By Chioma Onuegbu

El-kanis and Partners, a leading agribusiness firm implementing Sustainable Agriculture Programme for Rural Livelihood, SAPRuL, project in select South South and Southeast states has said the project was initiated to support the farmers increase their productivity and yield.

The Project Manager of SAPRuL who doubles as the Managing Director of Elkanis and Partners, Engr Ekanikpong Ben said this recently at Transcorp Hilton Hotel Calabar, during a workshop organised for stakeholders comprising, farmers, government sector, extension officers and international organizations.

Ekanikpong Ben who noted that the SAPRuL
project targets only selected farmers in Cross River and Ebonyi States comprising youths and women, stressed that criteria for selection includes that the farmers must own a land and willing to participate in the project.

He noted that SAPRuL is all about real time farmers, adding that that was why the extension agents were engaged to look out for real farmers in the hinterlands.

He even revealed that close to two thousand farmers have been trained and also received supports in terms of farm inputs.

He said: “Today’s event is all about shedding more light and getting everybody to be on the same page. It is also aimed at bringing other stakeholders on board so that we can pilot the ship together. The greatest support you can give to farmers is to help them increase productivity.

” Already we have a request to supply over eight thousand tons of maize and over fifteen thousand tons of rice. This will in a way give a push for farmers to increase their production.
We have models to get buy-in from farmers.

” First we are creating awareness and we also have demonstration farms which is evidential And once they see that what we are telling them is working, they will easily adopt it.”

In his welcome address earlier, the chairman Elkanis and Partners, Dr. Richard Ajah averred that Nigeria has experienced a decline in the already low output of its two major staple foods: rice and maize since 2020 due to outbreak of Covid-19, noting that the pandemic obstructed farming supply chain.

He explained that the situation has even worsened due to Government’s total ban on maize and rice importation, which according to him has left manufacturers and over 80 million consumers stranded, hoping for succor during the next planting season.

Ajah pointed out that El-kanis discovered that the productivity of maize and rice farmers was significantly hampered by, poor weather information dissemination, nutrient deficiencies, pest damage, fertilizer needs, plant diseases, limited access to product off-take, hence the SAPRuL project intervention.

“SAPRuL’s entry point is to deploy our solutions to upscale the average yield of maize in the proposed project area from an average of 1.8 mt/ha to 3.6 mt/ha and yield of rice in the proposed project areas from an average of 2 mt/ha to 3 mt/ha.”, Ajah noted.

In a keynote address, the Vice Chancellor, University of Uyo Professor Nyaudo Ndaeyo
, urged youths to understand the largely untapped pool of prospects in agriculture beyond the hoe, describing Agriculture as a reservoir that does not only feed the masses but creates wealth and employment along the whole value chain both on farm and off-farm.

The VC who was represented by Dean Faculty of Agriculture, Prof. Godwin Udom also described women empowerment as key factors that influence outcomes on staple food production, adding that women are more likely to be better managers of resources than men.

“They deserve better attention, support to their associations and groups and equal access to both land and financial resources, reasons I suppose SAPRuL project is targeting 50percent of women during the project implementation.

“Rural transformation does not happen in isolation, but as part of a broader process of structural transformation shaped by the interlinkages between agriculture, the rural non-farm economy, manufacturing and services. Rural transformation is essential for structural transformation. And rural transformation does not just happen; it must be made to happen.”, the VC said.

On his part , the Country manager for Commercialization of Biofortifed Crop, HarvestPlus, Mr Goodluck Ogu , said SAPRuL project has been able to define the components of basic needs in agriculture which includes self-sufficiency, nutrition security, market system-based agriculture where all the members of value chain are fully represented.

“The programme today has been a wonderful one because it brought people across all sectors- farmers, people from government and processors to brainstorm and address the needs in staple foods like maize and rice.

“To me, innovation is not a rocket science. When people see what addresses their concerns, definitely they will have a buy-in.”

Explaining why SAPRuL project targets mostly women and youths, he noted, “For me, it is very convincing to put women at the forefront on this project and get youths as a backup to give the women the necessary support.”

Contributing, Professor. Edna Akpan of Akwa Ibom State University explained that farmers are evolving globally from the crude way of doing things because of ICTs, describing what Elkanis is doing as a good initiative.

Her words: “In every innovation, there are people we call early adopters and late adopters. What the late adopters do is to check how early adopters are benefiting from the innovations. With what is on ground coupled with more advocacies and enlightenments, I see farmers keying into this project because of the positive impact SAPRuL will have.”

Similarly, the President of Women in Agriculture, Cross River State, Barr. Theresa Mogbor appreciated Elkanis and Partners for giving opportunity for women to expand their farm yield.

“The stakeholders’ meeting is really a blessing to me and I am very happy that I came. There are certain challenges we have which have been highlighted. Elkanis and partbers have given us hope that they will do everything possible to increase our farm yield.

“My farm used to give me 2.5 tons a year , now I have been assured that I can get up to 4 tons because they are going to give us improved seedlings and technological innovations that will make the farm do well.

“This stakeholders meeting has made us to know that women are very important. With 50 percent slot to women, I am very happy and as President of Women in Agriculture, Cross River State, I will carry out sensitisation on this and ensure that what we need to do to partner Elkanis will be done properly.”

Sunny Itumo, one of the benefiting farmers from Ebonyi said “Farmer in Ebonyi state have been praying for this type of opportunity. When the aims and objectives were showcased, the people (farmers) accepted it.”

Meanwhile, SAPRuL project is an Initiative of Elkanis and Partners supported by USAID, West Africa Trade and Investments Hub and other project partners.The project is aimed at leveraging linkages with processors to achieve economies of scale with regard to procurement of rice and maize from farmers on the program.

The project targeted at improving farmers’ access will situate 7,000 hectares of land under climate-resilient cultivation and will help 7,000 smallholder household members across Ebonyi and Cross River States to cope with the effects of COVID-19. Among the 7,000 beneficiary farmers, 50percent will be women and 50percent youths.

The key benefits for the farmers during the project will be an increasing income through long-term and stable access to markets and a transparent pricing mechanism, as well as access to new technologies, improved inputs and technical assistance.

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