By Promise Etim
According to a report from the World Food Summit held in 1996, Food Security is said to be attained, when the people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preference for an active and healthy life.
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 2013, estimated that more than 800 million people are faced with chronic hunger globally. This is the basis which the United Nation in September 2015, resolved to eradicate hunger by 2030. This is evident in the Sustainable Development Goals, which its goal number two is focused on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable Agriculture.
As of today, issues regarding Food Sufficiency are given prior attention in most developed and developing nations of the world. This is why successive Governments engaged in various activities aimed at transforming the nation’s Agricultural sector.
Akwa Ibom as the fastest developing state of the nation, with over a population of 4 million people, is the largest producer of crude oil in the country. This assertion has been responsible for the inability of the state to fully diversify and look at other sectors of the economy that could yield the state increased revenue, and limit dependency on proceeds of crude sales.
Towards making this a reality, the Udom Emmanuel administration, since it took over in 2015, has worked tirelessly towards placing the state in the food production map of the country, to ensure its citizens have access to quality food all year round. This is evident in the numerous intervention programs introduced by the state Government to boast Agricultural production in the state.
Without mincing words, a quick look at the blueprint of the Udom led Government, reveals that attaining Food Sufficiency was among the subset of the administration’s five point agenda of Wealth Creation, Economic and Political Inclusion, Poverty Alleviation, Infrastructural Consolidation and Expansion and Job Creation.
Within two years, the Udom administration has resuscitated cocoa production through the establishment of the Cocoa Maintenance Scheme, to improve the yield of Cocoa in the state from 300kg/ha to 1,500kg/ha. It is also on record, that about 6,000 hectares of land has been designated to the cultivation of cassava in some areas of the state, this will further service the three newly established multi-purpose cassava processing plants across the three senatorial districts of the state.
Through the anchor borrowers scheme, championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bank of Industry (BOI), the state Government have secured N10 billion, to ensure 48,920 farmers grow rice in 63,715 hectares of land before 2019. Committed to encourage small and medium scale enterprise in the state, an ultra modern poultry hatchery complex was developed in Mbiaya Uruan, with production capacity 520 day old chick per day, and several other interventions.
To further strengthen its resolve to achieve food sufficiency, the state recently decided to engage all in the sector for the 1st Akwa Ibom Agricultural Policy and Food Sufficiency Strategy Summit at the Le Meridian Hotel and Golf Resort, Uyo. The event which lasted for three days (April 19-22, 2017) drew participants from the Public Sector, Private Sector, Farmer Groups and other relevant stakeholders.
Top of the agenda was the formulation of a sustainable policy framework that will see to speedy development of the State’s Agricultural Sector through strengthening commodity value chains in Akwa Ibom. The stakeholders met and deliberated in several technical and plenary sessions, to x-ray the potentials and opportunities of investing in Agriculture across the 31 Local Government Areas of the state.
Participants at the summit strategically reviewed and picked loop holes on a draft policy on agriculture and food sufficiency and developed and agreed on an agricultural transformation plan for the state.
This, according many, was a step in the right direction, as it was necessary to ensure the state has a direction and framework in the Agricultural Sector, which one was not in existence before today.
The policy framework when properly legislated and implemented, will serve as a working document for development of the Agricultural Sector, and will extensively set the pace for continuity in projects and interventions embarked upon by Government in the sector, irrespective of the fact whether or not such Government is still in power.
This will ensure events that lead to the poor management and subsequent closure of Shonghai Farms at Ogoni, Rivers State is averted. According to reports, lack of legislative backing led to abandonment of such a massive project, which gulped huge sums of tax payers money.
In his speech at the summit, the state’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Sufficiency, Dr. Uduak Charles Udoinyang, said the state has identified Agriculture as one of the key areas of achieving sustainable development. He further echoed to the people that the state has concluded plans to strengthen value chains in some specific Agricultural produce like maize, rice, oil palm, poultry, fishery and cocoa. According to the Commissioner, the framework will also cover critical areas like post harvest processing, storage and marketing of commodities.
Dr. Udoinayang, used the occasion to explain the vision of the state Government for the Agricultural Sector, which he said was geared towards making Akwa Ibom the leading producer of food in the country, through development and implementation of strategic Agricultural policies that will ensure food security, industrial development and export of Agro-products.
The State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, represented by his Deputy, Mr Moses Ekpo, assured stakeholders present at the summit of Government’s resolve to provide enabling environment for smooth implementation of the policy, which according to him will set the tone for the state to achieve sustainable development in the Agricultural sector.
Though the Governor’s body language seems to be fully in consonance with the position of the various stakeholders at the summit, one major area which is critical to the acceptance, sustenance and durability of the new policy framework is adequate legislation. This may not be a pretty difficult task as the cordial relationship between the executive and legislative arms of the state, could lead to accelerated passage of the Agricultural Policy and Food Sufficiency Strategy bill, when eventually sent to the State House of Assembly.
Accordingly, Chairman of the State’s Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency, Prof. Edet Udoh, said during the summit, that on full implementation of policy framework, the state will witness drastic reduction in dependency on neigbouring states for basic staple foods that can be locally grown. The framework will further lead to reduction in market prices of these staples by at least 50% within the first two of the four year implementation timeline.
In addition to the numerous gains of the new strategy, the activities of out-growers will be promoted extensively, while emerging technologies in the world of Agriculture will easily be transmitted to farmers, through a robust extension service platform that will be driven by a public private partnership (PPP) module.
Similarly, the new structure will facilitate commercial production of agricultural produce and raw materials for industrial and export purposes, job and wealth creation, reduction in unemployment as Youth and Women will be first line beneficiary of the any intervention programme drawn from the strategy. In addition, the policy framework will see to improved revenue for the state and enhance the industrialization drive of the present administration.
To ensure effective implementation and realization of the objectives of the Agricultural Policy thrust of the state, the following are key: creating a conducive environment to promote private investment in the sector; rationalization of the roles of all stakeholders in the various sub-sectors of agriculture; re-organization and strengthening of the institutional framework for government interventions for farmers cooperatives, associations and clusters; promotion of increased application of modern technology to Agricultural production through effective and efficient agricultural extension services delivery.
In addition, the Government should as a matter of urgency, consider revising the land ownership policy domiciled in the state, to ensure more persons venturing or with intent to venture into Agriculture have more access to land. There should be adequate manpower development, training and capacity building, to bring Akwa Ibom people up to speed with current trends in the field of agriculture.
Similarly, there is need to promote efficient data collation in the sector, to enable stakeholders x-ray the gains and proffer solution to various developmental issues in areas which lapses do exist. Availability of data and effective management will encourage private investors to explore the various areas of collaboration for development of the Agricultural sector.
As mentioned during the summit, the need for establishment of training and research centers in the state cannot be overemphasized, if the state is to achieve its goals through the new policy framework. The training centers which will have its main station at the State University (AKSU) will serve as medium for establishing linkages between farmers, the state Government and other research institutes in the state, to help solve real time problems in the Agricultural sector.
The Udom Emmanuel administration is committed towards transforming the Agricultural Sector, and by extension the economy. Similarly, stakeholders have rounded up the strategic summit and submitted their report to the state Government, it is imperative on the Udom Emmanuel administration to see to the speedy legislation of the policy framework and subsequent implementation, to ensure the Akwa Ibom State Agricultural Policy and Food Sufficiency Strategy meets its set objectives.