1.0 A G R I C U L T U R E
In the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the crisis occasioned by the scourge, one of the areas that recorded an early Dunkirk was food supply. The pandemic, if for anything, forced us to remember our fragile humanity. At that crunch-point, religion, race or creed didn’t matter. What mattered most to all of humanity was survival. We all had to survive somehow; and clearly, the most important factor in the survival equation was and still is food. Sadly, it took a pandemic and its many accompaniments such as death, hunger and starvation to remind some of us how important food is to our existence on earth. The pandemic exposed our food- related inadequacies. Governments, organizations and even families were found wanting, and because man would do almost anything to ensure he survives, the result was of course an inevitable crisis. Mobs took advantage of every opportunity to loot every suspected food reservoir. In Nigeria, the infamous “palliatives crisis” cannot be forgotten in a hurry. In all of these, one thing was brought to the fore: food is a paramount and essential survival component and man would do anything to eat.
But how can we talk about food without first making mention of its harbinger? Food – in whatever form it is served would not be possible without agriculture. No matter what you are eating, the ingredients in your meals came from somewhere; and as far as the topic of food and nutrition is concerned, all roads lead to agriculture. It is therefore correlatable, and rightly so, to claim, that any shortage or anomaly recorded in food supply and availability reflects an apparent neglect or inadequacy in the agricultural sector.
As the world makes frantic efforts to bounce back from the pandemic – induced challenges and its debilitating effect, it is no surprise that focus is gradually returning to the all important agricultural sector. Nations, states and indeed the United Nations are taking a more critical look not just at the basics of crops cultivation and livestock rearing, but at storage, processing, distribution systems and the entire agricultural value chain. The recently concluded International Youth Day 2021 for instance, had as its topic: “Transforming Food Systems: Youth innovation for human and planetary health”, and it underscored the premium placed on the subject of food and agriculture by the United Nations. With available statistics indicating an imminent increase in world population, this sector needs all the attention it can get, if we hope to keep up with food supplies and abate hunger induced poverty.
In Nigeria, nay Akwa Ibom State, the story is not and must not be different. We have a young and strong state population of almost 6million of which 4million are in the generation of immense concern, with life expectancy pegged between 65 and 55, and a total national population estimated to be above 200million, the country cannot afford to be indecisive on the issue of agriculture and food sufficiency. Government must be decisive in policy formulation and implementation if we hope to be able to feed our population in the nearest future.
In Akwa Ibom state, our soils are uniquely suited for several key crops that have the capacity to not just guarantee food sufficiency, but also create wealth for citizens and government. The Akan Udofia led #AKProsperity movement, with a wealth of experience garnered from years of operating one of the biggest farms in Akwa Ibom State – the Desicon farms will not only revolutionize agriculture in our state, but will create a value chain that will ensure wealth creation, food sufficiency and export availability.
Areas earmarked for urgent attention and focus include:
(a) RESEARCH: The #AKProsperity team intends to first identify areas of our comparative advantage as a state. A team of highly skilled crop and soil scientists made up of intelligent Akwa Ibom Sons and daughters have been deployed to sample our soil types and determine what crops and varieties would guarantee optimal yields. This research work will be pivotal to the planned agricultural revolution and will forestall futility and wastage. The Investment Advisors on the other hand have detailed analytics of funding,structure and execution.
(b) AGGREGATION OF SMALL HOLDER FARMERS: Perhaps one of the major impediments that militates against large scale and mechanized farming in Nigeria is the obnoxious land tenure system. The segmentation of lands, and its complex ownership structure effectively thwarts large scale farming efforts. While advocating appropriate legislation to correct the anomaly, the #AKProsperity team will through its informed agric extension workers empower small holder farmers with the right knowledge via agric education and enlightenment programmes, improved variety of crops, as well as guaranteed marketing/off-taking arrangements. Research has shown, that aggregation of small holder farmers who produce similar crops in an area produces a similar effect as large scale farming. The result will be an empowered and wealthy farming population, which will also contribute to mitigating the rural-urban migration, as well as engendering youths’ interest in agricultural activities.
(c) OFF-TAKING/MARKET GUARANTEE: One of the factors that discourage farmers from large scale production is access to ready markets, storage facilities and the problem of products glut occasioned by large volume of harvests. To remedy this, collection centers will be created at various production areas to aggregate these products. These collection centers will then store the products for onward transmission to factories or for sales to off takers. It is pertinent to note that this will not only increase farmers’ confidence, but will also ensure food availability all year round.
(d) SOFT LOANS AND GRANTS TO FARMERS: Another way we intend to encourage farming would be the provision of loans, grants and other facilities for active farmers to help them scale production, buy seedlings and other farm inputs as well as farm tools and implements.A deliberate Food Processing Initiative is being finetuned to leverage the various value chain options.
CONCLUSION: The #AKProsperity agenda for our agricultural sector is holistic, robust and all inclusive. When properly implemented and monitored, it will not only guarantee food security for all of us, it will also ensure that wealth is further distributed to the hitherto neglected rural dwellers who take to farming as a source of livelihood. This is yet another reason to support the #AKProsperity movement in its quest to ensure and secure a prosperous future for us and our generation yet unborn.
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