Orji Uchenna Orji, Ebonyi State commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Re- sources, in this interview with REGIS ANUKWUOJI, spoke on the state government’s plan to lead the country in rice production, among other issues. Excerpts:
May we know the state government policy trust on Agriculture?
I want to start by saying that during the inaugural speech of His Excellency, Governor David Umahi on the 29th May of 2015, he made it clear that his administration would
pursue mechanization of agriculture, to see how we can use agriculture to improve on the living standard of our people, to increase the revenue base of the people and to ensure that wealth is created. In the same vein, the effort is to ensure that job is created and to make sure that food is on the table, to guarantee that in Ebonyi we would be proud of food sufficiency and proud that there is self reliance. Just as if we knew that the economy would be this bad with reference to oil, as if we knew that oil was going down to this extent; we had already moved into the field by selecting and engaging farmers, youths and women for training on the use of farm machinery. We trained farmers on the use of planters, use of trans-planters, use of threshers and even harvesters.
What is the state governmental doing to encourage farmers in the state?
So far, over 2000 farm machinery were distributed on equal basis to the 13 local government areas. The idea is that these youths and farmers will use this farm machinery as service providers to help improve on the agricultural practice. Again, the governor feels that what is on ground needs to be improved upon, so he went ahead to buy 40 tractors in addition to the existing 23 tractors previously acquired by the government across the local government areas. Although the situation in the state in terms of finance is not anything to go by, he liaised and entered into partnership with development partners and donor agencies. The governor secured commercial agricultural credit facility under the commercial agriculture credit scheme of the Federal Government of N2 billion to use it and inject in agricultural development. Through this scheme, the farmers now have the opportunity to borrow a total of N1billion for rice production in the state; this facility will be repaid by the state government. In addition, the governor said that the fertilizer blinding plant in the state should be reactivated and funded to provide all the fertilizer needs of the farmers in the state. The fertilizer blinding plant has the capacity to produce 40 metric tons per hour. When that is done we will not lack in the areas of fertilizer as one of the agricultural inputs. Our focus is on Rice production. In addition, the governor has strengthened the value chain of rice production and that is to say rice production is being enhanced. The rice processing sector is being strengthened, expanded to ensure that market does not elude the farmers.
What is the place of Ebonyi State in rice production in Nigeria; do you have any mill of your own and what is your target in rice production?
As I speak with you now, Ebonyi State has government-owned rice mills. They are five in number, each of them making five metric tons per hour. That is, 25 metric tons. The governor has not only funded the milling process, he has also started the installation of the par-boiling machine that will feed the rice mills. So far, three par-boiling machines have been fixed by expatriates. They are on ground now; each of the three has 8 metric tons capacity per hour; first of its kind in this part of the country even in the north. It is important to note that Ebonyi State has the largest rice millers in the entire West Africa; talking about over 800 clusters of rice mills scattered all over the state owned by individuals, apart from the other four I earlier mentioned. That is why we are saying that in terms of comparative advantage, Ebonyi has it on rice production; we have the land over 250 arable lands for farming. Recently, we held a meeting with the traditional rulers, town union leaders and other stakeholders on agriculture and it was agreed that investors on agriculture can be given land of any number, provided that the community will be given five percent of the equity holding and the state, 10 percent. For investors, we have created the environment, in terms of infrastructure. The governor has also opened up farm lands talking about the ring road that is ongoing now leading to the farm lands; he has also interfaced with international funds for agricultural development (IFAT); value chain development programme to see how they can construct a total of 40 km farm roads in our farm land to develop our agricultural practice. The ultimate idea and intention is to make agriculture attractive, professionalize it so that the issue of white collar job will be de-emphasized and the issue of green collar job will be encouraged. We have also succeeded in making sure that we know the true farmers; commercial farmers and small holders’ farmers and both of them are being encouraged through provision of farm inputs, such as fertilizer, agro-chemicals, rice feeds and even cash to enable them carry out all the necessary services. So in all, our target is to have 500 metric tons per annum.
What is government doing on the issue of irrigation to ensure year-round production?
Irrigation is another aspect that we are trying to develop; the governor had sent a number of delegations to China, Thailand, to even Kebbi State to understudy the agricultural practice and the secret of their success in rice production to enable us replicate same in Ebonyi State. In the course of that outing, we saw that irrigation is imperative for aggressive rice production and agricultural practice. Now, I must digress a bit, the idea is to get all the local government areas to be part of this agricultural development drive and that is why His Excellency directed that every council must secure at least 2500 hectares of land because in Ebonyi State almost all the local government areas have comparative advantage of rice production. Beside this, we have a total of 84,000 farmers to impact on this rice production drive, 65000 farmers to be part of agro borrower scheme of the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN). This scheme of the CBN encourages small holding farmers to access funds of about N170,000 which shall be given in two ways.
Considering the topography of some farm lands, are there plans to acquire equipment to enhance farming activities in those areas?
Yes, we acquired tractors and bulldozers. In addition to the tractors, the governor also procured 13 bulldozers; one for each council to enhance land development in preparation for the mechanization drive we are talking about. As I speak with you those bulldozers are working. Now, the idea of government is that all these mechanized implements, including the bulldozers should be given to farmers who will in turn use them as service providers.