Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State is set to recapture the once blossoming agriculture sector in the state by unveiling new roadmap in anticipation of the self-sufficient revolution. Steve Uzoechi reports

Prior to the creation of Imo State in 1976, the major industries that kept the people and the society viable were agriculture and education. To a large extent, agriculture funded and gave impetus to qualitative education.

Against this backdrop, successive regimes – military and civilian – laid great emphasis on agriculture. This at some point resulted in the state establishing colleges of agriculture and other related institutions to promote agricultural research, imbibe globally accepted best practices and ultimately maximize agricultural productivity.

At the time, the agro-benefit focal areas were food security, employment, foreign exchange earnings, poverty reduction and production of raw materials for local industries.

Return to democracy

Expectations were high that the return to democracy and constitutional governance would create a suitable environment and provide the agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy with the needed leap in food productivity.

However, the return to democracy in 1999 saw agriculture making staggered steps in most areas, taking a plunge from target driven agriculture to politically convenient agriculture.

For Imo State, that sharp drift in agricultural development hit a crescendo when Rochas Okorocha assumed office as the governor of the state in 2011. His apparent disinclination to agriculture led to many of the viable agricultural institutions and farm settlements winding down.

In this past decade, agriculture became fully relegated to the background with very poor farmers restricting themselves to only subsistent farming just to produce what they can consume within their small family units.

Slump in agriculture

In Imo State, this reality has over the years had a horrendous impact on the economy and lifestyle of the people as a whole.

Within the period, the state government distanced itself from the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP); put a stop to funding the agency and largely refused to take interest in the activities of the agency.

That was the beginning of the end of agricultural extension services as the ADP became more occupied with self-preservation and survival of its personnel as government was no longer willing to fund or support its programmes and initiatives.

By that policy action of the Okorocha administration, agriculture in Imo took a major hit and farmers bore the brunt.

A lawyer and prominent farmer from the rice belt area of the state, Chief Uche Ohia, had said: “The Okorocha led administration practically turned its back on farmers in Imo State generally and rice farmers particularly. First, there was no agricultural policy. There was no forthright direction of agric development. Like everything else associated with that administration, it was the whims and caprices of the chief executive that determined what was said or done in the state. Farmers made no input in agricultural development during his tenure.

“In the circumstance, whatever the administration tried to do or pretended to do for agriculture was salutary and aimed at playing to the gallery. A government that failed to pay any counterpart fund – not to the Bank of Industry, not to the Bank of Agriculture, not to any international development agency – how can such a government make any positive impact on agriculture? How could it positively affect the lives of farmers or boost productivity?

“The stories of fertilizer subsidy, the ‘Imo rice’ were clearly farcical. Those of us that are commercial farmers that persevered lost a fortune. All Okorocha was interested in was land to acquire for his own personal interests and development, no more no less. To say the least, the Okorocha administration was a disaster as far as agriculture was concerned in this state.”

Expectation

Ohia noted, however, that farmers in the state were looking forward to an interface with the new government so that farmers can make inputs from a practical perspective, which will enable the state government to integrate theory and practice in its policy formulation and implementation.

He further stressed: “In any country that has made a success of agriculture, one underlying factor is government subvention. Government must support farmers to enhance productivity so that food security can be achieved. Imo farmers are lagging behind in several indices because the agricultural revolution which the Federal Government has been funding is yet to take place in Imo State. The present administration appears poised to make it happen.”

New pathway to Agric devt

It was apparently in the light of this prevalent outcry and in pursuit of his resolve to harness the state’s agricultural potential that Governor Ihedioha of launched his Agricultural Roadmap for Imo. This, to many, represents a comprehensive framework for self-sufficiency in food production, both for domestic consumption and for exports purposes.

This roadmap, a major component of the governor’s Rebuild Imo agenda, is expected to lift Imo State from the morass of underdevelopment and despair to a blooming height in productivity across the entire agricultural value chain.

According to the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Agricultural Development, Mr. Uche Odozor, some of the key impact areas the new initiative will focus on include oil palm, ginger, cassava, soya beans, cashew, pig farming, beekeeping, rice, maize, tilapia, watermelon, cucumber, aquaculture, mushrooms, fresh vegetables, pineapple, dairy farming, goat farming, shea butter business, Isabella grape and agro-based e-commerce.

The central objective of the policy, according to the governor, is to make Imo State the centre of agriculture and agro-processing in Nigeria by increasing agricultural productivity through promoting technical progress and ensuring rational development of agricultural production and the optimum utilisation of the factors of production, with particular reference to labour.

Also, the policy involves ensuring a rapid improvement in the standard of living for the agricultural community in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture; and to assure the availability of supplies as well as ensuring that supplies reach consumers at reasonable prices.

On how to achieve these, Odozor explained: “Governor Ihedioha believes that the situation in Imo deserves a revolutionary and aggressively intelligent approach so that speedy recovery could happen for the benefit of the people.

“People must be empowered and removed from poverty. Wealth must be created in communities. Food must be amply available for local consumption and for export to other communities and abroad for foreign exchange earnings. Agriculture must once again become the core pillar and pride of our economy.”

“The current situation of gross incapacitation in agriculture must be converted into a palpable testimony that brings joy to the people and pride to the nation.

“To the governor, everything that should be done would be built on inclusive agricultural productivity growth; improved nutritional outcomes; enhanced livelihood for people and foreign exchange income earning capacity.”

To demonstrate how detailed and efficient the agro-policy action would be, Odozor hinted that the new agricultural roadmap would demand the data capture of the people across the 27 local government areas of the state within the next one month, with a target of at least 500,000 active members in the first tranche.

Policy thrust

In addition, the Governor Ihedioha -led administration is committed to ensuring that it partners with relevant government agencies in Agric development as part of its new policy thrust for the state to ensure that more farmers are empowered to realise abundant food supply for its indigenes.

The governor explained that Bank of Industry and Bank of Agriculture were going to play a critical role in the state’s Agric policy thrust during his administration.

With these lofty ambitions, Imo would be expected to be the hub of agro-investment and a thriving food basket for Nigeria and the African sub-region. Particularly, the current government is passionate and optimistic that with the new roadmap on agriculture, Imo is heading to becoming one of the major contributors of non-oil exports in Nigeria; and to achieve a productive industrial base for Nigeria as well as living up to its status as the Eastern Heartland.

Source: New Telegraph

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