The Abia Agricultural Revolution
The downward trend in the nation's economy has forced governments to look inwards and explore areas they have strength and comparative advantage.
Abia State is not left out in this rush as it is gearing to explore the fullest potentialities of one of its thematic areas,agriculture. Indeed, the state has comparative advantage in this area, and Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu would say" Our land is blessed, fertile and is supportive of agriculture.
My government will actively engage and support agriculture activities especially in mechanized farming of Cassava, Rice, and Palm Oil in line with the Federal Government’s programs and our state’s areas of natural advantage.
In addition to the creation of a Commodity Marketing System, we will support our small farmers through organized cooperatives, agricultural extension services and partnerships with foreign donor agencies and development finance institutions. We will actively procure FG funds targeted at the agricultural areas we want to focus on and also encourage large-scale farmers to invest".
The urgent need to diversify its economy has propelled Abia State Government to initiate a programme tagged "The Return to Farming and Women in Fish Farming Initiative". In line with this programme, Abia is projecting to plant about 7.5 million oil palm trees in the next three years.
The state is also laying emphasis on organic farming with focus on commercial agriculture. The motive behind this idea is to plant crops that are acceptable globally.
According to the State Commissioner for Agriculture, Uzo Azubuike," the State is embarking on massive plantation of palm trees across the 17 Local Government Areas of the State with communities becoming co-owners, thereby create wealth, reduce unemployment and encourage Abians to grow edible plants".
The Return to Farming and Women in Fish Farming Initiative would also set up farming cooperatives for youths and women which will help drive key government policy as regards agriculture. The government through the initiative will make land,finance and training accessible for farmers. The vision is to explore the agro-economy as a support base for the state economy.
Already steps have been taken to restore school farm system in every public school. While this agricultural development programme would ensure that all the old trees planted in the 60s were replanted,some of the Cashew plantations in the State have been leased out to private investors to make room for Government to focus more on the crops that would bring in the estimated huge internally- generated revenue.
It will be recalled that prior to the 7.5 million oil palm trees initiative, Ikpeazu has taken steps to secure N1 billion loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to boost agricultural production.
The loan, which would be strictly applied for the development of agriculture is going to be purely for genuine farmers and not for political patronage. The loan becomes necessary due to certain factors. The new philosophy is to ensure food security for all citizens, and to engender youth employment in the agricultural sector and the attendant economic empowerment. The Ministry of Agriculture has been directed to come up with a blue print for the programme.
In the days ahead, Abia will assume the poultry- hub of the country. The State is collaborating with Obasanjo Farms to establish a model poultry farm that would boast of the best modern technology. In this poultry farm what the farmer needs is to walk into the poultry with his day-old chick. Plans are underway for massive proliferation of cassava, cocoa and oil palm and the deployment of the latest specie of oil seedling called tenera which was bred by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Gov. Ikpeazu through his agricultural revolution in Abia State has demonstrated that he was a farmer who worked in his parents farm while growing up. He has promised right from his campaigns to pay special attention to the needs of farmers. He had commissioned a team to study the Abia Palm Plantation in Ukwa, the Ulonna Farm Settlements, the Abia Rubber Plantation and other agricultural concerns in the State with a view to ensuring that they are revived to produce at optimal capacity.
His disposition to transform Abia to an agricultural-hub endeared him to All Farmers Association of Nigeria (ALFAN) Abia State Chapter and Youths in Agriculture Programme (YEAP). The groups shortly before last year's gubernatorial election in the State endorsed Ikpeazu's candidacy noting that he had the best plans for the development of the agricultural sector in Abia State.
Ikpeazu has always emphasised that Nigeria must develop a new policy that will discourage importation of foreign foods and encourage the cultivation and eating of local foods said as a way to tackle the prevailing economic glut occasioned by the global oil slide,stressing that this is time for us to value the richness of our local menu.
But will the Federal Government heed to Ikpeazu's advice to "look for alternative measures of survival in agriculture and emphasised that Nigeria has varieties of food, including sea food that could be sufficient for the people".
Ukegbu is the Senior Special Assistant to Gov. Ikpeazu on media.