Bayelsa Back To Farm: The Right Decision For A Greater Bayelsa 

By Success Onyeche 
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Agriculture is pivotal to economic growth and a conscious effort to invest in it is catalytic to national development. Not only does it achieve the goals of food security, agriculture creates job opportunities for the teeming populace.

Agriculture is an important sector in economies across the world, providing sustainable livelihood for countless people, especially in developing countries. Agriculture not only provides a source of income but also provides much of our foods including job creation.

Early farmers domesticated cereals, fruits, vegetables and animals. This helped to preserve many species selected for their high nutrient content and reliable harvests. In turn, the stable food supply chain created by farms kept people from starving, and in fact led to a rapid increase in population around the world.

Today, agriculture is a core enabler of global trade and nations leverage on it for industrialization. As the human population approaches ten billion people by 2050, agriculture has proved to be to continue growth to meet the demand for food. Farming creates opportunities to lift people out of poverty in developing nations. Over sixty percent of the world’s working poor works in agriculture. Farming creates more jobs, beginning with farmers, and continuing with farm equipment makers, food processing plants, transportation, infrastructure and manufacturing.

In Nigeria, agriculture was the key growth-driver of foreign exchange before crude oil was discovered in commercial quantity. In the past, successive administrations introduced policies and programmes designed to improve agriculture were implemented. The Operation Feed the Nation programme was introduced by the Obasanjo administration in 1978. President Shagari also initiated the "Green Revolution" programme. Whereas both programmes took off with optimism, they were killed by corruption and mismanagement. Since then, attempts at improving agriculture have not been successful.

Bayelsa is a State blessed with rich natural resources. As a riverine State, Bayelsa is blessed with aquacultural and food crops: Fish, oyster, shrimps, cassava, coco-yam, plantain, timber, cane wood, raffia palm, Irvingia (OGbono), maize, palm produce, rice, yam, sugar cane, seas-foods and plantain. Over the years these potentials have not been fully harnessed.

During the electioneering campaigns in 2019, Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri promised to hinge the development of the State on agriculture and other agro-based industries. This has popularized the slogan "Bayelsa Back to Farm" as government's resolve to invest in agriculture as a spark plug for job creation, food production and poverty reduction in the State.

Governor Diri expressed his passion and zeal to restore the farming Culture of the State when he presented a N242. 3bn 2020 Appropriation Bill of his administration, christened "Consolidation For Prosperity 2020". Senator Diri said the appropriation bill defines the structure for economic activities to be undertaken in the fiscal year.

Accordingly, the Governor proposed a total Sum of N8 billion for the Agricultural Sector. In his word he said "we intend to focus on the Agricultural sector as a major means of wealth creation. Therefore, various agricultural projects shall be embarked upon with the aim of providing employment and achieving food security in the State. We are poised to quit being a net consumer of food items to becoming a producer and supplier State. Value Chain Transformation Programmes will be supported to achieve food security in the State. We will partner with private sector investors, research institutes, communities etc. in our pursuit of viable agric projects that would provide food for our people and also enhance the development of Agro-allied industries".

The Governor further stated that:
- We are already partnering with CBN and other agencies to increase the funding of various agricultural projects.

- We will put to optimal use the Aquaculture projects in Igbogene/Yenigue, Igeibiri, Angalabiri etc. In addition, this government shall create more outlets to harness our existing natural aquaculture endowments.

- Our state-of-the-art Starch Processing Plant at Ebedebiri, and our comparative advantage in cassava production, will be fully enhanced.

- We shall engage in cassava, rice, plantain, sugarcane farming etc.

To succeed in these plans of restoring the farming culture of Bayelsa State in order to have a massive production of food and increase wealth in the State, I am of the opinion that the State Government should consider & adopt the following measures:

1. Acquire a large plots of lands in each of the 8 Local Governments of the State for farming.

2. Employ the Youths, Men & Women under the Ministry Of Agriculture & Mineral Resources and deploy them to each of this Farm Lands in the 8 Local Governments.

3. Engage In Farm Products Like: fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, shell eggs, honey or other bee products, maple syrup or maple sugar, flowers, nursery stock and other horticultural commodities, livestock food products, including meat, milk, cheese and other dairy products, food products of "aquaculture", including fish, oysters, clams, Mussels and Animal husbandry.

4. Establish a Food Agency and distribution center in Yenagoa Local Government, where sellers can come & buy in a cheaper price from the Government & sell to the Markets in the State and outside the State.

5. The farms should be managed by a private sector and supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture & Mineral Resources, in partnership with the Bayelsa Microfinance & Enterprise Development Agency (BYMEDA).

With the consideration and implementation of the above recommendations, Bayelsa State will be recognized as one of the consistent food producing States in Nigeria.

In addition to economic diversification, investment in agriculture will not only create jobs but de-emphasize the over-dependence on crude oil as a major foreign exchange earner. The Bayelsa Back to Farm project is a vision that must be pursued with vigour and the much-needed synergy between government and the private sector cannot be overemphasized.