Our climate is favourable for any farming enterprise – Cross River Commissioner
Anthony Egrinya Eneji, a professor of Agronomy and commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cross River State, in this interview with MIKE ABANG, spoke on the efforts of the Ben Ayade administration in the area of agric revolution and industrialisation; the assistance to farmers, natural endowments that favour the state, among others issues. Excerpts:
You pioneered the effort of the governor in Agriculture Revolution in the state which has won him local and international acclaim; how do you feel?
I feel extremely elated for this recognition, especially by BusinessDay. In fact, it is a well-earned recognition given what is on ground and what he has been able to do this short period of 3 years; a lot of projects in the Agricultural sector, processing facilities, cocoa, rice, large farming investment in cocoa, cassava, Banana plantation, cotton, etc, we have done more than 1,000 hectares including women and youth empowerment
Why the passion for Agriculture?
It is because we realised that our continuous rebalanced on oil exploration has come to an end. We are thinking seriously in the area of value-addition through the state-of-art rice seedling, cocoa processing factory, among other value chain.
What is your background in Agriculture?
I am a professor of Agronomy, with expertise in field crop and soil management. My primary focus is on teaching and research, with a strong global network of collaboration.
What attributes make Cross River State agriculturally-friendly?
Several attributes, even natural ones; we have an excellent climate for any form of agriculture. We have ample rainfall, good arable soils, and large expanse of land- about two million hectares. These are very strong natural attributes, which is why we should work strongly to harness them by deliberately making effort to expand our agricultural production. This also explains why the Ayade government is extensively creating projects across value chains of position agriculture as a key pillar to our economy.
What is His Excellency’s effort in the area of agriculture?
His Excellency, the Governor’s efforts are numerous. First, he realises that people must be involved in Agriculture and to be involved, they need to be empowered. For this reason, over seven hundred (700) women and youths were trained and financially empowered last year to engage in various aspects of agricultural production and marketing. His Excellency also recognises the immense contributions of women to agriculture and has penciled them for special grant support under the APPEALS and LIFE projects which he has negotiated with the Federal Government and international fund for Agricultural Development. The governor is working very hard to make the Agricultural sector attractive enough for the youths to come in. Even graduates can now own a profitable stake, thanks to the several projects being put in place. For instance, a Rice City has been established by the Ayade administration to further develop the art and science of rice production in the state by way of training and hybrid seed and seedling production. I support rice farmers; the goal is to graduate farmers for our local rice production. Ultra modern rice mill is being constructed at Ogoja/yala to complement the rice city, because after production we aim to process and brand with unmistakable identity.
How do these programmes fit into the life of Cross Riverians?
These programmes have impacted greatly on our women and youths are gainfully employed and looking forward to the future with our farmers now having access to inputs and technical supply from the Ministry of Agriculture. On completion of these projects like rice and cocoa will add value and bring fortunes to our farmers. It will also contribute to the industrial development the state.
Sir, what about the cocoa factory?
This is another project the Ayade administration is putting up to encourage processing of cocoa locally. It is the first time in history that this state has been able to go this far in terms of supporting cocoa farmers. The idea is to arrest the delivery of our raw cocoa beans to Ondo or Lagos State for grading or any form of (semi) processing as produce from these other states. We will add value to our cocoa locally to the benefit of farmers in Cross River State.
Can you tell us about the banana plantation?
This is another key project of the Ayade Administration, established to diversify our agricultural economy. Banana is a natural crop under our ecology; we are merely taking advantage of this to improve people’s livelihood through employment and income generation. We are also engaging lots of youths in the plantation as farm labourers, supervisors, messengers, and even in the security unit.
Late last year, we started planting at Odukpani with a target of 100 hectares; soon we will be expanding to other local government areas. We hope to market our banana locally and internationally.
So, what is the level of reception of local farmers to the effort of this administration in the area of agricultural development?
It is pleasantly surprising how farmers are very enthusiastic about our projects. The various farmers’ organisations- poultry farmers, cassava farmers, Cocoa association, etc are working enthusiastically with the Ministry of Agriculture and they are keenly taking advantage of every new development.
Our farmers are really educated and enlightened about what is going on. We are ever ready to give technical and extension supports to assist them in expanding their farms. Any federal or World Bank assistance is extended to our farmers promptly, so I can say we are working in harmony with them and they are keen in working with us.
We are aware of the C.A.D.P (Commercial Agricultural Development Programme) empowerment? To what extent would you access the level of improvement of livelihood in the society by the project?
Like I mentioned earlier, 700 women and youths were empowered last year under this programme. A lot of farmers were supported in the value chains of oil palm, rice and cocoa, and most of them are telling their success stories. Also, the evaluation reports from the World Bank and our national office in Abuja have all attested to the fine progress made by both the state and these young farmers. So to a large extent, I can say it was a successful project and the state was rated as the best performer with about 98percent implementation. As a result, our state has been admitted a new successor project called ‘appeals’ only six states are participating in this new project. All these are testimonies to the governor’s strive, influence and connections plus the dedication of officials responsible for the day-to-day running of the project.
Do you have collaborations, locally and internationally to achieving government efforts in Agriculture?
Thank you very much for that question. We have international partners like the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. We are also frequently in collaboration with the Federal Government in assisting our farmers technically and with inputs. Under the anchor borrowers’ programme, our farmers are receiving CBN loan support at single digit interest rates to produce rice, cotton, fish and poultry. Under the programme much of the loan is given to farmers in kind through seed/fertilizer supply and the balance in cash.
At present, we also have an ongoing collaboration with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in poultry production. And last year, we held a summit on Agricultural development in the Niger Delta where a lot of investors came to express interest in becoming partners with us. Many proposals have been received and we are evaluating them.
What do you mean when you say they get loan-in-kind?
The government supports rice farmers under the Anchor borrowers’ scheme of CBN with about two hundred and thirty thousand naira (N230,000) to cultivate one hectare. Much of this money is provided in the form of seeds and agrochemicals. We are aware of all the inputs farmers need, so instead of giving all the money in cash, it was decided to get all the inputs for them plus the cash balance as some of them might divert the money. This is to make sure that we achieve the success we aim for. This situation whereby the seeds and other inputs are supplied farmers instead of the money is what I mean by loan-in-kind.
Do we have any cotton farm in the state because that was usually monopolised by the north?
Yes, we do (points to framed photos hanging on the wall). Over there are pictures of our last year’s cotton farm developed with the aim of supporting our garment factory.
Do you have a programme on input support to farmers in the state?
Before we came on board, there was the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES), where the federal and state government collaborated to supply input to farmers at half the price. Since we came on board, we have tried to talk directly to input suppliers to get good quality inputs for farmers at below market or competitive prices.
What specific value chain receives greater attention by farmers in the state?
Like I said earlier, we have a very good climate that any farming enterprise can grow. There is cassava for example, in which we are arguably the largest producer in the country, and there are cocoa, oil palm, rice, yam, vegetables and assorted fruits. We have comparable advantage in key crops like oil palm, cassava, cocoa, rice, etc. We try to pay attention to these but also to other crops and value chains like banana, poultry and fisheries. Under our FADAMA programme, our focus is on cassava production and so far, we have more than 500 hectares in production state-wide. We also have interest in what I term orphan value chains like mushroom, ginger and turmeric production.
What have you achieved so far in your office and what are your aspirations in the near future?
Well, in terms of achievements, the ongoing projects like the rice city, Rice mill, cocoa processing and banana plantation are all visible and verifiable results of our Governor’s drive to develop agriculture within the shortest possible time. We should not forget the new projects (APPEALS and LIFE) attracted by the Ayade administration from the World Bank and IFAD. Our target and vision is to have total food, security for citizens of Cross River State and also be in a position to market farm produce to make money for the state.
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