It was a dream come true when Governor Theodore Orji of Abia state, last week at the Aguiyi Ironsi Cenotaph Umuahia, handed over cheques ranging from N250,000 to N3 million to about 85 farmers selected across the 17 local government areas, to flag off the state’s N1 billion commercial agricultural empowerment scheme.
The project, which many people tagged “the biggest and best organised agricultural transformation initiative” ever taken by any government in the state, is aimed at repositioning agriculture as a major revenue earner. It is supplemented by 17 liberation farms across the state, and 30,000, bags of fertiliser to be distributed to farmers.
When it was mooted last year by the state ministry of agriculture that the government would be giving out N1 billion as loans to farmers, and subsequently commenced the registration of genuine farmers, many thought it was one of such promises that would never be realised .
But through a sustained sensitisation by the ministry led by the commissioner for agriculture, Chief Ike Onyenweaku, the farmers became convinced, came out in their thousands to register for the scheme. They also bought the loans FORMS from the co –coordinating financial institution, First Bank PLC. And to demonstrate the importance of the project to the state, the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, was guest of honour at the flag-off. He used the occasion to launch the federal government roll-out of the growth enhancement support scheme in the state.
Governor Orji said the scheme is a bold step of his administration to entrench an economically viable state that would by 2015 become self-sufficient in food production. He said that adequate measures had been taken to make the scheme a success, adding that only genuine farmers and not portfolio and political farmers would get the loan.
The scheme which has a target of producing 62,000 metric tons of cassava,170,000 tonnes of rice,2.25 million crates of eggs in the core areas of agriculture the loans scheme covers ,excluding other livestock and vegetables from other beneficiaries is expected to create employment and revolutionize agriculture in the state.
“Our policies are towards food sufficiency which is the key to economic development, to wealth creation, employment and a panacea to poverty induced criminality We will sustain this scheme in the areas of research and production”, he said.
Onyenweaku expressed optimism in the scheme, adding that the state is blessed with fertile soil that is good for production of cassava, oil palm, cocoa and rice.
The state had in the past four years recorded success in agriculture having participated successfully in FADAMA II and IFAD projects where the government paid fully its counterparts funds, which laid the foundation for the present scheme.
The ministry would support the beneficiaries of the loan with the services of the extension-workers to assist them in the technical aspects of their farms all aimed at making sure that the maximum results are gotten by the farmers
Supporting the state project, Dr Adesina, announced that the federal government has approved the release of 400,000 improved oil palm seedling, 25000 improved hybrid cocoa seedling capable of producing two tonnes of cocoa per hectare as against the 0.4 tonnes or f1ve times the current yield as well as well as pesticides at highly subsidized prices.
Impressed also by the contribution of the state in cassava production, he said a cassava processing plant is to be located in the state, adding that already a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the federal government on cassava production.
The minister explained further explained that the sum of N1.3 trillion expended on food importation was no longer acceptable especially as most of the them can be produced in the country, adding that even though the country leads in the production of some agricultural food crops in the world, it earns the least revenue from them because no value is added to them.
For instance, Nigeria is the world’s highest producer with 40 million metric earning less than Thailand that produces only 10 percent but earns 80% of the world’s value.
Nigeria he also pointed out spends N635 billion on the importation of wheat, and said the federal government is determined to reduce this figure, by introducing cassava flour in the production of bread.