By Ukpong UKPONG
Sooner than later Akwa Ibom State will emerge with a strong presence in the commodity and export market and its farm produce may compete in attracting needed foreign exchange with the oil and gas sector which is currently stuck in global glum and national crisis. The move to achieve this feat is already on.
Findings reveal that the state government is keen on diversifying the economy, paying more attention to its abandoned non-oil sector including small/medium scale businesses, enterprise development among the youth population and agriculture.
At the continental level, agriculture creates most of the jobs, engaging youth in production and value chain.
In many countries of Africa agriculture contributes significantly to its gross domestic product, GDP. For example, it contributes more than 72 per cent to Liberia’s GDP; Sierra Leone, 61.5 per cent; Central African Republic, 55.2 per cent; Comoros, 44.9 per cent; Nigeria, 40 per cent and Democratic Republic of Congo, 39.4 per cent, among others, according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report.
Nigeria also sees huge opportunity in agriculture, as an alternative to crude oil and capable of lowering the rising unemployment rate which the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts at 10.40 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015 from 9.90 per cent in the previous period. Both federal and state governments are already developing strategies to achieve the country’s sustainable agriculture goal.
In Akwa Ibom state, one of the strategies developed by government is embedded in Akwa Ibom Enterprise and Employment Scheme, AKEES, which partners young entrepreneurs to create wealth, provide job opportunities, empower individuals and communities and build a vibrant economy with youths as its major drivers.
A visit to AKEES demonstration farm, located in Ibiaku Obio Ndobo, Uruan Local Government Area, revealed a whole lot of opportunities available in cultivating vegetables. The plot of land measuring about two hectares has a nursery, a source of water and is partitioned into smaller sections, where varieties of regular and exotic vegetables are cultivated all year round.
Some of the vegetables cultivated there include fluted pumpkin, green, carrot, onion, tomato, Cameroon pepper, hot and sweet pepper, green bean, corn, okra, water melon and cucumber. There were spices like curry, thyme, scent leaves and others too. Even vegetables never thought to thrive in the tropics like lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, radish, spring onions and others are doing well in the farm.
Vegetable farming is easy to start, it is a high income earner and if done well, this venture can produce over 300 per cent Return on Investment (ROI) annually, according to the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Technical Matters and Due Process, Mr. Ufot Ebong, who led some reporters on fact finding tour of the farm.
“AKEES demonstration farm is meant to train our youths, equipping them with skills and techniques required to cultivate vegetables in commercial quantity and cash in on the fiscal boom. This small-scale enterprise has an enormous capacity to impact on financial status of our youths and improve their quality of life.
“Interestingly, a vegetable farmer can achieve tremendous financial success from relatively little effort by simply cultivating in residential backyards or open space areas along roads, streams or in open fields. A reasonable percentage of tomatoes currently selling in Akwa Ibom state today is harvested from AKEES farm in Mkpat Enin”, he stated.
The scheme, it was further gathered, targets saturating the local market with home grown vegetables to ensure food security and initiate a product value chain for export. To achieve this, business models all over the world such as micro franchise system adopted from Malaysia and Singapore as well as cluster system with common facility centre adopted from India will be applied.
For instance, the scheme has a template which enables farmers to pool resources without individually having to foot the bills. With this model, small farm businesses in Akwa Ibom state can operate more efficiently and be more competitive in the marketplace.
He therefore insisted that Akwa Ibom youths irrespective of political affiliation should register with AKEES to benefit from its array of carefully planned enterprise programs specifically its robust Agri-business initiative.
The scheme however will need to involve extension officers from the state Ministry of Agriculture, who will bring their expertise to bear in replicating this success story across the state. Also, the use of organic manure and biological agents in pest control should be encouraged in the face of growing global environmental concern and to protect consumers from harmful residual chemicals from pesticides.
Ebong acknowledged the importance of protecting the environment and assured that activities in AKEES farm are tailored to meet global best practice. Nevertheless, he maintained that Akwa Ibom people should embrace agriculture as a business, reechoing the words of Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer, NEPAD, who said “agriculture is everyone’s business; national independence depends on its development because it enables us to escape the scourge of food insecurity that undermines our sovereignty and fosters sedition; it is a driver of growth whose leverage is now acknowledged by economists and politicians; it is the sector offering the greatest potential for poverty and inequality reduction.”