By UbongAbasi Ise
“I still think that the real wealth, self-respect and independence of Africa is in its soil, and not in polished office desks… after all, most great civilizations and peoples have been sustained by agriculture.” – Lawrence Vambe (Ill-fated People: Zimbabwe Before & After Rhodes, 1972)
Ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia and Egypt, amongst others, owed their greatness to the growth of agriculture. While Mesopotamia sprang up in the land between the two rivers of Tigris and Euphrates, Nile Valley served the cradle of Egyptian civilization. Beyond any consideration, these locations were fertile, and attracted a lot of agricultural activities which gave rise to the vast, flourishing, civilized empires built on the basis of agricultural wealth.
Looking at modern history, agriculture also formed the basis of Western industrialization. Indeed, America’s starting point of industrialization had strong linkage to the plantation agriculture where mucus crops such as sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco were cultivated on African slave labour; and mass production was to follow in 19th century as there were raw materials readily available to feed the mushrooming industries. In Western Europe, overseas land acquisition was perfected, basically, for the growing of raw materials to feed the metropolis industries. Similarly, it was on the strength of agriculture that industrial revolution sparked off from late 18th century – a development which placed the Western Europe at the core of the world economic order today.
Therefore from primeval era to the contemporary world, agriculture remains one activity that plays significant role in transforming human societies. No civilization in the past had flourished without being food sufficient, and no industrial nation remains same at the expense of constant supply of organic raw materials. However, as Akwa Ibom State is currently seeking to address the perennial question of food insufficiency, as well as attempting to diversify her economy away from oil by way of industrialization, the business of agriculture remains unavoidable and imperative in making the set objectives achievable. Governor Udom Emmanuel during the presentation of budget for 2017 fiscal year at the hallowed chambers of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on Thursday 22nd December, 2016, reiterated that “the policy thrust of the present administration is to grow agriculture as a business and not as a development project or past-time or a subsistent vocation.” In regards to this promise, how pragmatic is Akwa Ibom State today in revolutionizing agriculture in a bid to attain food sufficiency and industrially-oriented economy?
BETWEEN AGRO-BUSINESS AND INDUSTRIALIZATION
Akwa Ibom people are of the belief that industrialization would create jobs, alleviate poverty, and lift the state from economic hardship to the zenith of economic prosperity. In other words, the rapid transformation of Akwa Ibom is basically predicated on industrialization. For Akwa Ibom to grow industrially, it therefore becomes imperative to adopt a development model propagated by a Chinese leader, Mao Zedong in 1957. Mao underscored the role of agriculture in industrialization. He declared that “industry must develop with agriculture, for only thus can industry secure raw materials and a market, and only thus is it possible to accumulate fairly large funds for building a powerful heavy industry… without agriculture, there is no light industry.” Since agriculture can be so germane to the process of industrialization, Akwa Ibom has to consider growing her agriculture to the extent where the average of 6 to 7 tons of organic raw materials could be processed per hour at the available agro-allied industries.
QUESTION ON FOOD SECURITY
The summary view of Akwa Ibom agriculture, before now, could be described as oscillation between subsistence and spontaneity: no well thought out plan for commercialization. With the natural endowments in the state ranging from soil, climate to human resources, the State’s agricultural performance still remain at average low. One mindboggling question is that if dankasa food market from the Northern Nigeria in Akwa Ibom are disrupted for at least a week, then won’t the State be thrown into panic of food crisis? If this happen, can food produced in Akwa Ibom be enough to sustain the entire population within the state boundaries? With the soaring food prices, staple food as common as garri is no longer within the reach of a common man. In Uyo, between two to three cups of garri are being sold at N200 as against eight cups that used to be sold at that same rate in less than two years ago. Is the government of Udom Emmanuel politically committed to launch the state out of this precarious situation of food crisis?
One of the most fundamental problems causing food insufficiency in the state include poor soil. Prof. Peter Ogban, who is the NgSHC South-South coordinator, noted that soil-fertility depletion is a common phenomenon in the small-holder farms and is the fundamental biophysical root cause for declining per capita of food production in the south-south zone. However, experts have reported the decline of arable land per person in Akwa Ibom State from 0.22 to 0.11 hectare between the period of 1986 and 2013 while predicting further decrease to 0.00487 hectares per person in 2036 resulting in food insufficiency, erosion and pollution. This was disclosed by Dr. Jude Obi of Department of Soil Science and Land Resources Management, University of Uyo, during a sensitization workshop on Integrated Soil Fertility Management in the South-South Zone of Nigeria organized recently by Nigerian Soil Health Consortium, NgSHC, South-South Zone.
Citing apparent lack of appropriate legislation for preservation of prime land for agriculture as contributing to sharp decline in arable land in Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Obi maintained that several other sectors will stifle agricultural production in the state thus making it impossible to provide enough food.
TECHNICAL COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SUFFICIENCY
In seeking to transform the economy of Akwa Ibom State via agriculture and industrialization and sustain public-private sector initiative, Governor Udom Emmanuel had set up vehicle through technical committees which includes, amongst others, Akwa Ibom State Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency.
According to Mr. Udom Emmanuel, “We want to change the face of farmers in the State in line with our vision of poverty alleviation and job creation. Our dream is achievable because of the good vegetation, climate and soil which the State is endowed with. As the first step towards realizing this purpose, I constituted a Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency.”
On 13th July 2015, the eleven-man Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency was inaugurated by Mr. Udom Emmanuel at Executive Chambers of the Governor’s Office in Uyo. The committee was mandated to provide technical inputs and chart a direction for agricultural development and food sufficiency.
WHAT IS THE STATE GOVERNMENT POLICY ON AGRICULTURE?
The Communiqué of the Sensitization Workshop on Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) organized by the Nigerian Soil Health Consortium (NgSHC) South-South Zone at the University of Uyo on April 5, 2017, stated in parts that “there is no well articulated and consistent agricultural policy that will guide State Governments to meet the needs of the farmers in the zone.” But in contrary, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Uduak Charles Udo-Inyang told newsmen during agro summit in Uyo that there had been various policy documents on agriculture in the state. He maintained that formulating of policy is a continuous ministerial responsibility of the agric ministry while adding that every policy is subjected to update from time to time. According to the commissioner, a policy that lasted 5 to 7 years is outdated.
Is there any agriculture policy in Akwa Ibom? That was the question raised by Brigadier-Gen. A.D. Chinoko who led a Senior Executive Course (SEC) 39, 2017 on study tour to Akwa Ibom State recently. In his response, the Agric Commissioner in the State referred to the Agriculture Policy Summit 2017 held from 19th to 21st April, 2017 in the state to establish a policy that would shape agro business in the state. He said that the State executive is working in tandem with the legislature so as to come out with a legal framework for the agricultural development.
ON AGRICULTURE POLICY SUMMIT 2017
The three-day summit, held between Wednesday 19th and Friday 21st April, 2016 at Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, was put in together by Akwa Ibom State Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency in collaboration with the state Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sufficiency in accordance with the directive of the state governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, to develop a draft policy on sustainable food sufficiency for the state. The auspicious event was peopled with phalanx of agro experts, who were of the task of reviewing the past and the existing agricultural interventions in a bid to develop strategies that would improve agro sector in the State. The expected outcome includes the following:
- Draft policy on sustainable food sufficiency for Akwa Ibom State
- A short to medium term agricultural development/transformation plan for Akwa Ibom
- An implementation work-plan
- A list of stakeholders/partners and their specific roles on the forum
However, proposals were made for the new policy by various groups of stakeholders which include but not limited to creating enabling environment, 10% budgeted allocation in annual budget for agriculture; soil testing/mapping; facilitation of improved inputs and infrastructure; proper assessment of implementation through regular monitoring and evaluation; provision of regulation and standardization of agricultural produce; timely release of counterpart funds; increase capacity for value addition, etc.
As the government is seeking to rationalize agriculture in the state, it therefore becomes ultimate task in channeling all the appropriate information to farmers at the grassroot level. It is also of great importance to devise a means of making it known to the farmers that they must see farming as an enterprise through knowledge acquisition and adaptation of improved production technologies to improve their productivity and their livelihoods. The approach to be adopted should be bottom-to-top as against top-to-bottom approach.
As the new policy on agriculture is underway, government and its relevant agencies should be involved in the production of suitable soil map for the realizing that it facilitates scientific knowledge of the soil, land use, soil management and conservation, and productivity and livelihoods of the farmers as recommended by soil experts.
However, science and technology should be prioritized as this is one important means of transforming agriculture the state’s agriculture from subsistence level to commercial level.
Finally, Prof. Trenchard Ibia, former Commissioner for Agriculture in his brief interaction with The Sensor, maintained that all the past agro programmes should be revisited so that areas that succeeded could be re-strengthened, and incorporated into the new policy.
Contact UbongAbasi Ise on 08189114609