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BY Patrick ALBERT

A silent agricultural revolution is taking place in Akwa Ibom State. The despondency of subsistence farming is giving way for multi-million naira agricultural exploits.

Pronto, you can call the new agricultural order, “vegetable magic scheme!  And it’s working like wonder.  Lands everywhere are gradually being cultivated, and in just months, the farm owners do smiles to the banks. Also, farm workers, apart from earning their monthly salaries, equally go home with 10 per cent earned from the harvested and sold produce of the respective farms across the state. The value chain continues incredibly.

The moving story appears like a cast from one of the best Nollywood crafted movies, which captures viewers spell-bound. But it is not. There’s no Nollywood matter here. It doesn’t exist in the fantasy world either. It is real, amazing, and the process easy and fascinating!

The reality show is a live cast launched by Akwa Ibom Enterprise and Employment scheme, AKEES.  Akwa Ibom State governor, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel initiated AKEES in December 2015, barely six months after assuming the mantle of leadership of the State. Emmanuel had packaged AKEES to create 10,000 sustaining jobs in the State.

The agency is under the coordination of Mr Ufot Ebong, an engineer, who is the senior special assistant to the Governor, in-charge of Bureau of Technical Matters and Due Process.

At a time that the economic recession in the country has forced many multi-national firms, banking institutions and even government agencies to downsize, Emmanuel’s vision through AKEES is a story of every day empowerment.

From the pilot phase, AKESS has generated over 1,600 jobs and created over 85 new businesses with gross turnovers worth over N300 million. AKEES is currently executing its programmes aimed at optimising market activity and local consumption of local production.”

In the light of its mandate, the body carefully undertook statistics on tomatoes consumption in Akwa Ibom State. It realised that the State consumes an estimated 2,800 tons of tomatoes monthly.

Unfortunately, more than 90 per cent of this vegetable is sourced outside the State, resulting to N1.3billion and N15.5billion spent monthly and yearly respectively to buy tomatoes into the state.

AKEES reasoned that the trend must be reversed. Today, its effort is yielding fantastic results. One hectare of land used for cultivation of tomatoes yields N6million every three months while one hectare of land used for cultivation of onions fetches N28million. These figures, which have already been earned by early starters, is the worst case scenario! Turn-over on harvest is sometime much more.

The revolution is promoted under its Farmbase programme, which was “developed during the AKEES pilot scheme. The Farmbase scheme “explored the potentials of the local vegetable market by experimenting with fast growing vegetables and fruits including Watermelon, Tomatoes, Waterleaf, Affang, Radish, Lettuce, Cabbage, etc.” AKEES started recording its success stories in 2015/2016 with the cultivation and sale of over N50million worth of fruits and vegetables.

The Farmbase programme has the vision to make Akwa Ibom a net exporter of fast moving vegetables in the region. It also has the mission to develop vegetable cottage industry by leveraging land ownership with cultivation and trade expertise. What is more, it also has the goals to engage 1,000 small holders’ tomato farmers within three years as well as produce over 20,000 tons of tomatoes within three years and goals.

This programme is devised to also enable Akwa Ibom tap into the over N500 billion worth of tomatoes consumed yearly in Nigeria. Under the Farmbase programme, AKEES “would provide land owners willing to venture into tomato production with a credit guarantee covering 90 per cent of the cost for seedlings, training and support, inputs and off-taking to help spur the development of the local vegetable industry. The beneficiaries would receive the following; farm input, cultivation training, business incubation, processing and sales functions and business services.”

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On Wednesday, January18, 2017, Journalists in Akwa Ibom State led by their Chairman, Elder Patrick Albert, embarked on an inspection tour of some of the demonstration farms in the State.

The tour, conducted by Engr Ebong, SSA to the Governor Emmanuel, saw the journalists inspecting large hectares of lands where the various vegetables were cultivated. The varieties included tomatoes, onion, chilli (pepper), egg-plant (nditot), cabbage, water melon and cucumber. The farms were all for commercial purpose. Some vegetables were nearing maturity and harvesting.

The tour was an honest and selfless effort by the media borne out of the need to draw attention of Akwa Ibom people to this highly profitable venture which we have overlooked for decades.

Also, as reporters with the primary responsibility to inform, educate, enlighten and entertain, the fundamental objective was to verify the scheme and to as witnesses, propagate the good news of earning millions of Naira within 90 days (3months) from cultivating the above mentioned vegetables at commercial scale. Apart multiple farms in Osonama Estate and Shelter Afrique, there are five hectares at Ifa Ikot Okpon, 2.3 hectares at Mkpat Enin, six hectares at Ikono.

However, for decades now, the northern parts of Nigeria are known for the production of the above mentioned vegetables, while traders from the western, southern and eastern states travel almost on daily basis to purchase these produce to their various states to sell at exorbitant rates to consumers, except during the season for vegetable boom, when such produce are everywhere in the market, making it affordable for the common man at the possible cheapest rate.

Aside this, the risk and inconveniences experienced in the past by traders on this produce, (except now where such produce are locally cultivated and sourced by traders without them going to the north), coupled with the cost of transporting them to points of sale, usually contributed to the hike in prices of tomatoes and other vegetables for years now.

In the course of the inspection, it was realized that if Akwa Ibom people, aside the cultivation of cassava, plantain, water yam, yam, cocoyam, fluted pumpkin (nkong ubong), processing of palm oil, etc. go into cultivation of tomatoes and other vegetables in commercial scale, the state and her people will be liberated from importation of these produce from the northern part of the country at exorbitant rates. The cultivation will in turn make the State to be self-sufficient and will contribute significantly to improving the nation’s Gross National Products (GDP).

It was discovered that tomatoes and some other vegetables presently sold in the Akwa Ibom markets are those from these farms.  Since government cannot provide job for all, youths involvements in this venture would make them become self-reliant and thereby end their dependency on politicians who sometimes use and dump them after achieving their political goals.

Taking the team round the various commercial vegetable farms’ locations, the Engr Ebong, recalled that then in the erstwhile South Eastern State, later rechristened Cross River State, there were great entrepreneurs and companies like Victor Akan, Inyangette, Namoba,Etesis, Samfill, Quality Ceramics, Utuks Motors, Jetimo, Money Hard, Dr Pepper, etc. were popular because of their engagements in various line of businesses, noting that these days, everybody want to go into politics.

Ebong observed that sustainable business lifestyle is the answer for all including public servants. Alluding to the absence of this as the bane of economic backwardness among our people, Ebong illustrated the fact that since the time of the late former civilian governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Akpan Isemin, we do not have former commissioners, ex-chairmen of boards, ex-chairmen of local government councils or councillors being involved in very active and booming businesses to the extent of employing many workers which would have been contributing significantly to the economic growth of the state.

According to him, these officials did not develop sustainable self dependence business profile outside government; a situation he said makes these former public servants to still depend largely on government or live a lifestyle with less inputs into the economy of the State.

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According to him, when Gov Udom Emmanuel said he was re-awakening the spirit of enterprise of the Akwa Ibom people, so that they can begin to create wealth for themselves and the state at large, he had remembered that the people had this spirit in them before now, and that the entrepreneurial blood was still there in the people.

Ebong said the advent of democracy saw many able bodied persons- men and women, rushing into politics leaving behind all those ventures that would have generated money and create wealth for themselves and the State.

The special adviser, who noted that owners of big buildings in the state rather prefer foreign masons/artisans to undertake the job of building because of their expertise in all manner of skills, said this issue and many more led to the governor’s decision to re-awaken the spirit of innovation, enterprise, creativity in Akwa Ibom people and also for them to use their various skills which they had long abandoned to the extent of giving way to non-indigenes to explore.

According to Ebong, “If Akwa Ibom people’s entrepreneurial spirit is not re-awakened; we will miss the opportunity thereby leaving room for outsiders to fill the place, as well as the industrial concerns in the state being taken up by foreigners, whereas Akwa Ibom people are busy complaining of hardship and lack of cash.”

He made  known that one can make “money without money,” by using creative ideas that would be translated into money, pointing out that a situation where one yearns and demand for finances to start up business or empowerment from  government without a good business plan devoid of creative ideas becomes fruitless and meaningless.

He observed that when financial assistance is given to a person, the first thing he does with the money is to marry a wife, pay school fees, pay tithes and delve into pleasure, rather than using it for the purpose it was me ant for, saying emphatically that “the basic thing is the ideas” and urged Akwa Ibom people to move from point A to B to create wealth for themselves.

The SSA said he has never written a single memo to the governor demanding for money to fund the AKEES Agricultural Scheme, but that through a robust planning and initiatives, it has been established that Akwa Ibom people could be making millions of naira in 70- 90 days, stressing that, “the issue of securing finance is putting our people down.”

He explained that the reason why the AKEES vegetable farms were doing so well are possible due to improved species of the tholga tomato, roma red tomato, cobra tomato and lindo tomato as well as the cabbage species which include the purple and green species that were imported into the state by Akwa Ibom State government.

Apart from the many farms inspected within Uyo, the state capital, he hinted that there are other commercial vegetable farms in Ikono, Eket, Oruk Anam, Ibiono and some other local government areas in the state.

Again, he recalled the earlier proclamation made  by Gov Emmanuel that he was coming with an economic boom through industrialization, stating that this proclamation was gradually coming to fruition as the governor was  already embarking on various wealth-creating ventures in various local government areas through the AKEES, a programme where  Akwa Ibom youths and women were carefully selected, trained in agriculture, ICT, welding, manufacturing, production, poultry, etc. and employed through proper interview session  to work in  the various vegetable farms, production and manufacturing plants in the state  to produce some of the items that the state had since been importing from other countries and states.

He added that through the scheme many young persons have become self- employed, thereby creating wealth for themselves and by so doing, boosting the economy of the state. He further mentioned the Pencil and Toothpick Manufacturing Plants, the cottage industries promoted by AKEES. The factories have already started producing high quality pencil and toothpick.  This will, apart from gradually stopping importation from other places, create employment and boost the state’s economy.

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According to him, orders for the products have been made by some states in the country, adding that that presently, the plants are undertaking test- production, while also paving way for necessary safety and other conditions required in a manufacturing plant to be put in place before commencement of full production, making known that in the next few weeks, the factory would be inaugurated by the state governor.

Ebong was optimistic that all the factories and facilities established by Gov Emmanuel will outlive his administration, recalling that though it was the late Sanni Abacha that commenced negotiations to bring in the GSM (Global system of Mobile Telecommunications) to Nigeria, it was realized during Obasanjo’s administration and credit given to him because he commenced the process of enabling environment.

He likened the scenario to Gov Emmanuel’s determination to re-awaken the spirit of enterprise in our people as captured in the Dakkada creed which he said was single-handedly written by the governor and  marshalled by AKEES, which he noted has began yielding fruits in various sectors of the state’s economy.

The special adviser described AKEES as a practical demonstration of the Dakkadaphilosophy of the governor because when one listens to the slogan, he would be moved to rise up and engage in meaningful ventures, while those who go round begging for money from people to survive, will  join others who have risen up to engage in meaningful ventures, saying, “if you see your friend who was going around begging for money and now making money through AKEES business enlightenments, it means he has Dakkadad (risen).”

Ebong promised to deliver a successful AKEES to the governor and the people of the State, as he does not identify himself with failure, urging people to rise up and embrace vegetable and fruits cultivation in any of their yet-to-be developed plot of land.

According to him, before planting of tomatoes and other vegetables on any plot of land, the soil has to be properly treated where necessary the acidity of the soil will be removed using various types of chemicals, even as the grown up produce are nurtured with fertilizers, water and chemicals which are not harmful to health.

The special adviser encouraged youths in the State to go into the business rather than going round houses of politicians to beg for money, recalling sometime ago when a certain young man was fond of coming to his house sometimes requesting for financial assistance, and how he gave him a business idea of making baskets used for stocking of  tomatoes for sale, saying, presently, that that same man is making good money through weaving of tomato baskets, as he gets orders and contracts to supply them in large quantities.

The leader of the team, Albert, appreciated Ebong for following carefully to implement the visions of Gov Emmanuel as encapsulated in Dakkada and the AKESS. He said that through the successes so far achieved by AKEES, it has proved that Dakkada initiatives was not in terms of slogan or philosophy but to actually motivate the people and show them the way forward.

Albert assured that having gone round the demonstration farms to witness the AKESS Agricultural Scheme, the team had taken notes and would pass the message to the public. “We went, we saw and we are now witnesses,” he stated.

The team visited both Nursery/demonstration farms as well as large acreage of farmlands at Shelter Afrique, Osong Ama, Airport Road and the nursery at Ifa Ikot Okpon, all in Uyo, the state capital.

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