By Itone Ibanga
When he was sworn in as governor in 2015, Mr. Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, made it clear that his election was an event of some importance. He said “the Akwa Ibom people had come together not to celebrate the triumph of a party, but to celebrate the victory of hope.”
He promised “to transform the economy of our state via industrialization and sustain public-private Sector initiative, thereby opening up opportunities for growth and improved living standards.” More than three years after, he has achieved what he promised especially in agricultural sector.
Governor Udom Emmanuel has taken a bold step to secure the future of Akwa Ibom State through agriculture in the event that oil ceases to yield as much revenue as it does today. Fortunately, Akwa Ibom state is blessed with arable land and favourable climate that supports all-year-round cultivation and extraction of agricultural and forest products such as palm produce, rubber, cocoa, rice, cassava, yam, plantain, banana, maize, and timber.
Through his policy in agriculture, his administration is creating food security, industrial hubs and massive job opportunities for the people of Akwa Ibom. The state is being transformed from one that is heavily dependent on federal allocations to one that generates revenue and earns foreign exchange through agriculture, a vision that Nigeria, even with all its resources still find difficult to achieve.
Udom Emmanuel’s visionary administration from the onset, declared a state of emergency in the agricultural sector, targeting food sufficiency, welfare of the people, export and economic development of the state. With prevailing high cost of living, this couldn’t have come at a better time even as pervasive poverty and hunger ravage the country. It couldn’t have come at a better time than when quality leadership is in short supply.
Although its rural communities are largely agrarian, relying on subsistent agriculture, their enormous potentials are now being harnessed for commercial and mechanised farming in cash crops like yam, coconut, plantain, maize, rice, tomatoes, cucumber and rubber as well as animal production, poultry and fish farming.
The revolution has, no doubt, taken the state by storm. For instance, the state has created an 11, 000 hectares of coconut plantation. With about two million stands of coconut already planted, the plantation is said to be the largest in the world. It will feed raw materials to the coconut refinery, and at full capacity, the refinery would process 300, 000 coconuts per day. This is a huge foreign exchange earner as virgin coconut oil is a highly priced product in the international market, selling higher than crude oil.
The state has also achieved 2,100 hectares of cassava plantation in 15 Local Government Areas under the FADAMA programme. To complement that, the government embarked on the construction of 33 cassava micro processing mills.
To take it a step further, the government embarked on refurbishment of cassava processing plants at Ikot Okudom, Eket Local Government Area, Nung Udoe, Ibesikpo/Asutan Local Government Area as well as Ikot Ekang in Abak council area. These factories were leased to private sector operators for the production of high quality garri, odourless fufu and cassava flour.
Under the Udom Emmanuel administration, 48,000 rice farmers have so far been registered under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers scheme. So far, over 100 hectares of rice farmland have been cultivated.
As a result of its commercial value, coupled with the comparative advantage Akwa Ibom State has in the production of cocoa, the Udom Emmanuel administration has so far, trained 450 youths in new methods of planting cocoa and other extension services to its farmers in the state. The state went further to establish Special Cocoa Maintenance Scheme (SCMS) for the training of farmers and youths on pruning/shade management, under brushing, and tree care by fumigation, in order to ensure the improved yields from 300 kg/hectare to 2, 000kg/hectare over a period of three years.
About 500, 000 improved cocoa seedlings were raised for distribution to farmers at highly subsidised rates across the 28 cocoa producing Local Government Areas in the state.
In poultry business, the Akwa Prime Hatchery, located at Mbiaya, Uruan has produced and distributed about 160, 000 birds to contract farmers across the state. The Hatchery has a capacity to produce 10, 000 day-old-chicks per week. The government also embarked on distribution of improved corn seedlings to farmers; Construction of vegetable green houses and cattle ranch.
Under the Graduate Unemployment Youth Scheme (GUYS), no fewer than 300 youths have been trained. Each of the young graduates is to be empowered with one million naira to embark on any agricultural enterprise of their choice.
In order to boost mechanised farming in the state, the Udom Emmanuel administration also established a Tractor Hiring Enterprise Centre. This is aimed at making such farm equipment available and affordable to farmers.
To further illustrate its commitment to the revolution, the administration procured about 600, 000 bags of fertilizers for farmers in the state. In September 2016 alone, 1,000 bags of special cocoa fertilizer were imported from Ghana for optimal yield. The government also planted about 500 citrus seedlings, 600 hybrid plantain suckers and 1, 000 pineapple suckers at the Horticulture Garden in Uyo.
Transfer of improved technologies
At Ebighi Anwa, Okobo council area of the state, the government in partnership with the Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria established a large hybrid rubber nursery for distribution to rubber farmers in the state at a highly subsidised rate. It went further to establish demonstration plots of various agricultural technologies for the transfer of improved technologies to farmers through the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Development Programme (AKADEP).
Furthermore, the state established three model villages for production, processing and packaging of Vitamin A products as well as partnering Word Bamboo Organisation for bamboo development in the state.
In animal production and husbandry, the governor has equally made remarkable progress. It is working in collaboration with Carlos Farms, a Mexican group that has interest in commercial agriculture. The firm is investing in massive commercial farming in Nigeria to develop ranches. The aim is not just cow production but also processing of cow milk for dairy companies in the country.
The governor’s giant strides in agriculture is largely indicative of his leadership acumen. No doubt, his versed experience in the private sector and corporate governance has been of great benefit to Akwa Ibom state. His ability to attract private investors and some times, go into Public Private Partnership (PPP) is an indication of a man who has what it takes to be in leadership position.
Utonne Ibanga is a social commentator based in Abuja