Harnessing the Agricultural Potentials of Bayelsa State

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Even though Bayelsa State has a vast agricultural potentials begging to be tapped, agriculture according to government data contributes to less than one percent of the Gross State product (GSP). Some analysts argue that oil boom took a negative toll on agriculture because over ninety percent of her GSP came from oil. Another school of thought has laid the blame squarely on leadership. Policy reversals and somersaults contributed in driving farmers away from their vocation. What to do about it? Some insists that considering today's economic advantages, Agriculture should not be given priority attention. Some even removed fishing from agriculture entirely and wanted exclusive and localised focus. They prefer that Bayelsa moves towards industrialisation Unfortunately, the State is also likely to be embarrassed by the disparity in human statistics assigning to her the highest per capita income nationally as well as the highest Human Poverty Index (HPI). These strange bedfellows are only indicative of low sustainability of development efforts. Luckily Governor Sylva has promised to focus on Agriculture considering its potentials to lift the state out of this poverty level through the creation of job opportunities for the youths.

We can go deeper into this phenomenon in order to create better awareness.Human Poverty Index[HPI] has been defined as composite of the probability at birth of not surviving to age 40, adult illiteracy rate, and unweighted average of population without sustainable access to improved water source and children underweight for age. Bayelsa has an HPI of 32.5, occupying a middle position in the national ranking. While this index is higher than the South-South average of 26.6, it is lower than the National average of 34.2. Going by the HPI, Bayelsans are the poorest in the South-South as they have the highest HPI among South-South states, though it has the highest per capita income. It's noteworthy that Edo State is the only South-South state with significantly low poverty levels, as it is among the five states with the lowest HPI.

There are some people who will not be satisfied with this argument and you would almost hear them questioning the authenticity of the data used here. Well even without any data commonsense will tell you that something is not right with our development approach in Nigeria. My colleague says we jumped from the first techno politics of political restructuring to the third techno genesis of concretising forms already improperly conceived in laying the foundation for our now unsustainable development... all that jargon but it rings true still. It doesn't matter how you put, it we are saying the same thing. Something is wrong that has to be put right if we must proceed aright.

Let us put it another way. There can be no sustainable development without development of an occupation that defines the people's culture and tradition. Such an occupation must be closest to the land from whence flows the people's livelihood from birth until they grow into learning other trades. When people grow up from the villages or urban areas they grow into their traditional practices that defines life and they need the land as basic value for progress. They need agriculture, this time fishing and maybe some livestock to keep up their lives as they acquire other skills on completion of school or they move to urban areas. So agriculture is crucial to the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region and Bayelsa in particular.

Let us look closely at the natural potentials of this rich state that now unfortunately leads others in the poverty index. We can quote profusely from official documents published by the state government known as Bayelsa facts.

Why agriculture? With the highest per capita income Bayelsa state cannot also have the highest poverty rates if poverty is adjudged by way of money alone. Even if money is the overriding factor, then distribution of wealth could have been deficient to bring about this position. But the best indicator of such a poverty index is that development strategy is not sustainable. You need to do two major things. Change your approach and definition to development away from money and look for a more familiar value system such as land, food etc. Then, find out what in the value system most affects the majority or is recognized by them. Food stands out, and you ask yourself how we get food naturally especially the ones that self distributes naturally to all the people without intervening unwieldy transportation costs, etc. It is definitely subsistence farming and that includes fishing.

So if you want to develop sustainably, develop agriculture of the subsistence variety not necessarily large scale farming even though it is better than no agriculture focuses at all. You need to encourage a conscious return to the peoples environmental practices, culture, way of life of the rural areas rather than change them in the guise of development, because no matter how much money you make or give them you cannot replace or replicate the natural arrangement of life there. It is this movement towards nature that brings about contentment and lasting development not displacement and urbanization. When we refer to Agriculture what do we really mean? What really are those much trumpeted agricultural resources? Permit us to enumerate them here delineated under Food Crops, Timber Trees and Non-timber Forest Products:

Food Crops: Oil Palm, Rubber, Coconut, Ginger, Rice, Sugar Cane, Citrus, Pineapples, Bananas, Plantain, Yam, Cassava, Cocoyam, Sweet Potatoes, Maize, and Pawpaw. Timber Trees: Iroko, Lagos Mahogany, Iron Wood, African Walnut, Opepe, Black Afara, White Afara, Ogea, Sangha, Abura, Silk Cotton Tree, Red Mangrove, Teak, Melina Tree, and Neem. Non-Timber Forest Products: Bread Fruit, Ube (Peer), Udara, Kola Nut, Bitter Kola, Tawain, Arigogo, Groundnut (Apapa), Raffia Palm, White Mangrove, Dogonyaro, Enge, Aziza, Alligator Pepper (Fesari), Piassava, The Cane Plant, and Indian Bamboo. Based on the abundant resources, the State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources has embarked on a programme of forest preservation. Consequently, certain areas in the State have been proposed for preservation. These are Taylor Creek (21.91sq km), Ikebiri Creek Forest (191.71 sq km), Nun River Forest (97.15 sq km) and Apoi Creek Forest (64.77 sq km).

Tremendous opportunities exist for Bayelsa State agriculture, particularly fisheries and livestock production, along with production of crops of ecological advantage. The sector is therefore a highly promising window for substantial contribution to the GSP, employment generation and major contribution to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of Bayelsa State.

In a recent interview Governor Sylva promised that “in the coming tenure, our focus will be on expanding opportunities for sustainable employment for delivering this goal would centre on exploiting our natural resources and exploiting our areas of economic activity where the state has comparative advantage. We shall renew our focus on agriculture as a key aspect of this strategy”.

Over the years, there has been consensus that an oil-dependent economy is easily emasculated. There has been an urgent need to grow the non-oil sector of the economy. The Agricultural policy of Bayelsa State is that at least 50% of the working population should be employed in the agricultural sector. Pursuant to the achievement of this policy, the State has established partnerships to turn Yenagoa into an investment hub through the promotion of tourism and a green economy. In pursuance of the diversification policy, the State is determined to invest in sectors in which it has comparative advantage and promoting the diversification of the State's economy and its revenue base.

The surest way of achieving that objective is to leverage on agricultural Projects. Presently, Bayelsa State is pursuing the employment generation initiative through its existing partnerships with foreign investors to build the capacity of Bayelsans in rice production, mechanized fisheries (aquaculture) and oil palm production. Plans are also underway to stimulate increased private sector participation in the Bayelsa economy, encourage private sector partners to be domiciled in the State to set up businesses catalyze the domestic economy through job creation, to be complemented by the vocational training and skills enhancement programmes aimed at improving the quality of life of the people.

To concretize matters State Ministry of Agriculture has already rolled out a medium term plan for Agricultural development to concretize the promises of Governor Sylva in the next dispensation. Provision of critical infrastructure has seen the Ministry focused on: Construction of Aquaculture Fish Park.; construction of ADP headquarters building; road rehabilitation at Igbogene; establishment of an agro city in Sagbama LGA; renovation of divisional agriculture offices etc.

I am not sure that the above projects can achieve the Governor's goal for Agriculture in the next dispensation but it is a welcome beginning considering that changes involving the national political establishment. For now the State must subsidize farming with its revenues and encourage the return of marketing boards to ensure ready market for their products. The State can focus on land policy reforms so that every land confiscated from the people can be returned to them or compensation paid to them. Social justice will remove the absentee ownership of land that breeds environmental degradation. Hopefully with these changes, Governor Sylva's next dispensation will become even more promising.

*Mr Nworisara is a Media consultant/Public Policy analyst

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Articles by Nwokedi Nworisara