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Bayelsans Laud Fg's N1.07b Rice Mill,  Want Real Farmers Engaged

By ENIDENEZE ETETE, ABUJA
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Bayelsa State is one state that still lacks real federal presence. Even at that, whenever federal projects are luckily allocated to it, politicians and contractors treat the projects with lip service, besides not meaningfully engaging indigenes in the implementation.

Instances are the so-called abandoned largest rice farm in Africa located at Peremabiri, Southern Ijaw; Federal Housing Estate, Elebele; federal secretariat project and Nigerian Law School in Yenagoa; Federal Polytechnic Ekewei in Southern Ijaw as well as the Federal University Otueke.

It is against this background that Bayelsa State tends to be apprehensive whenever a federal project is allocated to it. Although the recent approval of about N1.07billion to the state, for a rice mill, to boost production, is applauded, some Bayelsans are a bit apprehensive of how this new federal project, will be successfully executed for the benefit of the people.

Bayelsans in Abuja, on hearing the about the approval of rice mill for the state, have expressed delight over the development, given the benefits it will accrue, besides nearly being out of the show in the allocation of political appointments and physical projects in the current dispensation.

President of Association of Bayelsa State Indigenes in Abuja (ABSIA), Mr. Ebielado Solomon Barry, said in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja that the inclusion of Bayelsa State in the rice mill project was a welcomed development.

"We must commend the Federal Government for this. We thank the government for the inclusion of Bayelsa in the recently approved $10.7billion for rice mills in 10 states", Mr. Barry lauded.

"However, we will like to advise Bayelsa State Government to ensure that the Federal Government should use indigenous contractors or indigenous companies as well as indigenous farmers in the execution of this project", he appealed.

Barry stressed that Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, has a responsibility to see to the actual disbursement and judicious use of the fund, to execute the project to completion.

"This is to encourage and enable indigenes, especially rice farmers to participate in and benefit from the project.

"The project will further open up agriculture in Bayelsa State; boost rice production; increase trade and investments as well as put Bayelsa in the map of rice producing states, besides creating jobs for the teeming unemployed youths", the Bayelsa indigenes chairman in Abuja further stated.

He underscored the need for Bayelsa State Government to promote and market resources and products in the state through advertising and public relations, as done by other states, for instance, Kebbi and Nasarawa States, which he said promoted their rice, were able to attract buyers.

In a similar vein, the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Bayelsa State, Chapter, has called on the Federal to match words with action by releasing the state's share of the N10billion approved for 10 states.

Chairman of the association, Mr. Simeon Ezekiel Ogbianko made the appeal in an interview with our Abuja correspondent.

"As the rice mill will be private sector driven, the Federal Government is doing the right thing but the problem is that, if they give the project to friends, under the guise of private public partnership, like the power sector, the project could collapse.

"Unless it is given to genuine organisation that is really into rice business, or to real indigenous rice or commodity associations, the project might not yield the needed results.

"If government wants to really boost agriculture sector, especially rice production, or help farmers, it should make sure the rural farmers benefit", Mr. Ogbianko admonished.

He said while it would not be good to leave the mill for every rice farmers to operate, and expose it to vandalisation, the real rice farmer groups should be allowed to run the mill.

He re-echoed the fear that the project could be politicised like any other, stating that: "Bayelsa State has the highest number of political rice farmers", adding that they could "connive with the Federal Government and at the end of the day, no mill nor processed rice could be seen".

Answering question on the non-listing of Bayelsa among 12 rice producing states, as was announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, Mr. Ogbianko said the minister was fund of making pronouncements without action.

Ogbianko recalled that, Chief Ogbe had promised disbursement of funds to all the states of the federation, for rice production, but without results.

Mr. Ogbianko said Bayelsa has all it takes to produce rice in commercial quantities, but the sector was politicised, pointing out the his group alone, has large hectres of land for commercial rice farming, and has started receiving support from private partners. Thus, he wondered why Bayelsa was not listed by the agric minister as a rice state, except that may be its products are yet to be seen in the market.

He decried that farming, especially rice farming and whatever government claims it has given to farmers, often exists merely in the media or even when true, are rather given to politicians and supporters.

Ogbianko prayed that the Federal Government should not let the on-coming rice mill project in Bayelsa to end in the media, but should rather be sincerely implemented for the benefit of the people.

It will be recalled that the Minister of State for Agric and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri had announced penultimate Wednesday, after cabinet meeting of the Federal Government, that N10.7billion was approved for 10 new rice mills in 10 states, among which was Bayelsa. Other are Kebbi, Zanfara, Niger, Kaduna, Benue, Kogi, Bauchi, Ogun and Anambra States. Each of the mills, he said will produce 100 tones of processed rice, per day.

Senator Lokpobiri who hails from Bayelsa State, said the new mills were to add to existing 21 mills, to make, 31, adding that the overall target of the Federal Government was to establish rice 100 mills in the country.

He said the mills will be run by private operators, who will pay back the capital, based on agreement.

According to Senator Lokpobiri, 30 states are so far, producing rice in the country.

Before now, the senior agric minister, Chief Audu Ogbe had listed Kano, Gombe, Niger, Kebbi, Ebonyi, Anambra, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ekiti, Edo, Osun and Lagos states as the 12 rice producing states in the country, with Bayelsa excluded.