AT his recent media brief in Asaba, the Commissioner, Delta State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr Austin Chikezie, unfolded details of the major activities of the Okowa administration in the agricultural sector, over the past roughly one-and-a-half years of being in office.
Understandably, he began by laying out the core element of the responsibility of the ministry and its policy thrust. Chikezie, inter alia, said that the mandate of the ministry included facilitating the production of sufficient food for the teeming population of the state via direct assistance to farmers in lieu of agricultural mechanisation, provision of high-yield seeds and other inputs, extension services and by way of provision of credit and technical support. He laid out the policy thrust/guiding philosophy of the administration to include deploying agriculture as the veritable tool for the sustainable overall wholesome development of the state via the provision of food for consumption, industrial raw materials, job creation, poverty alleviation as well as a legion other related benefits.
OUR GOALS, OUR ACHIEVEMENTS-CHIKEZIE
In order to give fillip to his claim of the administration’s success in the sector of agriculture, Commissioner Chikezie, at the media brief, deployed proof-encased in documentary evidence-to drive home his assertion.
Specifically, he gave the attainments of the Okowa administration in the sector to include the following :
(A) OIL PALM DEVELOPMENT
That Delta State, given its suitability for the cultivation of the versatile oil palm tree, should be at the forefront of efforts at promoting its cultivation, particularly on a commercial basis, is quite understandable. And the reason is obvious: While the Delta State Government is itchy to attain self-sufficiency in food and other related aspects of agriculture for obvious reasons, the tree in question-the oil palm-is uniquely versatile, especially as none of its whole being is useless.
In pursuit of its goal in this direction, Commissioner Chikezie said that the Okowa administration, under the aegis of the Oil Palm Development Programme, is raising some 220,000 improved oil palm seedlings for distribution to farmers to cultivate 500 hectares of oil palm plantation. Chikezie added that the scheme/ programme is expected to empower 250 oil palm farmers and begat 450 jobs, including 100 regular ones and 300 seasonal ones.
Besides, five micro (mini) oil mills have been fabricated, at a combined cost of N115million, for distribution to farmers.
(B) RICE PROGRAMME
Without a doubt, Nigeria is a massive consumer of rice, with the country accounting for 7million metric tons out of the 11 metric tons of rice imports needed yearly by Africa. Unfortunately, estimates hold that Nigeria is only able to produce less than 3million metric tons of all its rice needs.
Obviously, in the light of the fact of the massive recession affecting the capacity of the national economy to sustain the massive importation of such a vital grain food, the national and state governments have began to actively take measures to boost the local production of the vital grain, which is increasingly becoming a staple in the country.
In line with this goal, the Delta State Government has voted N51million in lieu of a rice production programme that is expected to boost all-season farming of the grain in the state. Commissioner Chikezie, at the media brief, said that the programme will cover the entire spectrum of the rice value chain-production, processing and marketing. Under the programme, beneficiaries will be supported with training, and cash and kind inputs, while rice mills would be established in Obior and Ikweghwu-Agbarho in Ughelli in Aniocha South and Ughelli North local government areas, respectively. By estimation, the scheme/programme is expected to create 1,000 new jobs, over the long haul.
The multi-prong benefits of this scheme include food production, job creation, peace enhancement and legion others.
(C) FISHERIES DEVELOPMENT/PROMOTION
With an enviable record of 24, 413 metric tons of fish produced in the state by an estimated 5,000 youths manning numerous cooperative societies in the state, the administration is keen on enhancing the contribution of the state to the national fish output as part of a strategic effort to ensure overall self-sufficiency in the produce, which is a rich source of protein. In pursuit of this goal, the Commissioner said that “the renovation, reactivation and equipping of the Warri Fisheries Laboratory, which will serve to ensure quality fish production in the state, is on-going. Also, two fish cluster farm clusters have been approved for development at Ewulu in Aniocha South and Mbiri in Ika North-East and are on-going. The sum of Forty-Five Million, Two Hundred and Four Thousand, Three Hundred and Sixty Naira (N45, 204, 360.00) was approved for the programme in 2016.”
The net gains of this initiative will include enhanced yield from the ever increasing number of rice farms in the state; a significant decrease in the quantity of imports from other lands; the envisaged increase in earnings by affected farmers involved in the cultivation of the strategic grain and the greater sufficiency of the state in the local production of the valuable food type. In a certain sense, too, this will make the conservation of scarce foreign reserve more feasible for Nigeria, including Delta State.This would be no mean achievement in the light of the prevailing economic inclemency in the land.
(D) GOAT AND CANE RAT PRODUCTION
In an effort to promote the health of the people of the state by raising the tempo and consistency of their access to quality meat, the state administration is establishing facilities for the rapid multiplication of goat at the premises of the Agricultural Development Agency (SDP), Ibusa, at a cost of N2.5million, according to Commissioner Chikezie, who also said that a similar unit for the rapid multiplication of cane rat, popularly called grass cutter, is also on-going at the same premises at the same cost. Both facilities are expected to be delivered soon, to enable them serve the strategic role of ensuring that Deltans have access to rich goat and grass cutter meat, for their enhanced health, given their low cholesterol content.
(E) EXTENSION SERVICES’REVIVAL
It goes without saying that developments in agriculture-which are mainly in scientific laboratories all over the world-do not reach the field farmer as a matter of rocket science, or, as it is more customarily said, in the hyperbolic needle theory format. Of that there is little doubt; this is because, as is all too clear, such vital information/technologies reach the typical farmer via the extension agent.
In this sense, therefore, the extension agent is the chain through which information strategically vital to the field farmer reaches him. This is because, as is evident, without the extension agent, the typical farmer would be totally ignorant of revolutionary technologies in the field, and also be able to optimally able to utilise them for his enhanced cost-efficient engagement.
Unfortunately, as vital as the agent is in this chain, it is all too evident that far less than adequate attention was accorded the vital personnel in the scheme of things in the recent past. This may, in fact , be part of the reason that the country-as in deed, the state-had made far less progress than it is capable of, in the vital field of commercial agriculture.
However, all that is set to change, with the move by the Okowa administration to reactivate the strategic chain for the good of the sector and the larger farming community in the state. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Chikezie, at the occasion of the recent media brief held in Asaba, said that the administration had approved N35.8million for the reactivation of the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Ibusa, which is the extension arm of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. According to him, a total of 95 extension agents and block supervisors have been trained to provide and disseminate improved farming techniques and management methods to farmers in the state. To strengthen the hands of the extension workers, the government, according to Commissioner Chikezie, has purchased 71 motorcycles for their services.
(F) CAPACITY-BUILDING TRAINING FOR POULTRY FARMERS
Poultry farming is a veritable source of not just rich meat that is laced with vital nutrients, but also a source of livelihood for the innumerable persons involved in it. To this end, it is an important genre of agriculture, especially the commercial segment of it.
However, it is clearly evident that the sector truly suffers from the problem of inadequate optimisation of its full potentials, due largely to inadequacy of competency on the part of some practitioners. Evidently, this is an unfortunate scenario that not only deprives the farmer the true worth of his efforts, but also, by the same token, disables the consumer from having full access to what is lost to the farmer on account of his technical inefficiency. It must not be allowed to subsist.
To effectively answer to this question, the Okowa administration trained 124 poultry farmers in the state selected from across the 25 local government areas of the state.The training-as is inherent-is to ensure that they are now well positioned to optimise their engagements, on account of their enhanced competencies.
(G) SUPPLY OF BIO-FORTIFIED CASSAVA CUTTINGS
The state government, in 2015, introduced and distributed new pro-Vitamin A/Beta carotene Cassava Cuttings to farmers in the state. Also distributed, free of charge, to farmers in the state were knap-sack sprayers, agro-chemicals, insecticides and fertiliser. All of these were carried out under the aegis of the Food and Nutrition Programme and Fadama 111 project of the state.
(H) ENGAGEMENT IN FADAMA 111 PROJECT
Designed as a strategic response to the challenge of low productivity, seasonal farming and the related issues of food insecurity and material poverty, particularly among the rural poor, the Fadama 111 Project was first held in 20 of the 25 local government areas of the state.
However, in an obvious attempt to raise the bar of its reach and penetration, the state government has now expanded the scope, according to Commissioner Chikezie, who said at the media brief that, “currently, the project is being executed in the remaining five local government areas of the state in collaboration with SEEFOR. Over 1, 984 farmers have been empowered. The collaboration has also created 1, 738 indirect jobs.”
(I) ENHANCED PORODUCE INSPECTION SERVICES
A critical part of the overall strategic roles of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the state, relates to its engagement in produce inspection, as part of efforts at attaining two noble goals, simultaneously: Actively protecting the health of the public, by ensuring that only produce that meet safety standards reach the ultimate consumer, and to earn badly needed revenue for the state administration.
Commissioner Chikezie, underlying the activities of this unit of the ministry, at the media brief, said, inter alia, “In year 2015, the sum of N8, 916, 430.00 was generated from produce inspection. In year 2016, the Department of Produce Inspection Services was reorganised to re-position it for better services. Accordingly, 180 indirect jobs were created, and the revenue generation increased to N14, 993, 755.00. This is an increase of over 68 per cent over last year’s revenue.”
(J) REVENUE GENERATION
In the face of the persisting significant slide in the going price of crude oil in the international market, and the fact that most nations and governments that have developed unhealthy wholesome dependency on it for their foreign exchange have yet to find viable solutions/alternatives to it, the necessity to look outwards for income has become extraordinarily strident. This fact is not lost on the Okowa administration, hence it has adopted measures that will boost its revenue intakes, even from establishments that are clearly out of the bracket of prime revenue generators, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Again, Commissioner Chikezie takes over the narrative, thus, “In line with the National Agricultural Policy, the major focus of the agricultural sector is not direct food production, but agricultural service delivery to improve farmers’ productivity, thereby the Gross Domestic Product of the state and also increase farmers’ income and improve the standard of living. Therefore, our activities are more of indirect revenue generation.
However, in this 2016, approximately Fifty Million (N50 million) has been generated compared to twenty million (N20 million) generated within the same period last year. This increase is due to painstaking re-organisation of the ministry’s mechanism for revenue generation, in spite of the harsh economy of the state.”