By Julius Oweh
The war cry that a hungry man is an angry man is the clearest endorsement of the importance of food in the life of any human being. Even though wild animals can get their food from the forest without planting, the era of man as gatherer of food has been consigned to history. Today, as a deliberate effort both on the part of government and individuals, placing food on one‘s table is a priority. That is why food security is taken as a strong policy for those countries that want to prevent her citizens from famine. Students of contemporary international politics are wont to say that at the height of cold war rivalry between the United States of America and the defunct Soviet Union, the Americans were always using food as political weapon against the Russians. It came to a crisis point that the American government had to buy excess grains from the farmers only to dump them at sea.
Today, a lot of attention is being devoted to farming and the case of Delta state cannot be in a league of its own. As part of the prosperity agenda of the government, the Okowa administration launched a robust agricultural programme and these were well explained in the inaugural speech of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa when he mounted the saddle of leadership. Okowa maintained that it was the consuming passion of his administration to make farming more attractive to young people especially, adding that the era of regarding farming only for the old was gone for good.
Okowa stated his policy thrust of farming thus: ‘It is our earnest desire to encourage and create the enabling environment for commercial farming to thrive through private sector and public/private partnership. Delta state has vast potentials and capacity in the production of rubber, oil palm, rice, yam, cassava, maize, potato, plantain and fish. We shall forge and sustain a structured relationship with the farming population with a view to enhancing production, storage, and marketing of all farm products. The agricultural extension service, being a key component of agricultural development will be given a prime place in this administration. We shall pursue a coordinated linkage from agricultural production to marketing and agro-processing‘.
Three years down line, the job creation officer of the government Prof Eric Eboh and the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources Honourable Austen Chikezie have given physical manifestation to the agricultural policy of the Okowa administration. Throughout the length and breadth of the state, farming activity has attained a new tempo. While some people do it to feed themselves, others are in more commercial scale, smiling to the banks and explaining in concrete terms that agriculture in deed and in truth can be alternative to oil and gas.
During a recent media parley, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Honourable Austin Chikezie disclosed the achievements of his ministry in driving the agriculture agenda of his principal, the governor. Chikezie talked about the extension services to farmers, loans and encouraging more young people into farming.
Based on this core mandate of the ministry, Chikezie disclosed that there have been great achievements in the areas of oil palm development programme, cassava cuttings multiplication and distribution, rice production, fisheries, livestock development, the CBN anchor borrowers scheme, extension services, agricultural mechanization, farm settlement and Fadama among others. On the oil palm development programme, he stated that the scheme is tailored towards assisting oil palm farmers to increase their yields and production. Chikezie said that in the year 2016, 220,000 improved oil palm seedlings were raised for distribution to farmers and to cultivate five hundred hectares of oil palm plantation. In 2017, the sum of one hundred and ninety-eight million naira was approved for the expansion of oil palm project, according to the commissioner. Similarly, in 2018, the sum of one hundred and ninety-five million naira has been approved to further consolidate the Small Holder Oil Palm scheme in the state.
On local rice production and to stem the importation foreign rice, the commissioner disclosed the initiative of the Okowa administration :‘In the 2016 rice programme, the sum of fifty-one million Naira was approved and released to promote all season rice farming in the state. Sixty beneficiaries were selected, trained and supported in cash and kind. Three rice processing mills were purchased for rice farmers at Obior in Aniocha North, Ikweghwu-Agbarho in Ughelli North and Onicha Ukwani in Ndokwa west local government areas respectively. The programme created 60 direct jobs and 180 indirect jobs. In the Year 2017, the sum of fifty million Naira was approved for rice development project to further encourage its production. 198 rice farmers benefitted. A total of 242Ha of rice farms were cultivated to produce 1,500 metric tonnes of rice. Farm inputs consisting of 15,000kg of rice seeds, 900 bags of NPK fertilizer, 600 bags of Urea, 900 litres of glyphosphate and 600 litres of orizo plus were distributed to the rice programme beneficiaries. In this year 2018, the sum of N200,000.000.00 is budgeted for the rice programme which is targeted at 219 farmers to cultivate 300 hectares of rice farms when operational‘.
As for Professor Eric Eboh, the chief job creation officer of Delta State, he maintained that while it was the driving force of the office to create a new crop of business men and women not dependent on white collar job, the drive for agricultural production and making young graduates to embrace farming in all its ramifications cannot be overemphasised. He argued thus :‘There is growing reorientation towards non-oil sectors such as SMEs, agro-allied and manufacturing . So it is being increasingly acknowledged that we need a return to agriculture, SMEs and one which is inevitable for sustainable economic diversification, the micro enterprises. This is the framework under which the job creation objectives of the Okowa administration are being implemented. To make it work, we are creating an environment to attract investment in the non-oil sectors in the state. In respect of our job creation programmes, we have mechanisms for re-orientation and one of the key aspects of our training module in the youths agricultural and entrepreneurship programme is the training of life skills and mindset to change with focus on personal effectiveness, interpersonal skills, success drivers, self employment skills and enhancing employability of the course participants‘.
Thus throughout the length and breadth of Delta State, young graduates are dumping their certificates for the farms. Food, animal products and fish are being mass produced so as to ensure the food security of the Okowa administration. Speaking on the variable of food security, Dr Felix Achoja of the department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, Delta state university, Asaba campus argued with intellectual illumination that the indices for measuring food security remain availability, affordability and safety. He therefore maintained that food security is too important for any government to toy with.
However, Elder Eugene Jacob of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Delta State chapter is of the view the state is yet to achieve food security despite the measures put in place by the government. He explained further: ‘We have not reached a state where we can say we have for food security even though God has blessed us with good soil and weather. Food crisis is one of the worse crises that can happen to any nation and any government that is not serious with the issue of food security will find it difficult to rule‘.