Agriculture as alternative to oil and gas, the Abia example

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agric-soya-beansBy Uche Nwosu

It was Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, who posited in 16th century that “Men in great places are thrice servants: servants of the Sovereign or State; servants of Fame; and servants of Business”.

Certainly, men of power who devote their time in looking beyond the ordinary and the spoils of office are servants of posterity and history. History beckons on he, who at a perilous time, comes in as the game changer and touch bearer. At this time when the Abia state economy is in dire need of diversification following the dwindling of the nation’s economy, Abia needs the right leadership that could radically diversify its economy and create employment. And I believe that we have gotten it now, given the commitment to move the state to the next level of development by its present leadership.

Indeed, one of the surest ways of boosting the economy of the state and creating employment is by laying genuine emphasis on agriculture. This is because apart from providing enough food for consumption and export, the reinvigoration and reenergizing of agriculture will produce cash crops that will yield foreign exchange and also create employment.

It was against this background that the declaration by the Abia state government that it will soon send 40 young farmers from the state to the Songhai agricultural training institute in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin was received with contentment. It is indeed the right course towards rapidly improving the Abia economy.

Apart from sending them to Songhai Centre, it is also in the programme of the government to ensure that they get the necessary loan facilities, farm implements and seedlings to take off on return from the Songhai Centre.

Songhai Agricultural Centre named after Father Godfrey Nzamujo, its facilitator was created 20 years ago in Benin Republic to train farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs and business men and women on how to improve their farm yields and make adequate profit. From the beginning, the centre has focused on developing a model of agro biological production and functional training in agricultural entrepreneurship.

The institution promotes sustainable development through youth entrepreneurship aimed at setting an extension stage for viable socio economic models. In fact, the centre has contributed to the dynamic economic development in African continent through its strategy of erecting green rural towns in each agro-ecological area in the territory of Benin Republic.

Gov Okezie Ikpeazu’s recent disclosure that his government has evolved a policy that will make agriculture and five other key sectors of the economy, such as small and medium scale enterprises (with emphasis on leather production), oil and gas, commerce and industry and technological advancement, the centre peace of its economic development is cheering.

They are the key economic sectors which the state plans to pursue genuinely and with vigour. Conversely, if the right policies and the desired impartation are provided to the genuine players in these sectors, Abia within the next four years will be a strong economic destination.

Reasons for failures of economic policies in the past are because the initiators of the polices lack the vision, seriousness and commitment to drive them to logical conclusions. What the Songhai Centre will achieve for Abia state is immense; it will train the young farmers to have a new vision and the potentials to drive the present day farming away from subsistence. Farming today needs to be mechanized.

Agriculture, being the second largest sector of Abia economy outside oil and gas, needs farmers with capacity, character and competence. What the Abia farmers that will be sent to Songhai would try to acquire is the knowledge that will enable them go beyond the vexatious collection of government’s grants and gifts or loans from the banks and then disappear.

They should also appreciate the fact that obtaining loans from either banks or government is not an opportunity to marry new wives or acquire the luxuries of life, but to utilize such loans and grants to invest in their farms and ensure that their farms become an investment that would not only produce local food and cash crops for local consumption, but for export.

Certainly, with Abia government’s positive intervention on agriculture, the state is set for an agro-based economy that may yield millions if not billions of dollars yearly. The government’s target of having 70 percent of its population gainfully employed in agriculture would be realized.

With this development, it is pertinent to challenge the private sector to enter into serious partnership with the government and the farmers. Nothing stops the private sector from investing in the training of some of these farmers. For instance, an industry whose raw material is cocoa could encourage one or two farmers to acquire extensive training on large-scale cocoa production.

Government on the other hand, should go beyond this speechifying. It should also equip and supervise the farmers so that any loan, grant or gift offered to them is not misplaced or misappropriated. One thing is to acquire the knowledge to perform a specific assignment; another thing is to have the discipline to perform that assignment to the benefit of the society. Government should also encourage banks to offer loans to these farmers after acquiring the Songhai knowledge. Indeed, the Abia new economic drive should be emulated.

In fact, areas that should be laid emphasis on should include commercial farming to produce food and cash crops such as: cassava rice, maize, banana, plantain, palm oil and cashew. The farmers that would benefit from the Songhai training should also aim at setting up their own agro industries.

Their focus should also include how to develop and process their farm yields for local consumption and also devise ways of adequately storing and packaging them for export based on international taste. For a farmer to do well in his chosen profession, he must be a key player in the international agricultural market. This is why they ought to exploit to the fullest the Okezie Ikpeazu government’s policy in lifting their dream beyond the confines of their farms.

  • Nwosu is the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the Governor of Abia State

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