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Agriculture: Amaechi’s Antidote to Insecurity in Nigeria

Agriculture: Amaechi’s Antidote to the Menace of Boko Haram and Insecurity in Nigeria

by Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
May 21, 2014

“In a world of plenty, no one, not a single person, should go hungry. But almost 1 billion still do not have enough to eat. I want to see an end to hunger everywhere within my lifetime.” –Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General.

If there is food for all then we have a rich nation but when we don’t have food for all then we have a poor nation.” –Owelle Rochas Anayo Okoroacha, Governor of Imo State.

The importance of providing food for Nigeria’s large populace needs not be over-emphasized. But this, as captured in the above quotes, cannot be possible in a country facing the type of insecurity Nigeria is currently facing over the menace of Boko Haram. It is a fact that today, Nigeria is in the news worldwide not for any positive developments but due to its inability to curtail the menace of insecurity spearheaded by a religious jihadist sect known as Boko Haram fighting to end any form of education in Nigeria. This unfortunate scenario has defied any known security strategy by the combined forces of our armed forces, thus necessitating foreign intervention.

However, as several other foresighted people have warned, military might is not enough to defeat Boko Haram and solve the problem of insecurity in Nigeria. There is need for a more workable strategy that could solve the problem on a permanent basis. Luckily for Nigeria and Nigerians, we have a visionary leader who has come out with a possible way out. He faced similar scenario when he assumed office as Governor and has been able to tackle it decisively. That person is none other but Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State.

The record has it that the Port Harcourt that Amaechi inherited when he assumed office as Governor in 2007 was more like a jungle where the fittest determined the fate of lesser animals. The once glamorous city was ranked among the four most dangerous cities in the world as at that time. The Human Resources Unit of New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos. had ranked Port Harcourt with Baghdad, Yemen’s capital of Sana’a and Khartoum in Sudan, as the world’s most dangerous cities. Going by the ranking published by Bloomberg, Port Harcourt ranked with Baghdad as one of the world’s most dangerous cities for foreign workers as criminal gangs and militia groups seeking greater control of energy revenue stepped up attacks. For Amaechi to have ended this dangerous trend and rescued Rivers State from the menace of militancy demonstrates that he is a leader ahead of his peers. It unquestionably makes him one whose proffered solutions to the Boko Haram menace we should take seriously as the menace can be likened to the challenge posed by militancy when Amaechi assumed office in 2007.

Hear Governor Amaechi: “The current problem we are having in Nigeria is tied to poverty and unemployment. I believe that one solution to this insurgency is education and employment. The easiest employment is farming, because a large number of our youths are not educated and skilled. I applied it here in Rivers State and it worked. We created the Banana Farms that have created jobs for over 2,000 persons. We revived the Risonpalm; it was dead when we came, and it has employed over 5,000 workers. Also, the Songhai Farm has employed over 2,000 workers, while Five Fish Farms in strategic locations have been completed. We have done all that to create employment opportunities for our people. I am very sure that the establishment of farms will go a long way to reduce the recruitment of Boko Haram members. The federal government must take education, employment and reduction of poverty as priority. We do appreciate the challenges the federal government is facing now.”

As obtainable in other states in Nigeria, agricultural policy was almost nonexistent in Rivers State at the start of Governor Amaechi’s administration. There was therefore no vehicle upon which the sector could be driven. The sector appeared to have suffered from total neglect by previous administrations, leading to the following:

• The parastatals and companies were in a state of decay, e.g. School-To-Land, Delta Rubber, Risonpalm, ADP, etc.
• Non-release of approved budgetary provisions.
• There were no functional projects.
• Agricultural infrastructure was in a deplorable state.
• Counterpart funding on the part of the government was poor.
• Staff training or capacity building was nonexistent.

With the coming of Governor Amaechi all these woes facing the agricultural sector were confronted headlong. He has succeeded to the extent that most world leaders that visited Rivers State commended him for his vision and commitment towards the development of agriculture in the state.

The first major step Governor Amaechi took was to initiate an agricultural policy that would guide his administration in his vision to create another economic base for the state outside oil.

AGRICULTURAL POLICY OF RIVERS STATE
In a broad sense, the policy of government on agriculture is to encourage full private sector participation in order to attain food security, sufficiency and best practices. Government is also to be strategically involved in creating the necessary agricultural environment for farmers by way of providing facilities and promoting programmes in collaboration with external agencies, institutions and Governments for the development of agriculture in the state. It has equally committed itself to invest in agriculture as a foreign exchange earner and use the sector to generate massive employment opportunities for its citizens.

The second step Governor Amaechi took in his vision to revolutionise agriculture in Rivers State was to appoint a very young, vibrant, unassuming and well focused leader in the person of Mr. Emmanuel Chinda as the Commissioner of Agriculture. This versatile, workaholic, egalitarian, well exposed politician and a University of Nigeria Nsukka graduate was all that Governor Amaechi needed to make much impact in this sector. Born on 18th March, 1970 in Port Harcourt, Mr. Chinda, Emmanuel Okwulogwo was the first Senate President, National Union of Rivers State Students and National Secretary General, National Union of Rivers Students by 1995. By 2002-2008, he was the Organizing Secretary, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Emohua LGA. Chinda was a recipient of award of merit from National Union of Ikwerre Students (NUIS) for the promotion and growth of the Union, Rotaract Club of University of Nigeria, Nsukka award for service to humanity, and award of merit from National Union of Rivers State Students (UNN) for service to Rivers State.

Chinda before his appointment as the Commissioner of Agriculture from 2009 was the Executive Chairman of Emohua Local Government Area by 2004 and Chief Legislative Aide to the Rt. Hon. Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, from 2004 to 2007. From 2008 to 2009 he was a member of the Rivers State Executive Council as a Commissioner in charge of Employment Generation and Empowerment.

AMAECHI’S AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION AND REMARKABLE FEATS

The administration of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi since inception in 2007 has introduced several programmes to revamp the agricultural sector and encourage people to go back to farming. According to Amaechi, agriculture cannot be separated from the state’s overall development plan as the sector is being developed to equally stimulate the state’s economy. His administration has established the Songhai Centre, Fish Farms and Banana plantation as well as revived the Risonpalm in addition to other initiatives to improve agricultural growth and output in the state.

Under the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Amaechi-led administration has been providing farmers with credit, subsidies and incentives to boost their output and develop agriculture in the state. It has consistently provided farmers in the state with high yield and disease resistant varieties of crops and other planting materials, including providing professional guidance and assistance to fish farmers.

Apart from food security, the robust agricultural programmes of the Ameachi administration are designed to generate employment for the teeming unemployed youths in the state by encouraging them to go back to the land in order to resuscitate the sector.

PRACTICAL STEPS TAKEN BY THE AMAECHI ADMINISTRATION TO PROMOTE AGRICULTURE IN RIVERS STATE

1. SONGHAI RIVERS INITIATIVE FARM (SRIF)

Songhai farm located at Bunu-Tai/Ban-Ogoi in Tai Local Council covering over 314 hectares of land was introduced after studying the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo, Benin Republic. The Songhai Rivers Initiative Farm (SRIF), which is 20 times the size of its prototype in Porto Novo, has since its establishment recorded huge success in its operations. This farm currently under the supervision of the RSSDA is the biggest agricultural training project/programme in the country.

A good number of Rivers people, mostly youths, have benefitted from the government’s scholarship programme at the Songhai Training Institute in Benin Republic while others have been trained internally to work at the SRIF, fulfilling part of the goals of the initiative.

Such goals include creating employment opportunities for the people, promoting enterprise development especially amongst the younger generation, promoting research in new agricultural techniques and varieties, encouraging skills transfer and adopting appropriate technology by local farmers. Others are enhancing agricultural production and value addition, building interest in commercial farming and facilitating agro-tourism in the state.

Another major aim is to diversify the economy of Rivers State by moving away from dependence on oil and gas, encourage export and serve as a model for developing rural cities in the state as well as make the state the centre of agro- based export free zone.

The Songhai Rivers Initiative Farm is an integration of Livestock, Aquaculture and Agro-tourism. The Centre is designed as a place of excellence for training, production, research, demonstration and development of sustainable agricultural practices. It is tipped to become the number one hub of agricultural development in the country.

Prior to commencement of work at the farm in 2010, the Amaechi administration had dispatched to the Songhai International Centre in Benin Republic a group of 105 young Rivers men and women from the 23 Local Councils of the state to receive 18-month training in various specialised agriculture and agro-based areas and imbibe an entrepreneurial culture.

Fifty trainees out of the number have already been absorbed in SRIF as the first set of workers who will have the opportunity to run their own farm units, sharpen their entrepreneurial skills and eventually set up and manage their own businesses with support from the centre.

1. AQUACULTURE PROJECTS IN RIVERS STATE

• MoU has been signed with ONIDA of Israel for the development of Fish Farms at Buguma Andoni, Ubima and Opobo.
• The total production capacity of these farms is 5,000 tons per annum.
• The project will create employment in the hundreds, generate revenue for the state and pay back in about four years. It also has the objective of transfer of technology to our local investors who may wish to replicate this farm in smaller units.

Strategy and future considerations

• Fish Farming in Rivers will improve local community income and alleviate poverty.
• Services for the industry will create more jobs around the farms.
• Food supply increase in the country.
• Replace fish imports and enable.

Buguma Fish Farm

The Buguma Fish Farm has been completed and commissioned and is now ready for commercial production.
• A company, Buguma Fish Farm Nig. Ltd., has been incorporated with the Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC).
• Recruitment of qualified personnel into the company has been concluded for the first batch of staff.
• The Andoni, Opobo and Ubima Fish Farms have also commenced. The sites have since been acquired and clearing has been done. Land preparation/earth works have commenced. Imported items for the infrastructural development of the farms are being awaited.

1. BANANA PLANTATION DEVELOPMENT

• The project is for the cultivation, production and export of banana for commercial purposes in partnership with San Carlos Nig. Ltd.
• A Special Purpose vehicle (Precious Bananas Nigeria Limited) has since been formed for the project.
• About 6,000,000 boxes of banana will be produced annually and marketed locally and internationally.
• 2,000 hectares of land have been acquired for the project at Khana and Tai LGAs.
• The value of the project is 45 million US dollars.
• Out of this RSG is to contribute 40% while the partner is to contribute 60%.
• So far the first phase of about 250 hectares has been fully cultivated.
• Production for the first stage has been successful as harvest has been made and local sales effected.
• Land preparation for the second phase (250ha) has commenced
• The farm has so far employed about 350 people but is expected to employ about 4,000 people directly when fully established.

1. OIL PALM DEVELOPMENT IN RIVERS STATERisonpalm Ltd

• Agreement has since been signed with SIAT Nig. Ltd. for the rehabilitation and replanting of the 16,000 hectares Risonpalm estate under a lease arrangement for 35 years.
• Rehabilitation of infrastructure and installation of new processing mills almost completed.
• Engagement of new staff in progress; Risonpalm has the capacity to employ up to 5,000 people when running fully.
• Value of project is N20bn in the first 10 years.

1. PLANTATION

• Rehabilitation of the Ubima and Elele estates, i.e. about 14,972 ha of palm trees, has been done.
• Rehabilitation of Oil Mill, with present capacity of 30 T/Hr

1. OIL PALM DEVELOPMENT

New Oil Palm Estate
The state has sourced 10,000 hectares for the development of a new oil palm estate in Okwale, Luebe, Lorre, Wikue, Lueku and Kpaa Azuogu, Ndoki, Obete of Khana and Oyigbo LGAs.

Investors are being sourced for project, though discussions are on with a few investors that have shown interest.

1. RUBBER DEVELOPMENT IN RIVERS STATE
Delta Rubber: Rehabilitation and planting of the state owned 7,000 hectares Delta Rubber Company Limited with provision of processing facilities. MOU has just been signed with private investor, SIAT Nig. Ltd; on lease of the company.

1. RUMUEWHOR RICE PROJECT

• Planting/cultivation of a 10,000 hectares rice field with provision of modern processing facilities.
• 10,000 hectares has been acquired for the project at Rumuewhor in EMOLGA
• Discussions with investors have gone far.
• Project is expected to commence soon.

1. RIVERS FADAMA PROJECT

Fadama is a word for low lying seasonally flooded lands. The following has been achieved in this area:

• Establishment of three new farm villages for the cultivation of various crops, chief of which is cocoa.
• The project comes with a central processing centre to achieve value addition.
• MoU has been signed with LR Group of Israel who are investors/partners.
• Project is expected to employ up to 4,000 people.
• 5,000 hectares is being acquired for the project which is supervised by RSSDA with the involvement of the State Ministry of Agriculture.
• Value of the project is about 140m dollars

SMALL AND MEDIUM SCALE PROJECTS

National Fadama Development Projects: Rivers State is benefitting from a World Bank Programme to develop the agricultural sub-sector of the economy supported by the federal, state and local governments to be implemented using Community Driven Development Approach.

Rivers State ADP: The ADP has the following programmes:

Root and Tubber Expansion Programme (RTEP)
The programme aims at providing grants to farmers in the state to achieve sustainable increase in the production of root crops e.g. cassava, yam, cocoyam and sweet potato.

Focus in the state is centered on the production and processing of cassava. Funding is by IFAD, FGN and RSG.

25 Farmers Co-Operative Societies in the state have received grants for this programme. RSG counterpart funding since 2008 is N23m.

Community Based Natural Resources Management Programme
This programme is for the empowerment and development of rural communities through community driven approach in partnership with IFAD. The programme is being implemented as of now, in 5 LGAs. Funding by RSG is N101,200,000 (2008 & 2009).

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN AGRICULTURE IN RIVERS STATE

The mission of the Rivers State Government is anchored on integrity and good governance. This it hopes to achieve using its God-given resources to improve the quality of life of its present and future generations and empower its people.

Rivers State Government is promoting job creation by investing in its agricultural sector to promote businesses anchored on public private partnership.

In pursuing this goal, attractive and flexible investment incentives are available for investors to the state. This package of incentives which is exclusive to Rivers State is further enhanced by other Federal Government investment incentives; and is mainly in the areas of taxation, fiscal policies and guarantees.

POTENTIAL AREAS OF INVESTMENT

Oil Palm
The state has over 10,000 ha of land marked out for the development of additional oil palm estates on PPP basis. Investment in the industry will yield high returns. RSG is sourcing for investors to leverage on this opportunity.

Rubber
The state is in the rubber zone of the country and it has enough land for rubber development especially at the Elele/Ubima and Etche axis of the state. Investment in the product will be highly profitable.

Banana/Plantain
Few regions of the world are as endowed as Rivers State in the production of tropical crops like banana and plantain. Investors need to leverage on this opportunity.

Rice
RSG has acquired 10,000 ha of land for rice production/processing and is sourcing for investors to exploit this opportunity. Additional land is available especially in the upland areas of the state for rice cultivation. The soil is quite suitable for the cultivation of this staple food.

Cassava
There is enough fertile land for cassava planting/cultivation in all the upland areas of the state and some of the riverine LGAs such as Degema. A large market already exists for the product. Value addition will increase the benefits of investing in cassava planting/cultivation.

Pineapple, Orange, Pawpaw, Coconut
This is a key area of industrialization (fruit juices) which has not been fully explored. Enough fertile land exists in the state for their production.

Food Processing/Packaging
Investment in food processing/packaging will be rewarding in the sense that there is a huge market for such products in the state. The state capital, Port Harcourt, is a cosmopolitan city and Nigeria’s second largest commercial and industrial centre. With 23 LGAs, Rivers State is rightly described as the investors’ haven.

Aquaculture/Fishery
Rivers Sate is one of the most endowed states in the country in terms of aquaculture/fishery. The state currently has four fish farms on PPP basis with a production capacity of 5,000tons/annum but this is just like a drop in the ocean considering the fact that about 2million tons of fish is currently imported into the country annually. There is a huge market for the commodity and investors need to exploit this opportunity.

Other areas where investment opportunities abound
• Agro-tourism/Wild Life
• Hatchery, Poultry and Processing
• Feed Production, Packaging and Marketing
• Livestock/Meat Processing and Animal Husbandry
• Horticulture/Export of tropical plants and flowers
• Wood Processing, etc.

OTHER AREAS OF AMAECHI’S INTERVENTION IN PROVIDING JOBS TO NIGERIANS

According to the Governor, “the current problem we are having in Nigeria is tied to poverty and unemployment. I believe that one solution to this insurgency is education and unemployment. The easiest employment is farming, because, a large number of them are not educated and unskilled. I applied it here in Rivers State and it worked. Most of them who were given guns by the ex-militants, when we asked them, they told us that their parents could not train them, that is why we introduced free education and free healthcare programmes. And it occurred to us that to address this problem, we need social policing, and while you are doing physical policing, you must also do social and economic policing. And to do that, we started creating employment opportunities by building over 140 Primary Healthcare Centres and over 300 Model Primary Schools. If you visit these projects, there is no way you will not see up to at least 50 workers in each of the schools”, Amaechi said.

“From the time I became Governor in the past seven years, we have been buying gas from Agip and Shell in billions of naira, and the federal agencies have been collecting the revenue without remitting anything to the state. When they said, distribution was a problem, the state government was able to build 88 sub-stations which are yet to be commissioned, but they are all working. We invited them to our exco meeting and asked them of how we can get back our funds, and they said, it is not from them, that all the money they realized had been paid to their regulators, including our money for the past seven years. Yet, they tell us they are privatized, when they are still using Rivers State Government facilities to generate and distribute power”, Amaechi said.

“We generate 545 megawatts, and we are also building another 180 megawatts, and before the end of this year, we will have 715 megawatts. We asked them, how do we get 24 hours power supply, and they told us, we should invest 13 billion naira more. We have already paid 5 billion naira as take-off grant, and our target is that before the 2015 elections we should have regular power supply. We are funding now, and when the project is completed, the federal agencies collect the funds and nothing comes to us. The privatization is not complete, the federal agencies collect the money we invested and own the infrastructures or we are ready to buy you out and own the power distribution network in Port Harcourt. We are tired of complaining about power. On your way to the federal government Afam Power Station, also ask them to show you the state government Afam Station. Our 180 megawatts have been completed and we are building another 180 megawatts. We have the Omoku Power Station, Eleme Power Station, and the Trans-Amadi Power Station that has about 130 megawatts. So, we have enough power supply. But, the problem is that federal agencies collect the funds. If they pay us half of what they are owing us, we assure you, we will run 24 hours power supply, because we are only funding it and getting nothing out of it. This arrangement is not conducive for the state”, Amaechi stated.

Governor Amaechi further called on investors in the state to improve in their investment potentials and seek ways of creating more job opportunities for job seekers.

If this is not revolution then I am at a loss on what revolution means. Give me ten of the types of Amaechi and I will turn Nigeria into a heaven on earth! QED

Conclusion
I will conclude this treatise with a quote from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of Nigeria, during his visit to Rivers State to commission some projects initiated by the administration of Governor Amaechi: “I came to see developments and I have seen developments and I will confess developments! What I have seen is worth declaring! The area of health, education, Agriculture, Sports and road infrastructure is worth declaring. When I see development I earmark, eye mark and mouthmark.”

*************

Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State/

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