Akwa Ibom State is endowed with numerous natural resources, the most prominent among which is oil. The state is Nigeria’s largest oil producer, accounting for over 30 per cent of the country’s oil – a fact that is known to all. What may perhaps not be known by many is the fact that Akwa Ibom is basically an agricultural state whose people have always depended on farming for existence, though at subsistent level. In fact, before oil replaced agriculture as Nigeria’s economic mainstay, the state, then part of the Eastern Region, was a major contributor of palm produce which the country was the world’s number one producer.
About five decades of neglect of agriculture at the national level adversely affected the agricultural fortunes of the people of Akwa Ibom, as it did the entire country. Now, with the reality of a post-oil era staring the country in the face against the background of over-dependence on oil, the need for a return to agriculture has never been more compelling.
In Akwa Ibom, Governor Udom Emmanuel did not wait for the current fluctuating fortunes of oil to knock on the door before he commenced the process of diversification into agriculture. He saw today and indeed, the future. He declared, on assumption of office in 2015, his commitment to the revival of agriculture as a major component of his development programme that is aimed at turning Akwa Ibom from civil service into an industrialized state. He made agricultural promotion an integral part of Job Creation under his Five-Point Development Agenda. And to underscore the seriousness and importance his administration attaches to agriculture, he made it a cardinal programme of the Eight-Point Completion Agenda of his second term.
Today, with his administration approaching the home stretch, the seeds the governor sowed in the last six years have begun to bear fruits, indicating new dawn for what may turn out to be an agricultural revolution in the state. He has not only encouraged the people of the state to go back to agriculture, his administration has made it possible for them to do so through assistance in terms of policy, incentives, farming inputs and modern farming techniques, to enable them to take agriculture beyond the subsistent level where it was before now. Agriculture is now being practiced at commercial level all over the state. The aim is to have a state that is able to produce enough food to feed its people, and enough to sell to other parts of the country and for export.
There are ongoing efforts to revive production of some of the commodities for which Akwa Ibom was well known in the hey days of agriculture, like cassava, rice, cocoa, yam, citrus fruits, etc, and also venture into areas that were hitherto not explored, like cultivation of tomato, cucumber and lettuce.
More than 1, 200 hectares of rice have been cultivated under the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, while over 20, 000 rice farmers have been registered in 15 local government areas of the state. This is intended to make Akwa Ibom a major rice producing state in Nigeria.
The government launched an integrated cassava production programme under a project known as the Dakkada Cassava Task Force. This has made it possible for 2, 000 hectares of cassava to be cultivated under the FADAMA project, while micro processing mills for cassava have been constructed in different parts of the state. The variety of cassava that is being cultivated in the state is among the best in the world, and with the huge international demand for the commodity, it will become a major foreign exchange earner for the state when the current massive investments in the sector begin to yield dividends.
Akwa Ibom will soon join the league of Nigeria’s top cocoa producing states, courtesy of the various strategies the government has put in place to increase participation of farmers in cocoa production. It has distributed over 500, 000 improved cocoa seedlings at highly subsidized rates to farmers in 28 local government areas with capacity for cocoa production, and trained over 450 youths on cocoa maintenance. It set up the Cocoa Development Community to handle the task of reviving cocoa production at commercial level.
By investing so much in agriculture, the government hopes to achieve the twin objective of getting farmers to produce staple food like yam, rice, cassava, plantain and vegetables for consumption and also promoting establishment of agro-allied and food processing industries such as fruit juice, canned food, snacks, vegetable oil, livestock feeds, etc. To this end, it has planted 500 citrus seedlings, 1, 000 pineapple suckers and 600 hybrid plantain suckers.
The government established the Vegetable Greenhouse using the most modern technology to cultivate tomato, cucumber and lettuce in commercial quantity. Traders in those commodities in Akwa Ibom and neighbouring states will no longer have to travel to the northern part of the country to get them.
With increase in food production, essential food items are not only going to be readily available in every part of the state, they are going to be highly affordable. This will enable the average family in the state to be able to afford the basic food that is required to guarantee good health and general wellbeing.
The government strives to build an Akwa Ibom that is economically self-sufficient through industrialization and green revolution. With what it has packed into six years in terms of achievement, there is reason to believe that the process of sustainably developing the state for present and future generations has well begun.
Etuk, a public affairs commentator, is based in Abuja