Excellency has the mind that in two to three years time, we should be on the path towards self-sufficient in terms of staple food that we eat. That means that what should be done and what the committee has done since inception have been to work towards ensuring that we move into the task of self-sufficiency in terms of the food we eat.
We started by identifying what we call key staple foods that the state spends so much money to bring to the state. For example, every household in Akwa Ibom State takes cassava derivatives like gari or fufu. The first thing we did towards ensuring that we stepped up the local domestic production of gari and fufu was to intervene on what we call cassava intervention project. Since we are looking at the situation where we must make it sustainable and people-oriented, we identified the vehicle called Fadama III Additional Financial scheme, a World Bank-sponsored programme. The state government keyed into it and since then, we have been able to move the frontier of production.
Currently, I can tell you that the mindsets of the people have changed. The mindsets of cassava growers have changed. In that, we have been able to do some in-root into mainstreaming production of cassava. We also identified that we spent so much money to bring in poultry product. We consume a lot of poultry products in this state, and we need to sustain it. When we came in as a technical committee, we discovered that almost 90% of day-old chicks are brought in from other states. Before we came in, there had been existence of a hatchery whose complex was not operational. Through the permission, approval and financing by the Governor, that hatchery is now working though not at the installed capacity, but that has now become the nucleus of poultry value chain development in the state. If you go to that place, hatchery, growing, and processing are going on and out-growers scheme is being formed.
In 2016, were had problem of maize disease, and Akwa Ibom as it is, during the rainy season, we have a lot of maize, but last year was exceptional because our maize in the farmer’s field were infested with stem borer, and the Governor graciously approved that hybrid maize seeds should be brought in and distributed freely to farmers. As we speak, there are lots of testimonies to that.
Another area that we spent so much money to bring staple that we bring from other states is plantain. It might be surprising that Akwa Ibom State has about 880,000 planting ecological system. By the permission and approval of the Governor, the committee is in partnership with a local consultant who has been trained on how to multiply hybrid seeds. He has the technology from Malaysia, and we are interacting with him and we have discovered that we can use the local consultant to multiply. We went into understanding with the consultant, and over 10,000 suckers have been produced and distributed to Akwa Ibom farmers free of charge. We are into the second round, and hope to produce over 20,000 suckers by April ending. The intention is to distribute over one million improved hybrid plantain suckers to Akwa Ibom farmers within a year. That means in the next one year, we expect that all the agro plantain fields should have been overwhelmed with these hybrid plantain suckers. We are trying to move from where we are depending on other states, to where we are self-sufficient.
On the average, we brought in two goats into Akwa Ibom from the Northern part of the country, and if you do a consecutive estimation, a goat costs about N18,000 to N20,000. If multiplied by 2000 goats weekly, it gives the amount of capital flight that leaves the state. And since goat meat is the major delicacy of our people, Gov Emmanuel asked the Technical Committee on Agriculture to intervene in that area. We had identified and working with an American company to develop a goat ranch at Nsit Atai which will soon be commissioned. Plans have been concluded to send about 10 Akwa Ibomites would be sent to South Africa to be trained on animal husbandry and disease prevention.
God being on our side and the full support and assurance of the Governor, in the next two or three years, Akwa Ibom would be self-sufficient in certain staple foods and stabilise. The driving force is that, in line with the vision of the Governor, we should be able to move from the culture of farming to business of farming. Those who are involved in cassava and poultry productions are in as a business.
Since the creation of Akwa Ibom State till when Governor Udom Emmanuel took the mantle of leadership, we have never had a tailor-made Akwa Ibom State Agricultural policy. We have always been borrowing from the Federal Government. The Governor mandated the committee to develop agricultural policy for the state and the document for the policy is ready. That will form the roadmap of becoming food self-sufficient in the state.
Another thing we discovered is how local farmers in rural areas of the state would access urban markets. With the lean resources available, we look at what is happening at the international level. We identify a vehicle called Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project (RAAMP), a World Bank-sponsored project which has been established in the state. The Governor has paid counterpart fund. About 520km of rural roads have been identified and prioritised across the state. The essence of RAAM is to bring in funds from the World Bank to join with what the state has to develop rural roads in order to create economic corridors so that a local farmer can produce and have access to markets.
The journey has been very interesting. With the full support of the Governor, we are hopeful that the committee will strive towards ensuring that we do not frustrate the plan of the Governor, but I want to assure you that we are on the right course towards this self food sufficient state.
You talked about the Goat Ranch at Nsit Atai, what is the situation with the Cattle Ranch at Uruan?
The state government had a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with San Carlos and they came in with five major projects – Green House, Cattle Ranch, Cocoa Fermentation, Plantain Farm and Banana Farm. In the short run, the first project to commence was the Green House. The ranch had been prepared, the government has paid for some of the cattle species that were to be brought and are yet to be shipped into the country. The ranch is in course.
How about the well publicised Cocoa maintenance scheme, and we know how viable cocoa production is in the country. To what extent has that maintenance scheme been and cocoa production by extension?
That maintenance scheme was the vision and brainchild of Gov Emmanuel, and it was launched. Experts came in from Ghana. They went around cocoa producing communities and interacted with the farmers during the first year and about 450 youths were trained on how to maintain the farms. The foundation has been laid.
The second phase was for us to see the result of this maintenance scheme. That is why San Carlos indicated interest. After the maintenance process, the yield tripled, cocoa farmers were coming with good reports. So there must a unit to off-take. The farmers know how to maintain their farms. The programme is ongoing and managed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Can you throw more lights on the establishment of fertiliser distribution?
The fertiliser blending plant is a project under the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Commerce, and pioneered by the committee of Foreign Direct Investment. It is not just enough to encourage farmers to plant. The State Governor encouraging the establishment of fertiliser blending company in Akwa Ibom is a good thing because there will be increase in the next few years. For example, when we commenced the Fadama Cassava intervention programme, in 2016, we cultivated 480 hectares, in 2017, we stepped in to 2,200 hectares. This year, we are hoping to cultivate 6,000 because the Governor has purchased additional six tractors to add with the initial four to make it ten tractors under Fadama III Additional Financing.
Before now, there was no functional tractor owned by government, but we now have functional tractors and farmers are happy because those tractors are in the fields. There is a tractor hiring centre in Onna which will be commissioned very soon by the Governor for be handled and managed by the farmers not by government. The Governor has developed the agricultural sector, worked with the local people and allowed them to run. One outstanding fact about the farm model is that government looks cat complete value chain of every commodity it is promoting. The government encourages cooperative agriculture, not individual.
Plans have been concluded to train not less than 300 graduates in Akwa Ibom State under the Fadama Scheme. Everything has been put in place and the accounts have been opened awaiting the World Bank for its counterpart fund to empower each of those youths. Each of the youths will go home with at least N1 million. The good thing is that the money will not be handed over to them. Each of them has a business plan. From the point of land preparation to the off-taker is well defined. They will all be linked to avoid the essence of getting the money and run away. The youths will be trained in not just production but also in processing. While some will be in advocacy, others will be in maintenance.
How can a regular farmer who has interest in taking the farming business seriously key in and benefit from the noble project? What does a trader need to do to key in to benefit?
Let me start with the issue of the traders. Remember there has been a known problem of market unions placing too much levies on traders thereby high-rocking prices of goods in the state due to artificial prices. It got the Governor worried; he called and gave the committee mandates to interact with the traders, and a traders-farmers and other relevant stakeholders interactive forum was set up in December 2017. A communiqué has been signed and would soon be made public. The essence is that the union should not stiffen the marketing channel, but should allow the law of demand and supply to determine the price. What we do to ensure that farmers have access to market is to make sure that for every commodity that we promote; we look at input supply and the marketing. We link the farmers to the off-takers so that they won’t have the problem of where to sell.
A farmer has to key in to the scheme in order to benefit from it. We move them from being regular farmers to business farmers, prepare business plan, maintain and work with them.
How about rice production?
We have commenced something on rice production. We had a pilot programme last year at Nung Obong in Nsit Ubium with Fadama III additional financing to intensify it. We partnered with the National Centre for Agriculture Mechanisation (NCAM) at Ilorin, and the government also partnered with World Bank Fadama III. NCAM provided machines, World Bank brought some money likewise the state government, some groups were trained in modern rice production technology, which was a huge success. The yield increased from 1.2 metric tons to 6 metric tons. We had four rice farmers groups – Ibiono, Uruan, Itu and Nsit Ubium – and are ready.
In any economy, you can’t use the little finance you have. Foreign or domestic funds have to flow in. One mistake governments have always been doing over the years has been to treat agricultural input as a social input. The present government has made farmer to understand that agricultural inputs are not social inputs but economic inputs that have prices.
In addition to that, a global trader and exporter of conventional and organic pulses, grains, oilseeds and specialty crops, AGRICOM, has partnered with the state government for rice production. They are setting up the plant in Ini LGA. You can see investors having comfort believing that their funds are safe. The international organisations are comfortable and it becomes easier for the government who is now facilitating.
Two years ago, cocoa production was 300 metric tons per hectare but current 600 metric tons. How is cocoa production in the state?
We started as a committee to focus on food crops. We are gradually moving to cash crops. There is a success story.
What is delaying the take off of the cattle ranch?
The delay is for the cattle to be brought into the country. We were to start with 2000 heads. About 1000 have been purchased, quarantined and identified for Akwa Ibom, but we needed to have up to 2000 so that the cost of shipping will be reduced. It is a partnership project between the state government and San Carlos. The ranch is there and everything is set waiting for the cattle to be brought in.
Why are we rearing Mexican cattle in Africa?
Mexico has two distinct weather conditions – template and tropical. Sambra, where the cattle are coming from, is a tropical breed. Tobacco, where we are getting the breeds from, have the same vegetation and climate as Akwa Ibom State.
Where are we in setting up of the Tomato Factory?
Before you think of the export market, you must feed yourself first else you will be wasting your energy. So much quantity of tomatoes are brought in from the North, and we have about 47% post harvest lost by the time it gets to Akwa Ibom. What we are doing is to produce and saturate to meet the local demand.
Why can’t we identify a few of the crops and few of the animals and concentrate on the production rather than put our hands in every part and not seen any tangible success? Are we not jack of all trade?
It’s not that we are Jack of all trade. We have ecological system that can support any type of crop and livestock. Don’t allow anybody to deceive you into believing that we cannot run a successful cattle ranch. If the herdsmen from the North could bring in their sick and malnourished cattle and get them well-fed here and then take them out, we can as well raise them up and it becomes a business.
The world is in a comparative advantage where you have to what you have in comparative advantage over another region or state and become a master in that area…
We have moved completely from comparative advantage to competitive advantage. I can tell you that we have competitive advantage in all the projects that the government is involved in. The agricultural vision of Gov Emmanuel is to move from the culture of farming to the business of farming. Culture has to do with what people are used to. There are those who are used to goat keeping and you can’t move them from there to poultry. There are those are used to cassava. We need the people from where they know, and teach them what they know and the business on what they know.
We already have the competitive advantage and what is left for to us do is to increase the capacity. It’s not that we are moving from one place to another, we are very focus on what we are known to produce.
What about fish?
The Governor has approved based on the strategic plan submitted to him for Aqua Culture Farming to provide standard oven and drying equipment in fishing communities.
Information available is that the import of garri into Akwa Ibom is on the increase. Why?
That is not true. The committee is engaging on a six-month study in all the major garri collecting centres in Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket. Data would be published soon. The problem is that, during the planting season, most farmers will refuse to harvest and sell. Before the onset of rain, farmers would complain that it is difficult for them to harvest, and because demand keeps on increasing, more quantity would come in. But that is not the case. The prices of aqua culture commodities are fluctuating.