By Obike Ukoh,
Before the creation of Ebonyi on Oct. 1, 1996, the geographical entity that made up the area was known for two things: rice production and guinea-worm infestation.
Guinea-worm infestation caused by drinking unclean water has been eradicated as a result of massive water projects embarked upon by successive governments.
Even with massive importation of rice and preference of many Nigerians for foreign rice, Ebonyi farmers continued to cultivate rice, in spite of a harsh business environment.
The resilience was as a result of Ebonyi people’s doggedness and policies put in place by the state and federal governments.
The capacity of Ebonyi to massively produce rice in commercial quantity did not go unnoticed as the state was chosen among the pilot states of the Zero Hunger Project of the Federal Government.
The Zero Hunger Forum, headed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo consists of Ministries of Agriculture and Health, African Development Bank (AfDB), Tony Elumelu Foundation, Obasanjo Foundation and Dangote Group.
At the recent second quarterly meeting of the Forum in Abakaliki, Obasanjo pledged that the Forum would assist Ebonyi generate N48.4 billion from rice production annually.
“We would encourage you to adopt irrigation and high mechanization approach in rice production as both are indispensable in attaining massive rice production goals of any state or country.
“The state has 72, 000 hectares for rice production and with a target of six tonnes per hectare production; we would attain half a billion tonnes annually.
“This will translate into N48.4 billion revenue annually from rice production and this target is realizable with President Muhammdu Buhari showing great commitment towards agricultural revolution,” he said.
Other states in the pilot project of Zero Hunger Forum are Benue, Ogun, Kebbi,Sokoto and Borno.
Obasanjo noted that the goals of Zero Hunger policy were not only for the elimination of hunger among Nigerians but to improve their living standard through an implementable agenda and network of agricultural programmes and activities.
“The aim of Zero Hunger is not to have money locked up somewhere and being dished out; the aim is to make sure that the policies that are required, the programmes that will take us to the promise land are implemented by the federal, state and local governments, communities, individual farmers, NGOs, international organizations; we are a group of actualizes.’’
The former Nigerian leader explained that with the Forum based at International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, it would ensure that recommendations contained in the Synthesis Report and the individual sub-committee reports were implemented.
The agricultural policies of the Ebonyi Government that qualified it for recognition included the one-man-one hectare programmme, the prudent ulitization of the CBN N2 billion agricultural loan, among others.
Gov. Dave Umahi, who unfolded the one-man-one hectare programme during an Agricultural Summit organized for civil and public servants, said emphasis would be on rice production.
According to him, emphasis would be placed on rice production as civil and public servants will join other strata of the society in cultivating, at least, one hectare of rice farm yearly.
“The state is fast losing its rating as the highest rice producing state in the country but the government is determined to halt the slide.
“The government is planning to introduce six mega-rice cities in the state and any local government area that covers 5, 000 hectares for rice production would benefit from the interventions.
“We would inaugurate irrigation facilities, social amenities, rice husk power plants, rice mills, among others, in such areas with active collaboration of the World Bank and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“We have provided improved seedlings, soft loans, fertilizers, among others, to farmers while the state has been covered in the various agricultural policies of the Federal Government.
“Rice farmers now have improved proceeds from their rice production activities as the Federal Government has ensured that the era of importing chaff in the name of foreign rice is gone. “
Umahi, when the Presidential Task Force on Rice Production visited the state in December, 2016, also enunciated various agricultural programmes of the state government.
He also explained how the state was able to produce 190,000 tonnes of rice that year.
The governor said that rice production was raised to 190,000 metric tonnes of rice paddy through the financial support of the CBN.
“For instance, the N2 billion loan we secured earlier this year has gone a long way in giving thousands of Ebonyians the enablement to scale up their participation in the rice production revolution.
“It has assisted in lifting many families from abject poverty.
“It has been a source of empowerment to many of our youths who would otherwise have remained jobless, hopeless and dangerous to society.
“It has, above all, made our dream of food security a realistic one.
“The bank filled a major gap for us; although we needed and still need more, but what we got was precisely what has made it possible for our farmers to cultivate more than 30,000 hectares during the just ended wet season of 2016.
“This was achieved through providing funds and agro inputs to more than 10,000 farmers, whereby each famer was able to cultivate between two to three hectares.’’
The governor said that both IFAD and FADAMA III assisted farmers to put 6,000 hectares and 2,000 hectares respectively, into rice cultivation in the 2016 wet season.
“This level of mass participation is unprecedented in our history, and our ambition is to double this capacity; the benefits are now clear to every citizen.’’
Umahi said that the CBN was uniquely qualified to assist Ebonyi achieve its set target of 600,000 metric tonnes of rice paddy per annum.
The governor also said that the state significantly invested in technology, designed to further improve rice production and processing capacity.
“For example, we procured about 40 tractors from John Deer, between April and June this year.
“These have been placed at the disposal of our farmers on affordable hire-purchase terms.
“The period of redemption is a maximum of four years based on an installment payment over that period.
“Equally, the three major rice mills that are established in each of the senatorial districts have also received serious attention from our administration.
“Specifically, the parboiling components which we have procured are being currently installed and attached to each of the rice mill plants.’’
The governor further solicited the assistance of the Federal Government in the area of fertilizer supply, although the state has a fertilizer blending plant.
“Our projected annual fertilizer requirements if we must meet our target of producing 600,000 metric tonnes of rice paddy per annum will be about 720,000 bags of 50kg.
“The present capacity of our local fertilizer blending plant is nowhere near meeting this demand. But of course it remains a foundation of which we are very proud indeed.’’
Umahi also called for the establishment of a herbicides research and production laboratory in the state, adding that “farmers complained bitterly of the woeful ineffectiveness of the various varieties of herbicides that they were supplied.
The governor said that because of the ineffectiveness of the herbicides, more than 90 per cent of farmers resorted to manual weeding.
“This obviously added to time and cost of production, and thus depressed their profit margins to a very notable extent,’’ the governor said.
He appealed for financial assistance to enable the state to set up herbicides research and production laboratory for both medium and long term agricultural strategies.
More sustained assistance to Ebonyi and other states with well-articulated agricultural programmes like Ebonyi, would save Nigeria, a country with large fertile and cultivable lands the embarrassment of importing food. NAN