Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Security Dr Glory Edet explains the state’s efforts to revive agriculture through various farmer empowerment programs. She adds that the value chain development strategy, where the focus is on agricultural input suppliers, farmers, aggregators, processors and traders, is at the center of administration to boost productivity. , create employment opportunities along the chains and diversify the state economy. . FEMI IBIROGBA, Agro-economy Manager, presents the extracts.
• As the state grows cocoa, onions, vegetables
What exactly is your interest in the agricultural sector: cash crops, food crops, industry or employment?
First of all, I would like to thank God for His Excellency the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, who knows the importance of agriculture. He is passionate because he believes that through agriculture the level of poverty can be reduced. In its first mandate and its second agenda, agriculture occupies a preponderant place. This means that agriculture is the key.
Through this ministry, he really encouraged us to get into agriculture and reminded us of our major profession. And here we have really encouraged the farmers in so many sub-sectors like cash crops, food crops and vegetables. In coconut cultivation, for example, Akwa Ibom is in the lead. We have cultivated over 4000 hectares. The state has three coconut plantations. We also encourage individuals and groups to cultivate.
The government encourages farmers by distributing coconut seedlings to them. In addition to the more than 4,000 hectares we have cultivated, individuals also own plantations because we know they will soon replace the crude oil economy.
This government also believes in the value chain and what will benefit society not only today but also in the future. We have a coconut oil factory in the state that the governor has established which is the best in West Africa; about 90 percent complete.
It would have been completed, but for the COVID-19 restrictions that prevented some of the engineers working there from entering the country. The plant will take around 1000 coconuts. It will take two to three shifts per day and each team will take no less than 3000 nuts.
When will the plant start to operate?
By the grace of God, it will begin to operate this year.
Do you think coconut is your strongest area in agriculture?
We have different areas in which the state is doing well because we are lucky to have fertile land. We create wealth with what we have, like coconut. With this plant, when you grow your coconuts you are sure to have a ready market and it really encouraged the farmers because apart from government plantations we always want individuals and groups to benefit.
We also grow cocoa. We have the best quality cocoa. Recently, the state government, through the ministry, distributed over 700,000 cocoa plants to farmers, gave them agrochemicals and sprayers.
In agriculture, inputs are very important. If you want to be successful, you have to get a better variety of inputs. There are farmers who may be interested in farming, but they have no inputs. Thus, the state government helps farmers obtain inputs. If someone gets the cocoa plants and is already a cocoa farmer they can expand the farm and if they are a new farmer they can start something.
Were these really improved cocoa plants, because there are adulterated ones?
Yes. You know, when we get the seeds, we’re in the department raising the nursery. We collect the seeds and breed them until they are ready to be planted. We then invite the farmers and give it to them.
The governor provided the cocoa fermentation, a drying center and a warehouse for the farmers. So when they harvest, they bring it to the center for fermentation and drying. The warehouse will serve those who do not have space to keep their cocoa beans.
In the state we have areas of local government that are truly blessed with cocoa. Number one is the Ini local government district. When they harvest, ferment, dry and enter the warehouse, we pack them up and let people know that they are from Akwa Ibom, and we put our dakkada symbol before it is sold.
Do you also grow rice in the state?
Yes, we are also fortunate enough to grow rice. We have local government areas where we can grow swamp rice and if you do that you can plant and harvest three times a year.
We have many farmers in the local government areas of Ini, Uruan and Ibiono Ibom who cultivate swamp rice. The governor gave the farmers rice seeds as well as interest free loans and they are very grateful. During the COVID-19 containment, all bags of rice distributed were produced in the state. There are also rice processing factories all over the state.
Have your farmers benefited from CBN’s anchor borrower program?
CBN barely informs the ministry. In most cases, they deal directly with the farmers. That is why we want to take this opportunity to appeal to the CBN. You know, if you want to give something to the farmers, you have to officially inform the appropriate services, at least for information and supervision. Both parties need to know whether the people involved (buyers / input suppliers) and some of the beneficiaries are real farmers. Some may not even know anything about farming. This is why real farmers do not benefit in most cases.
If you want to give loans to farmers, after going through the agriculture ministry, you have to ask to see the farmers physically and even do a survey of their farms to make sure they are the right people.
What is the way forward in this direction?
If you want to reach any group of farmers, depending on the crop you want to support, check with the ministry in charge of farmers. Let them call the farmers for you, even if you want to connect with them, feel free to ask them questions, do inspections, etc.
If you meet real people, you don’t need anyone to tell you. Based on the questions they ask you and their experiences, you will know whether they are farmers or not.
What about the vegetables?
Another thing that we are truly blessed with are vegetables. Before now people used to go to other states to buy vegetables, but now God has really helped us. With the training, you will continue to bring you added value. Since taking office, the governor has sponsored the training of farmers and now the state’s farmers produce a lot of vegetables.
People even come from other states to buy vegetables from us, and last year the governor gave interest-free loans to over 1,000 vegetable growers. It has also granted interest-free loans to more than 1,000 maize farmers, as well as cassava farmers. Cassava is one of the main staple crops in Akwa Ibom. We also grow onions now.
What about the cattle?
Apart from the crop sector, we have the best state slaughterhouse managed by the ministry through a committee. We send veterinarians there every day. You cannot slaughter an animal without confirmation from veterinarians that the animals are safe to eat.
Also, the government, a few months ago, distributed female and male goats. Each farmer returned home with two females and one male (West African dwarf goat (WAD).)
Does this mean that there are no licensed private slaughterhouses in the state?
There are private slaughterhouses in the state, but you can’t set up a slaughterhouse without the approval of the ministry because what our people eat is very important to us.
The southern governors meeting said open cattle grazing should be banned in the south. Are you making arrangements for a state-facilitated cattle ranch?
If the governors of the south have met, we await their report. Each state will know what to do. When we hear from the governors, each state will now decide what to do.
Is it really sustainable to grow onions here?
You know that with training, research and technology, you can discover so much and there are some things that you don’t make assumptions about. So since vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and cucumber are grown, we thought to try onions as well. We tested the thresholds and everything went well.
We planted in the demonstration farms and it worked. Based on that, we had to train people and we are planting across the state.
I was able to see near the airport that some greenhouses established by the state government are vacant while others are in use. Why are some vacant?
We have 10 greenhouses and we use them. In the only two that you haven’t seen vegetables, we finished harvesting a few days ago and are fumigating them.
What we usually do is when we plant and harvest we fumigate the house and let it sit for a while. We do this sequentially so that at no time do we run out of tomatoes or vegetables.
We have an irrigation house there which is very powerful and useful. We plant during the dry and rainy seasons. We cannot therefore leave any vacant.
OCP Africa has proposed a $ 1.4 billion fertilizer plant project in the state. Has he taken off?
It was actually a few weeks ago that we raised the flag. When we talk about building a factory, there are processes. You meet the community and other things. Everything is going perfectly well because a few weeks ago, the governor, his deputy, and all the actors of the State were there for the flag of the factory. So everything is going well.
What are you doing in the palm oil industry? Are you moving in that direction as well?
In Akwa Ibom State, of course, we are fortunate to have good quality oil palms. So the government is doing a lot of things to improve this sector.
About three weeks ago, we distributed over 100,000 oil palm seedlings to farmers. If the government is not interested, there is no way to do it.
Apart from that we have the Akwa Palm Limited which has been around for years. The place is being reborn now.
The governor has developed many cash crops which we know will bring development to the state.