Appraising Abia giant strides in agriculture

By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
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Abia's great march to become an agricultural-hub received a recent push. In few years ahead, the state targets to develop 7.5million palm seedlings occupying 10,000 of oil palm plantation across the state.

The project will come in phases. The first phase will produce 2 million seedlings. The second phase is projected to record 3 million seedlings, while the last lap will produce the rest 2.5 million seedlings. The state is as well embarking on massive plantation of other economic crops such as ginger, pineapple and cassava, and Ohambele in Ukwa East Local Government Area of the state has mapped for the production of ginger and pineapple. Worthy of note here is that close to 2 million palm oil seeds have already been planted at Ahiaba Umueze in Osisioma Ngwa Local Government Area.

It will be recalled that from the inception of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu- led administration, the state has demonstrated genuine interest to diversify to agriculture as well elevate it to an agricultural- hub. This was amply captured in one of Gov. Ikpeazu's statement thus:" 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”.

Measures to achieve this have manifested in various forms and shapes. One of the programmes designed to drive this vision is the "The Return to Farming and Women in Fish Farming Initiative". The programme would 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.

The administration has also taken steps 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 the state recently accessed a N1 billion loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). he 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 state is currently embarking on registration of farmers. Abia North and Abia Central Senatorial Zones have been concluded, but, according to the Commissioner for Agriculture, Chief Uzo Azubuike, there will be a repeat of the exercise in the zones already concluded to capture those that were not initially captured.

Unarguably, land preparation is the most critical and difficult phase of farming, and to engage in large-scale farming, the mechanisation process must be introduced. In relation to this, the state has acquired the necessary heavy equipment to ensure mechanisation of the agricultural process and engender large- scale production of crops.

To ensure that rural farmers have access roads to the urban centres to enable them convey their agricultural produce, the state is embarking on massive grading of rural roads. The State is also 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).

On this note, there is a passionate appeal to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to scale up efforts to revive 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 produce at optimal capacity.

Ukegbu, a public policy analyst and communication strategist, writes from Umuahia, Abia State.