Buying Into Governor Orji's Liberation Farms Philosophy
By Jasper Uche
Agriculture used to be the mainstay of Nigeria's economy until the discovery of oil. The three main regional governments at independence built infrastructure and developed new industries under healthy competitiveness from earnings from agricultural products like groundnut, cocoa and oil palm. It was reported that Nigeria was so economically prosperous in agriculture that Malaysia-the second largest exporter of oil palm in the world after Indonesia, sourced her palm seedlings from Nigeria. As a matter of fact, Malaysia also resorted to Nigeria for specific insects for the cross-pollination of the palm seedlings. The then Eastern Region was remarkable under the agrarian policy of the former premier, Late Dr. M. I. Okpara with large oil palm and cashew plantations in many parts of the Region. However, the discovery of oil or what development economists call the 'Dutch Disease' deprived Nigeria of this vibrancy and leading role in agriculture.
But with the good old days gone, and the urgent need to reposition Nigeria's economy through diversification; the Legacy-driven Governor of Abia State, Chief T. A. Orji has jumpstarted a quiet revolution in the sector, which will mainstream agribusiness as a veritable instrument for enhanced revenue earning for the State and economic empowerment of the teeming jobless and underemployed youths who may want to cut a teeth in the sector.
Quite frankly, what Governor Orji is doing in agricultural sector qualifies a global showpiece. His passion and political will to elevate the value chain in agriculture, vividly reminds one with nostalgia of the country's ingenuity in promoting agriculture in the heydays of independence.
The choice of the name 'Liberation Farm' is both metaphoric and clairvoyant. Metaphoric in the sense that it marks a radical departure from an era of stunted ideas that worsened the state's pangs of emasculated masculinity and harassing underdevelopment. It heralds a Liberation from an era in Abia when men were not men. Time when Abia brains went on 'exile' to escape the unscrupulousness and sanguinary of a family dynasty. It marks a new epoch when the legendary republican and can-do spirit of Ndi Abia has been restored by a leader with a rare courage. A new epoch indeed, when 'out of the box' thinking is needed to compete favourably in a hi-tech driven race of global family.
On the other hand, the Liberation Farm model stands for exceptional foresight that is seen in a few transformational leaders. With pilot programmes on large plantations of cassava, plantain and rice, the State Government opened big farms in the three senatorial zones of the State, with a plan to extend same to the 17 LGAs of the State. At Okeikpe, Ukwa West LGA, the State did a direct investment of plantain plantation in 4 hectares of land. Apart from the immediate gain of sales in commercial quantities, it will also serve as a reservoir of suckers of improved variety that can be sourced by potential investors and youths that may want to bridge the unemployment gap with agribusiness. Most importantly, it provided employment opportunities to over 100 youths and young-adult rural dwellers in that domain
At Lodu, Umuahia North LGA, the State Government also did a direct investment on 4 hectares of land for plantain plantation; and another 5 hectares of land was designated for massive production of special varieties of cassava that are biotechnologically versatile for human uses. The 'Pro-Vitamin A' variety is planted in 2 hectares while TMS (419) variety is planted in 3 hectares. Already, the wife of the Governor, Mrs. Mercy Odochi Orji, a legendary grassroot mobilizer and an activist of family excellence has sensitized rural women to key in and exploit the gains of these new cassava varieties, especially the Pro-Vitamin A. With renewed vigour and interests in agriculture-for-business by a wide spectrum of Abians, the cassava stems from the Lodu Farm will be utilized in public-private-partnership (PPP) farms from next season.
Very recently, the State Executive Council also approved the take off of another Liberation Farm at Isiala Amaba in Isuikwuato LGA of the State, a 4-hectare land for plantain plantation. It is no wonder that Abia is one of the four states selected by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, in its plantain/banana value chain programme, meant to encourage people to build careers in the sub-sector. So far, over 200 farmers in the state have benefited from the suckers freely distributed. Abia has also been allocated 10,000 suckers of exportable improved variety of banana in the 275,000 stems of banana suckers procured by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
One expects the young graduates and unskilled jobless youths to cash in on the opportunities provided by these Liberation Farms. Agriculture is a ready platform to stem the unemployment challenge facing the country and that is the message which Governor T. A. Orji has boldly disseminated beyond the shores of Abia State. A return to the golden years, when agriculture was the commanding height of the nation's economy is a sure-footed panacea to diversify our mono-cultural revenue base and reduce overdependence on oil. That is the roadmap which Governor Orji's Liberation Farms have charted. Uche lives in Umuahia