By Samuel OYADONGHA
Giving the volatility of crude oil production earnings and its impact on the economy, many of the oil producing states likeBayelsa,are enhancing diversification efforts, and turning to agriculture as a ready alternative to the their economies the deserved boost.
But the Elebele Lowland Palm Estate located in the outskirts of Yenagoa, the capital, which could have been a huge revenue earner for Bayelsa State, is still struggling to find its bearing several years after its establishment.
But the state owned multi-billion naira Palm Estate has been taken over by weeds and its produce being poached by some unscrupulous persons from adjoining communities.
Sadly, successive administrations invested huge sums of money on the estate with a view to transforming it into a money spinning venture to no avail.
Some three years ago, former Governor Timipre Sylva, as part of the government’s effort to diversify its revenue basetried to resuscitate the ailing palm estate with N850million allocation to its Ministry of Agriculture.
Sweetcrude learnt that of this amount, the sum of N300million was for the expansion of the ailing Bayelsa Palm Estatem, while the balance of N550millionwas for the ministry to complete the initial down payment and execution of a proposed Green House project.
In spite of the injection of the fund into the palm estate, there were no visible changes on ground at the outfit, which if operated at fully installed capacity is capable of creating 2000 jobs.
Poachers threaten profitability
But instead of expanding, the vast sprawling estate is competing with weeds and is being used as grazing field by herdsmen.
Also, some unscrupulous persons from the adjoining communities of Elebele, Azikoro, and Agbura have been exploiting the state of affair at the estate and its porous borders to poach on its produce.
Sweetcrude learnt that though the estate is equipped with a modern processing mill, it could not be said to be a profit making outfit.
This, according to findings, is not just because of its size but also because the government had not mustered the political will to turn around its fortunes.
A staff of the estate, who spoke in anonymity, said apart from Dr. Edwin Dandeson-Spiff, a one- time Commissioner for Agriculture in the state, who made conscious effort to revitalise the ailing estate before his exit, others who came after could not sustain the programme.
He said that part of the then commissioner’s programme was to get the government to expand the estate as it was not big enough to generate revenue for self-sufficiency.
He noted that although the state government had planned to expand the plantation in phases from its present 1,083 to 29,000 hectares, the local population from whom the land was acquired were still laying claim to the land, thereby stalling the plan to make Bayelsa the largest palm oil producing state in the country.
According to him, “the resources that accrue from operations can hardly meet the cost necessary to run the estate- the normal day to day operations.
“The estate is not big enough to generate enough revenue to become self-sufficient and this explained the reason why staff salaries comes directly from the state treasury.
“We are eager to work, but as you can see the place is dormant. It is our expectation that the government will revamp the estate,” the source said.