By Emmanuel Ayungbe
UYO- AKWA IBOM State has reportedly backed out of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN’s N12 billion Anchor Borrowers Programme for rice farmers in the state sponsored by the Federal Government.
Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Hebron Integrated Farms and Mills Limited, the company coordinating the programme for rice and cat fish farmers in Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, Mr. Alphonsus Inyang, stated this in an interview with NDV.
Inyang, an agricultural development expert, who sounded disturbed at the development, asked the NDV reporter, who probed for the reason from the Akwa Ibom State government.
He bemoaned: “Well, we have had numerous challenges, the programme initially started as a government window programme, which was state government partnering with the private sector. There are two windows; the state window whereby the state government is the one sponsoring like what is done in the Northern states, then there is a private window, whereby you do not need government. But unfortunately, the programme has moved from the state window to the private window in Akwa Ibom because the state government backed out.”
I don’t know why: Pressed on the state government’s backing out, he replied: “Well, I do not know, maybe if you ask the government. The funding of this programme, training and land verification has been on the shoulder of Hebron Integrated Farms. We are talking about several millions of naira, which have gone into this programme to make it successful, and we also complained to the government on the area of land preparation for rice.
“For instance, in the Northern states, you use at least N20, 000 to prepare a piece of land, because all you find is the stumps of grasses. In the South-South, you have to cut down trees, we have asked the state government to help us deploy heavy-duty equipment to clear these lands and prepare them so that these rural farmers can go in and farm. It costs about one million naira to clear these swamps.
“That has been a constraint, for that reason, this cultivation will only be done in the area where we have grass land, not the thick forest. We have over 30,000 hectares of swamp forest in Uruan, the whole of Oron nation, we have over 2000 hectares. Areas such like Onna and Eket, we will not be able to farm in these ones because we will not be able to clear them.”
Appeal to state govt
Underscoring the need for government partnership, Inyang said: “Yes, if government can partner with us on preparing these lands for Akwa Ibom people to farm, better. There is no Igbo man in the programme, there is no Hausa man in this programme, everybody here is from Akwa Ibom State. These are the people government exists to cater for their welfare, we have asked them severally to come in and see how they can assist.
“I was on radio recently to see how government can assist to help us clear swampy lands so that they can be ready for the yearly cultivation of rice, if the state government can come in to assist, it will go a long way to help, the reason being that from the number we are looking at, without state government participation, it will be difficult.
N9bn in the hands of the poor: “The programme is expected to put over N9 billion into the hands of the poorest of the poor, the rural people, the aged women and the youths, who have being roaming about in the streets, some riding motorcycles, tricycles and some just hanging around anywhere. So these are the people we are engaging in this massive wealth creation, massive employment generation, massive increase in food production, especially rice, and then the spread of prosperity in the rural communities. What this means is that Akwa Ibom state by November, this year, will be able to contribute six tons per hectare, multiply by 20,000 hectares, that will give you 120,000 tonnes of rice..
“That is what we are bringing to the national table and what this will do is that Akwa Ibom state will now be found in the map of states that produce rice in Nigeria, for now, we are not there.”
How we mobilized 17,000 farmers
Inyang told NDV: “The first stage is the development of ecosystem, that is getting together the small holding farmers in rural areas, getting them together registering them and forming a cooperative society, making them open accounts with the recommended bank, in this case, it is the Bank of Agriculture. You know, what this means, is that, for you to get several thousands of rice farmers from rural areas, people who have never walked into a banking hall before, convincing them to open account, is not easy.
“But we have already opened accounts for over 17,000 of them, mostly women and youths in the rural areas. They have opened accounts with the participating financial institutions, the PFI, and Bank of Agriculture, right now, we have done the training for this number, our training was conducted in 11 centres.
“We brought in the best experts, subject matter specialists trained by the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organization to train these people on tricky areas, such as agriculture as a business, which has been a major issue. This is because here in Akwa Ibom State, people go to farm, and still go to the market to buy the same thing they planted the previous year.
Continuing, he said: “So we are training people on agriculture as business, on good agricultural practice, letting them know that when you plant one seed of rice, that it must geminate and what will make it to grow properly and yield well is that there is a programme you have to follow, that is application of chemicals, fertilizers, germicides, pesticide and fungicides and all these things that enhance yields to grow.
“This was not the practice before. Then you did the planting and weeding, you forgot that there were pests and fungi that would fight these crops. So we have trained the farmers on pests control and group management, you have to train them on how to work together.”