By B. N. Etim
Farmers’ participation in dry season planting in Akwa Ibom state has scaled up tremendously in the last four years. The rave in engagement in the dry season farming by both full-time farmers and individuals who engage in farming as a past-time at subsistent scale is attributable to the concerted policy by the Udom Emmanuel administration which seeks to move farmers in the state away from the traditional one season planting to three planting seasons.
Governor Udom Emmanuel in trying to address the perennial problem of shortage of staple food in the state during the months of February, March and April which is the peak of the first planting season in the state, made dry season farming a deliberate programme of government under his administration’s Agric thrust. At the time in 2017 when the government launched the dry season farming which came with a massive campaign to mobilise active and passive farmers back to the farm, the price of garri, a popular staple in the state largely imported from Cross River was at an all-time high cost, selling at three cups for N200.
The scarcity of the staple had almost created a crisis; the government had to intervene. And the first intervention was the acquisition of a-100 hectare of land at Ikono -Offi/Nsie and mobilisation of women into the cultivation of cassava in the land under the pet project of the wife of the governor, Mrs Martha Udom Emmanuel. On the other hand, the state government provided hybrid and high -yielding cassava stems which can be harvested within six months to hundreds of farmers in the state.
During the launch of the pilot scheme of the programme, the governor said the project will guarantee stability in the price of garri and bring about food security in the state and will create ad hoc employment for more than 100 women.
“Everybody is talking about food security and we cannot fold our arms and watch. I want a situation where we can feed ourselves. This project is geared towards making garri – a staple food and other allied cassava products available and affordable as well as create employment for the people of the state”. The Governor said.
As intended, the pilot scheme of the dry season farming owing to abundant harvest brought down the price of garri and other cassava products phenomenally the next year and kept it low all – year – round till date. Beyond meeting the immediate goal, the pilot phase of the project helped hundreds of farmers to understand that dry season farming is big business.
From that year, Governor Udom Emmanuel has made a tremendous investment in dry season farming and has expanded the scope of crops planted during the season from cassava and corn in the pilot scheme to vegetables, namely, fluted pumpkin, okro, pepper, and waterleaf.
Last week, the state government in what was a deliberate strategy to get more women involved in the dry season planting commenced the disbursement of loan to 3000 registered vegetable farmers in the state. The Commissioner for Agriculture and Women Affairs, Dr Glory Edet, during sensitization of would-be beneficiaries of the facility said the loan will be channelled through the state’s Agric loans board.
“Eighty (80) per cent of the beneficiaries will be women, while 20 per cent will be men, who are engaged in the cultivation of either okro, vegetables, pepper and waterleaf”, the commissioner said prior to the commencement of disbursement of the loan.
The loan which is sourced for and obtained by the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Loans Board (AK- ALB), would be refunded by the beneficiaries in two instalments and has four months duration upon which repayment should be effected by the beneficiaries which will be drawn across the 31 local government areas. This incentive has drawn more people into the dry season farming programme, which is providing a quick-witted option to thousands of farmers in the state. The expansion of the dry season farming programme in terms of the number of crops and the number of farmers supported by the government in many ways than one shows the commitment of the Udom Emmanuel administration towards ensuring the availability and affordability of basic staples and vegetables in the state.
The Udom Emmanuel administration has developed many other special Agric intervention programmes targeting mass cultivation of crops which are in high demand in the state. For instance, around June and July last year after the first planting season, the state government procured and distributed thousands of hybrid plantain suckers to interested farmers in the states. Under the midyear plantain farming programme which targeted male youths, the government gave out 100 suckers of plantain to each beneficiary. These initiatives form part of the bulk of the short-term Agric programmes of the Udom Emmanuel administration aimed to ensure an all-year-round availability of fresh food in Akwa Ibom state.