Professor Edet Udoh of the University of Uyo (UNIUyo) was appointed Chairman of the Technical Committee on Agriculture in Akwa Ibom State in 2015 with the mandate to ensure that the state becomes self-sufficient in food production. In this interview, he speaks on how the state government has been pursuing its commitment to produce staple foods, livestock and vegetables to achieve more-than-adequate local consumption and how the average farmer in the state benefits from the programme.
What does your work entail and to what extent has it impacted?
I have been in Akwa Ibom State as a lecturer in the university. My work was focused on research in agriculture. In July 2015, as Governor Udom Emmanuel sought for professionals from different fields to assist him drive his vision, especially his commitment to agricultural development, he brought me on board and inaugurated me as Chairman, Technical Committee on Agriculture.
Gov. Emmanuel wants the state to be self-sufficient in some staple foods. Apparently, the major foodstuffs we were consuming were from neighbouring states, though we had the competitive advantage.
He tasked the committee to develop a roadmap on how we can be self-sufficient in our basic foods. We identified priority areas. We discovered that in the state, everyone is a farmer so to speak. But what we had was the culture of farming, not the business of farming. So the idea was to have a shift from what obtained then. We identified the priority crops based on our consumption level in the state. We noticed that every household consumes cassava derivatives such as garri and fufu. But the market price of garri was high. The governor asked us to ensure we reduce the price of garri by half in two years. And what we immediately set out to do was identify the bottlenecks, as well as draw up strategies to use in tackling them.
We discovered that what we had were mostly small scale farmers. For us to operate at an economic level, we must think of benefiting from the economies of scale to produce on a large scale. We developed a system of cooperative agriculture where farmers pull their land resources together. We also identified FADAMA 3 as an additional financing vehicle that we can use towards achieving our objectives, and it has been a successful story.
For the past two years, we have been able to organise farmers, we have productive groups and we are now into cassava production on a large scale. Farmers are now making profits. They have various groups and the government is supporting them with financing.
We developed a value chain. Due to our increase in production, farmers initially became bothered about where to sell their farm produce. The governor set up processing mills across the state, and now we link those farmers to processors. We also linked farmers to all the service providers who will supply them with fertiliser, insecticide, pesticide and others. This is to ensure that farmers have access to all that is needed to make farming easy.
Now, the price of garri has dropped by 48.2 per cent. A bag of garri was N25,000 last year. By June 2018, the price had dropped to N12,000.
Aside cassava, we also delved into maize. Improved hybrids of corn were planted. Also, we were able to get our hands on hybrid plantain stalkers. We identified major staple crops that we can produce where our citizens have advantage in agriculture.
We are promoting plantain and rice farming, as private investors become more interested in agriculture. Mills have been set up. In a few years, if we are not fully self-sufficient, we should be producing between 50 and 60 per cent of what we consume in the state.
In terms of livestock, we noticed that an average of 2,000 goats come into the state. Goat meat is a delicacy common in Akwa-Ibom. In fact, we eat a lot of it. That is why about 2,000 heads come into the state.
You mentioned rice farming; how far have you gone with that in Akwa-Ibom?
We identified the lands, documented them and reached out to investors. An investor, Agricom, came in. The government gave the investor land and the first planting was done in 2017. That has since grown from the initial 1.5 metric tonnes (mt) to six mt. We have set up a rice processing mill too. The farmers are organised into groups. The government ensures it develops the business dimension and encourages our farmers. The initiative will drive itself.
Some states are bagging their rice already. How soon will the Akwa Ibom Government be bagging its own brand?
With the mill, we are on that. It will be Ibom-Agricom Rice because the rice is a partnership between the state government and Agricom. The mill is ready and production is going on. All that is left is for it to be commissioned.
We have to understand that a mill that is operational when farmers are not producing won’t be functional. We are trying to organise our rice farmers to be actively involved in an all-year production. We are trying to key into the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme (ABS).
What else are you focusing on?
Aside all I mentioned, we are working on tomatoes. We have an investor from Mexico for the tomato initiative. By the time we are through with our 10-hectare tomato farm, it will be massive. We have a working relationship with Spur and Shoprite. They will be major off-takers. Our local farmers go to the farm to off-take and that is not enough. We are talking about a population of 6.4 million people. We have a huge population, so whatever is produced can be easily consumed by us.
The vision of our governor is that we cannot continue to depend on neighbouring states for food if we have the capacity and competitive advantage to do it ourselves.
How much has the present administration sunk into agriculture?
I will not be able to say how much has been sunk. But the governor talks about agriculture every day. He has a passion for it. His wife also has the same passion for agric; 90 per cent of her pet projects is agriculture. She builds processing mills and gives palm oil and cassava to women. She also has her farm.
Where we have partnerships, we try to meet our obligations. Our budgetary allocation for agric may not be high, but that doesn’t stop our governor from giving us money when the need arises.
How many direct and indirect jobs has this agric revolution created?
We are doing a mid-term evaluation, so I may not be able to give an exact figure. Under the FADAMA scheme, we have 1,312 men and 1,216 female farmers actively involved. With the cassava processing mill, the processors are engaging women and youths. Within two years, a lot of both direct and indirect jobs have been created.
How long will it take Akwa-Ibom to be self-sufficient in food Production?
I cannot say. We must first establish the quantity we consume in terms of domestic production and see how we have grown. In 2014, under the scheme we are using now. 480 hectares of cassava farms were cultivated. In 2017, we increased it to 2,020. This year, we intend to increase that number. We have already cultivated 990 hectares, and we are still cultivating. In 2014, the yield level of cassava was 15mt per hectare. By June 2018, we had reached 29mt. We are increasing our local production because we are increasing productivity.
We used to depend so much on neighbouring states. But our farmers are now happy because what they produce is being sold. After all, the market is there. We believe that as we are increasing productivity, we may not be 100 per cent sufficient, but we will be close to that.
Americans cannot say they are 100 per cent self-sufficient in food production because they still take from others. As a matter of fact, business requires openness. An economy must be open. By 2023 when our governor would have completed his eight years, Akwa-Ibom would have become one of the states to reckon with in agriculture.
What have been the challenges?
The major challenge was for the people to believe in government. Now we have overcome that. Our major challenge now is our vegetation. We were to develop 1,000 hectares of green field for farming, but we needed to clear the forest first to plant anything. It cost us about N2.5bn to clear the land, fell trees and do stumping. It is not like that in the North. If we had such a land like they have in the North, we may not have any problem. To develop a green field in our state is a major challenge.
The challenge of small scale farming is also there, but we are encouraging farmers to join cooperatives. Again, money is a general challenge that everyone talks about.
Do you see Akwa Ibom selling its food to other states soon?
Yes, but the state is heavily populated. Our focus now is to feed ourselves, then we can look outside.