If the famed Akwa Ibom Employment and Enterprise Scheme (AKEES ) opened the eyes of Akwa Ibom people to the wealth that surround them especially in agriculture, San Carlos, a Mexican outfit reputed for mechanised farming and currently operating in Calabar, Abeokuta, Enugu, Port-Harcourt and lately Uyo has come to deepen the persuasion that planting some hitherto imported vegetables like tomatoe, cucumber etc is indeed a goldmine. And that the much touted diversification which has long remained a mirage and a mere political jargon would at realization foster engagement for the youth and ensure food security for the people.

Green House, located adjacent the gate of Ibom International Airport is seen by many as another of government’s fluke. But such opinion would suffer instant reversal if one moves beyond the traditional cynicism to probe with visual benefits what the Green House is all about. The discovery would certainly shock the once doubting Thomas whom alongside other pessimists hold the erroneous view that government is not capable of any good. What they would confront is that each of those houses draped in transparent enclosure has a landmass of one hectare each with farming model that has assurance of enormous yield.

Akwa Ibom State Government which is in partnership with the Mexican group has allocated ten hectares for the cultivation of these vegetables. At the moment, four hectares have been deployed while the remaining six are still awaiting preparation and eventual cultivation. Of the four that have been deployed, one has been fully cultivated with tomatoes which are currently being harvested.

Another is also ready for tomatoe cultivation while one is deployed for cucumber. There is yet another which is almost ready for fresh cultivation. The production manager in charge of cultivation, Mr. Habbakuk Orhernnandec confirmed that the projection is for them to cultivate all the ten hectares this year.

The Green House model of cultivation is a cutting edge method with the inevitability of rich yield. It uses hydroponic system. Hydroponic method is the growing of plants in nutrient solutions with or without an inert medium as soil. Each of the Green Houses are crisscrossed with pvc hose which are buried in wrapped cellophanes that contain coconut fibre or soil.

The hose convey water and the solutions to plants which roots are also buried in the cellophane sags. The roots of the plants sprout from the wrapped cellophanes which has water to irrigate the plant and keep the condition of the place humid to combat the heat which the enclosure perennially generates. Habbakuk said that the coconut fibre is good for tomatoe as it helps in controlling the plant but pointed out that the challenge is that the fibre is imported into the country from Mexico as there is no technology to process the coconut byproduct into fibre . It is in lieu of such challenge that soil is also used. From the yield witnessed on that day of harvest, if all the allocated hectares are duly cropped, the tomatoe needs of the State would be reasonably met. Tomatoe has about 90 days span from nursery to when it is actually planted to fruition and harvesting. Harvesting may be carried out between two to three times a week. For one hectare, each harvest comes in tonnes giving assurance of increased revenue to the farmer and others within the value chain.

Perhaps some of the advantages associated with tomatoe cultivation is its short span to maturity; its value as domestic and industrial necessity; its value as an income earning produce; its receptiveness in the market; its popularity as a produce; its well known health value and lastly, being a non seasonal all year round produce. These factors make tomatoe cultivation an attractive engagement.

But the Production Manger, Mr Habbakuk in his interaction submitted that while he admits that engaging in tomatoe cultivation is a goldmine, the hiccups associated with the enterprise have hurdles to scale and many rivers to cross. Of course even without probing, it is obvious that storage and preservation are still challenges that are yet to be fully surmounted. Off takers and other buyers are therefore often required immediately after harvest to help in the evacuation of the produce to either final consumers or factories where paste are produced. For Mr Habbakuk, the most disheartening challenge is access to fertilizer. According to him, only three companies import the item into Nigeria, noting that the inadequacy has given room for a shortfall in supply of these important inputs which application would increase yield and revenue.

The production manager who is in charge of cultivation reiterated that Nigeria is too vast for only three companies to monopolise the importation of such critical items. Habbakuk and his colleagues lauded Governor Emmanuel for conceiving the partnership and practically taking steps towards its realization, maintaining that the partnership between San Carlos and Akwa Ibom State Government would record significant mileage in production and engagement.

It was a regaling sight to behold as women engaged as farm hands and who were on that day harvesting sang eulogies for Governor Emmanuel whom they said had put food on their table through the initiative. They however charged him to replicate the same initiative in other senatorial districts to boost the production of the vegetables and broaden the tapestry of engagement for Akwa Ibom people.

The agricultural sector has been known worldwide to be one of the largest employers of labour. Its value chain also helps in widening participation. In the case of the intending ten hectares, the Green House at full capacity utilisation would engage a huge number of Akwa Ibom people. In the interim, about 74 workers according to the General Manager, are engaged in construction, production and operations. Yet, they are those who are not engaged directly but provide ancillary services that are salient to the chain. The basket makers, transporters, owners of grinding machines and market women are also part of the chain.

Nigeria has been run as a monolithic economy for decades. The clamour for diversification also started decades ago and remained mere political rhetoric till recently. The slump in the price of oil in the last three years and the attendant decline in accruable revenue has impacted adversely on the Nation’s long held habit of importation which depletes foreign exchange and puts the economy on a low tide.

The current reality has compelled the review of the nation’s agricultural policy and necessitated its choice as the diversification option. Interestingly, states that have chosen this path are already reaping bountiful benefits. Nasarawa and Anambra are States that have braced to the new challenge and taken up the gauntlet of midwifing a diversification.

Iniodu is a public affairs analyst.