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Government Agriculture Projects: How Sustainable?

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Governments in Nigeria

at various levels and at different  times as one could remember has committed money, materials and other resources  for the development of  the agricultural sector with nothing  to show for it till date.

Many today are of the view that government has no business wasting money on agricultural ventures while another school of thought say that so far, there has been no positive political  will from the operators towards  policy formulation and implementation in terms of sustainability of the process.

Unarguably at present, the story of food availability and security across the country is anything but pathetic.

For example, shortly after the Nigeria Civil war, the then  head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon while embarking on his reconstruction and rehabilitation campaign, introduced  the National Accelrated Food Production Programme, NAFPP, a venture which did not put sufficient food on  the tables of majority of Nigerians.

Again when Olusegun Obasanjo came on board shortly after the assassination of Murtala Mohammed, he equally introduced the Operation Feed the Nation, (OFN) scheme which is equally history today.

When Shehu Shagari emerged as the first democratically elected civilian President in 1979, he floated the Green Revolution Programme, (GRP) or do we mention the Buhari/Idiagbon’s Go Back to Land Programme and later the Directorate for Foods, Roads and  Rural Infrastructures Programme (DFRI) of Ibrahim Babangida.

Regrettably, the stories of all these government laudable agricultural programmes as it were then, all went down and out only to be relegated to what may be described today as bad history.

Interestingly, just on the heels of the Buhari and Idiagbon’s Go Back To Land Programme, the Rivers State government  under Fidelis Oyakhilome, then a police commissioner identified the problem of food shortage in the country as a whole and the state in particular and decided to take the bull by the horns in that direction.

Oyakhilome who at that time considered food availability a critical  factor in the state went ahead and established the school  to land agricultural programme in 1985.

However, the whole idea was to radically redress the alarming and rising cost of food bills  among the people of the state and beyond, as he was not mindful of the likelihood of food sufficiency in the state creating  markets and attracting  neighbours from nearby states.

Unfortunately, this laudable programme hit the rocks few years after it took off as failed to make any meaningful impact as was intended vis-a—vis  the employment openings it sought to provide for the teeming young school leavers in the state.

As the years rolled by, successive administrations came and played their part and left the authority not better as they met it.

For example, when the pioneer chairman of the outfit, Mr. Boniface Okwakpam was incharge,  the programme recorded a sizable number of trainee farmers among the young school leavers which of  course the programme was actually meant for.

Just under three years from take off, between 1985 and 1987, records from the authority reveal that the number of engaged young agriculturists stood at 4,395 with a recorded drop numerically as the  years went by.

By 1987 when Okwakpam left the number of intakes has dropped from 1,360 to a mere 200 by the end of 1988.

Today, to state that the programme was only existing in name alone could be said to be an under statement as it has become  clear that the ideals for which the founding father(s) established it has long been defeated.

According to Deacon Reuben Arugu who was chairman of the authority in 2003, the mandate of the authority basically was within the framework of  recruiting young school leavers of Rivers State Origin in modern corps, livestock and fish farming and to settle the trained farmers on lands and facilities acquired by the  government in their various local government areas.

Deacon Rueben even expressed regret then, that the exercise progressed only uptil 1998 and that in 2003 the authority had a staff strength of 115 made up 92 directly recruited and 23 on secondment from the ministry of agriculture and health respectively.

Today in what could be described as a bold and radical step intended to galvanize the agricultural sector for greater productivity and activity, the Rivers State government under the leadership of Rt. Hon Chibuike Amaechi in 2007 set up the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, (RSSDA).

The agencies four key drivers which include ensuring that its projects were in order to leverage additional expertise, identifying and creating services to markets for goods and services and to ensure that every project was not only profit oriented but beneficial to the greatest number of people.

One of the critical mandates of the RSSDA is the development and sustenance of the agro-allied potentials of the state.

To this end, the Agency has built  the Songhai Farm at Tai Local Government Area under the Songhai Rivers Initiative to strategically serve as the hub for all agricultural ventures in the state.

According to records obtained from the RSSDA, its farms were intended to serve as a centre  of excellence for enterprise training and transfer  of skills to local farmers and research into agricultural techniques and varieties.

The farm reputed to sit on an 314 hectres of land is reportedly engaging over  half of the 104 Songhai trained Rivers  youth specialised in various agricultural and agro-based skills and vocations.

Also, it is hoped that the agricultural  programes of  the RSSDA through the Rivers State Cassava Initiative was an intervention specifically designed  to jump-start  a market driven supply chain for rural farmers.

The initiative does not only target 20,000 farmers  but also intends to transform the rural cassava farmers into commercial income generating entrepreneurs by in creating  their cassava yields from 10 tonnes to over 20 tonnes for hectre.

Expectedly also, in order to enhance food production, the Integrated  Regional Farm Centres located in six regional farms of the RSSDA would go into massive employment creation and the development of small and medium scale enterprises  in agriculture and the agro- allied sector.

Perhaps, for one to fully and properly appreciate  what was on ground  at the Songhai Rivers Farm Initiative Programme, a visit to the cenutre would be more revealing.

The production centre at the farm which boasts  of a great number of facilities includes  the piggery unit, grasscutter  unit, cow and goat ranch, concrete and artificial lake fish ponds, green house, cassava and rice processing mills, poultry unit and plantain and rice farms  among others.

From the foregoing, it could be seen that the Rivers State government   has committed a huge chunks of the people money into this gigantic farm project which naturally of course brings to the  fore the big question of maintenance and sustainability which has been our collective albatross  towards infrastructural development”.

No wonder, during the facilities  tour of the farm by the Rivers State chapter of the Nigeria union of Journalists (NUJ),  to mark its 2011 press week, the Chairman,  Mr. Opaka Dokubo expressed  this fear when he  asked the founder of Songhai, Father Godfrey Nzamujo if the project would not  fail when he and his partners leave in two years time.

However, laudable as the Songhai Rivers Initiative could be, government should not lose sight of the fact  that without accountability and the application of expertise by engaging competent and credible personnel, the RSSDA project may go the way of others.

It is imperative therefore for the government to focus attention more on the  development of the rural people who grow most of the food everybody eats on a daily basis

According to a top government official in the Rivers State Ministry of agriculture, who asked not to be named, it was better to empower the rural farmers instead of establishing large hectres of plantain, palm oil and other related farms that have no bearing on the lives of the people at the grassroots.

He said if government deals directly with the subsistence  farmers in relation to giving them soft loans  and not through the rigors  co-operatives, the people would be happy as food would always be available and with increase  in yield, they can send  their children to school and even build their own houses”, he  reasoned.

Armed with the above scenario, government has the choice of learning from the past demises of various agricultural programmes that were embarked upon by past administrations with a view to looking backward on the challenges of the past and consolidating and improving on the future in any agricultural programme it might embark on as we march into 2012.

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Agriculture

NGO Seeks Govt, Investors’ Support To Boost Fish, Poultry Farming

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A Non-governmental
Organisation (NGO), Pechar Integrated Services Limted, an Agro-Allied Feed Manufacturing Company, says it requires the support of government and other well meaning investors to establish a fish and animal feed production factory in Rivers-State.
The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NGO, Charles Pepple, who made the call in an exclusive interview stated that when established, the company will produce feeds for fish, shrimp, chicken, pig, dog and cow.
According to him, his organisation has purchased advance multi-feed technology machine for the production of fish and animal feeds, which will enable farmers get the feeds at highly subsidized prices.
The native of Bonny Kingdom stayed informed that he acquired necessary training in abroad, and went on to purchase Advance Technology Multi-Feed Machinery from China on Agro-Allied Feed Manufacturing.
“Due to the huge cost of setting up the project, I’m seeking for extra funding or support from the Rivers State Government, and prospective investors in order to set up the Fish and Animal feed Production Factory in Rivers-State.
“With the available merchinery, we can start producing 1mm floating fish and shrimp feed for early stage fish and shrimp fingerling development and growth in Nigeria and other sizes of feeds too”, he said.
He explained that as experts and consultant in Feed Manufacturing Technology, the company would be able to offer support and training of Rivers State indigenes on Hi-Tech Animal and fish feed production.
“The Machine also produces palletise feed for chicken, the latest technology in chicken feed production.
“Subsequently, we would start producing feed for cow, goat and sheep, soon after we commence operations.
“It is a good news for farmers because they will be able to afford subsidised feed as compared to the imported brand that is sold at very exorbitant prices,” Pepple said.

By: Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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Agriculture

LASUBUB Holds Agric Exhibition For Pupils

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Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB) has organised a pupils’ agriculture exhibition to boost farming in the state.
According to LASUBEB Executive Chairman, Wahab Alawiye King, the initiative is intended to promote agriculture in the state and also encourage farming among pupils.
The event, which was held at LASUBEB Multi-Purpose hall, Maryland, Ikeja, was attended by the Commissioner of the Ministry of Agriculture, Ms Abisola Olusanya.
Speaking at the gathering, Olusanya stated that agriculture is an effective tool against hunger and poverty, adding that it is very essential to major industries such as manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, plastic, etc.
She stated that agriculture is the catalyst of development in the country and also a bedrock of every profession, stating that no nation can survive without food.
She added that the domestic production of livestock and farm produce is far below national demand, which is leaving room for the importation of livestock with inflation, urging the pupils to continue to engage themselves in farming.
She urged teachers to introduce scientific methods of farming such as mechanised farming and other technical models in agriculture to EKOEXCEL pupils.
Speaking further, the LASUBEB Executive Chairman disclosed that 51 schools from 11 local government education authorities benefited from the agricultural training programme funded by Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), adding that the project is to foster agricultural skills in the pupils.
“Today shows that education is holistic. It is better to catch them young, over-reliance on oil and related products has to be discouraged. Agriculture is the most important sector and we are naturally endowed in this part of the world and as such, we need to take advantage of it.
“This is the harvest period; this is the second series and as you can see, it is a bumper harvest. It is to encourage the pupils into agriculture and to also show that it contributes to our economy”, he said.
At the exhibition, the pupils joyfully displayed various farm produce and livestock such as yam, plantain, cassava, chickens, pigs and many more.
EKOEXCEL pupils now attend and participate in such exhibitions with much-improved dramatisation and execution of their play-acting with an eagerness to showcase their development in school.
Before the introduction of EKOEXCEL, pupil attendance, pupil learning outcomes, teacher content knowledge, teacher motivation as well as pupil optimism were below par.
With EKOEXCEL, these drawbacks have been addressed by a technology-based platform that provides teachers with all the necessary tools and support that they need to help their pupils learn.

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Agriculture

Africa Processes Less Than 10%  Cashew Production- ACA President

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President of the African Cashew Alliance (ACA), Babatola Faseru, has stated that processing factories in Africa are still faced with challenges that limit their production.
Such challenges, he said, include issues of inadequate access to finance, lack of processing equipment, technical knowledge and skills, storage systems, etc, resulting in Africa processing less than 10 percent of its total production.
Speaking during the fourth Ordinary Session of the Consultative International Cashew Council (CICC), in Cameroon, Faseru said the circumference of these challenges is the key issue of quality-enabling environment for a sustainable industry.
He said the future is bright for cashew production in Africa, but that there are many loopholes along the line.
“Starting from the base root-production, as much as we are number one in the world, our cashew trees are producing less than expected.
“There is not enough diverse research and technologies to improve seed varieties and breeding. Can we arguably say that our farmers are following the appropriate post-harvest practices to minimize losses and wastage?
“Talking about processing, we witnessed especially in 2020 the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the processing sector. To a large extent, however, the resilience and increasing global demand for cashews, particularly in the US, Europe, China and the Middle East, kept the cashew industry strong and stable with the net export of cashew kernels increasing by about 10 percent over that of the previous year”, he sad.
Speaking on the ways that ACA has been working in the cashew sector which at several levels resonate with the objectives of the CICC, he said ACA prides itself as the knowledge hub and this the Alliance has over the years harnessed.
“We have developed diverse learning and information sharing platforms for cashew stakeholders. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved most activities online and predominately have two of such being held every month.
Faseru said that next year, ACA will introduce the ACA Quarterly Policy Roundtable (QPR). The purpose of the forum, he explained, is to develop sustainable and inclusive policies for the African cashew industry by offering an opportunity to improve the literature and strategic plan of cashew stakeholders through cashew industry information.
“Through this forum, we will address issues around price mechanism, value chain analysis and sustainability, capacity building and access to finance.
“Also, there is the ACA Annual Conference held every September in cashew producing countries. The ACA conference continues to be a great place to learn and network in the cashew business world. It also allows stakeholders to promote their brand, products, and services”, he said.
In the same vein, the ACA boss said with the CICC coming up strong, galvanising the efforts of all governments of member-countries and working side-by-side with the private sector industry and the various development and finance partners, he sees Africa rising and becoming a giant in the global cashew landscape, creating jobs for the teeming youths.

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