CROSS RIVER STATE: Investment Yet To Yield Dividend
THE Cross River government, in the last four years, has continue to intensify efforts at improving agriculture production in the state, thereby, diversifying from the over dependence on allocation from the Federation Account.
Much of the effort is seen in the establishment of the Songhai Farms, the Private Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement with PZ Wilmer and massive disbursement of funds to individuals in the private sector.
The Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources during Senator Liyel Imoke-led administration, Mr. James Aniyom, said the state’s policy aimed at repositioning agriculture.
He said, “the vision is to move Cross River State agriculture from government to private sector driven. It will also give a clear focus to all stakeholders, the direction of government and address the specific needs of the state.”
He noted that about 70 per cent of the state’s population is engaged in farming, contributing about 45 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). According to him, farming held the ace to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.
The major area the state largely depend to lift its agriculture is the Songhai Farms, as the state government had promised to create 20,000 jobs by 2015 through its Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).
The state had entered into partnership with the Songhai Regional Centre in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin, to build a world-class agribusiness entrepreneurship. The then commissioner said, “the Songhai Cross River Initiative (SCRI) would be a centre of excellence for training, production, research, demonstration and development of sustainable agricultural practices.
The project accountant, Ekoma Christopher, said that the farm is a four-phased project, which includes, the technological; processing; agricultural and service packs.
The agricultural pack combines primary production – crop production, animal production and market garden or what is consumed or used from day to day.
” However, The Guardian observed that even though the project is on course, it is yet to operate at full capacity to meet its agricultural dream of the state. It was projected that by the first quarter of 2015, it would run at full capacity, notwithstanding foreseeable challenges. However, the operators have faced the challenge of terrain, cost of land and youth restiveness.
Another mega agriculture project that the state embarked upon in past four years to boost its revenue is the palm project with PZ Wilmar.
Chairman of PZ Industries Limited, Chief Kola Jamodu, stated that the plantation started in 2010 with the aim of achieving 50,000 hectares of palm plantation by 2019/2020. Already, the venture has realised 26,000 hectares.
Jamodu said palm oil remains the largest globally consumed edible oil, noting that Asia was already saturated in terms of production potential. He added that Nigeria promises to become a global force and likely to regain the glory days of the 1960s, given its vast landmass.
Christos Giannoporlos the Chief Executive of PZ/Wilmer Nigeria Ltd; said the joint venture is helping to build a sustainable future for oil palm plantation in Nigeria and that so far over 2,000 have benefited from direct employment.
Already, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has indicated interest to partner companies such as, PZ Wilmar International, whose value creation in the agricultural sector meets the present need for real sector growth for the nation’s economy as “this country is losing N20b by the 75 per cent waiver given to people who import crude palm oil into Nigeria today. We will work very hard to stop that because we need our revenue in our coffers.”
The government has also encouraged individuals, groups and commercial farmers across the state, by disbursing over N1.452b in the past four years. A breakdown shows that about N295m was from the World Bank assisted Commercial Agricultural Development Project (CADP), while N157. 27m was grant and N1b for farm implements. The amount represents 59 per cent of the total amount earmarked for agricultural production in the state.
A large chunk of the money was for the processing, cultivation and distribution of crops as the state government intends to establish a 450 tones capacity of cassava and rice processing mills in some parts of the state, adding that it will also collaborate with local government councils to build and rehabilitate existing abattoirs.
The state equally entered into partnership with the Maryland University of America for the training of agricultural extension workers and other agriculture related fields to groom farmers in the state.
The ministry also constructed roads to rural communities and farmlands at the cost of N584m to enable farmers convey their crops to urban markets. To further boost individual farmers, the state created ‘Project Awake’ to assist the state in meeting one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 3).
The project is targeted at promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Through the project, soft loans to 400 women cooperatives to empower and create 4,000 women in agribusiness.
Over 114,000 farmers are currently registered in the state, while under the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES); while 100,000 of them are being supported with various farming inputs for increased production.
The scheme has created employment opportunities for about 45 agro dealers across the state, and the ministry was employing a value chain system, which involves production, processing and marketing to enable farmers migrate from subsistence farming to big time farmers.
The ministry had established Cross River Agriculture and Rural Empowerment Scheme (CARES) to assist government in securing finance and partnerships in the agricultural sector.
This will reduce government’s expenditure in the sector and also increase accountability in the execution of agricultural projects.
The principle of establishing CARES was to improve the investment climate for agric-business by developing an inclusive public-private partnership and smallholder linkages. That is aimed at increasing on-farm productivity and value addition in crops that the state has comparative advantage.
To sustain its agriculture programmes, the Cross River State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade, recently in Abuja, paid a courtesy call on the Irish Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Sean Hoy, with a request for a stronger partnership that would engender growth and prosperity for his state and the Republic of Ireland, especially, in areas of agriculture.
While acknowledging the strong Irish heritage of the state, given association with Irish missionaries, Ayade said the time has come for a more economically productive partnership between Cross River and Ireland.
He would want Ireland to take advantage of the vast arable land in the state and invest in agriculture, especially, in diary, feed milling, cultivation of tomatoes and potatoes for export. This is the dream waiting to be realised.