opinionBy Austin Uganwa
Jubilation, contentment and self-fulfillment rent the air last weekend as over 700 women and youths across the 27 local councils and 305 wards in Imo State filed out at the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education in Owerri to receive their certificates and stipends after a 3-day special but intensive entrepreneurial training programme on food crops processing and production.
The participants danced in utter excitement, electrifying the venue. It was instructive of their delight to be part of the exercise and clear expression of their gratitude to the facilitator of the empowerment programme, Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives.
As early as 7 o'clock that Saturday morning, the participants clad in uniformed green T-shirt and fez cap to match had earnestly thronged to the open terrace of Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education venue of the event. Several other indigenes of the state - political leaders and top public servants alike - came in hordes to witness this inimitable event.
Among them were; Senator Hope Uzodinma, representing Orlu senatorial zone in the Senate; Hon Jones Onyereri, chairman Banking and Currency, House of Representatives; PDP National Women Leader, Dr Kema Chikwe; PDP state chairman, Ezeduru Ihuoma, SAN; PDP state secretary, George Egu, state youth leader, Okey Ozuruike ; PDP chairmen in the local councils and a host of others.
In groups, the beneficiaries rehearsed the skills they had gained in the past three days as they proudly exhibited specimens of the food items they produced from the three-day exercise. Indeed, with the intrinsic passion radiated by the participants and the large number of people that scaled through the programme it was unmistakable that an unprecedented revolution in the agricultural sector of Imo State would be imminent.
This finds further support in the general belief that in content, scale and result, the programme was incontrovertibly the first of its kind in the state and designed pragmatically to boost the agricultural mileage of the state and the country.
The 3-day agro-training programme is one of the empowerment initiatives embarked upon by Hon. Ihedioha to provide youths and women desirable skills to eke out a living in the agricultural sector. The expertise for the exercise was provided by the National Research Root Crops Institute, Umudike, Abia State. In his speech the deputy Speaker captured the philosophy behind the programme.
"It involves training women and youths on the skill of micro and basic agriculture with emphasis on food crops processing, practical and demonstration farming. The ultimate tendency is to ensure that the beneficiaries return to their communities to apply the skills and knowledge gained for their own benefits and that of other Nigerians", he said.
From the outset, the objective of the exercise was properly defined which informed the success level of the programme. According to Hon Ihedioha, the exercise was woven around the objective of unlocking the agricultural entrepreneurship in the youths and women, in so doing, boosting food crops production towards deepening food security and creating job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths.
Evidently, the training sessions witnessed concrete steps towards accomplishing the objective. Participants were trained on how to process cassava, yam, cocoa yam, fruits respectively into bread, cake, chi-chin, juice and a host of other money-spinning items. Deeply concerned about the sustainability of the exercise, the deputy Speaker announced two-pronged approach.
First, to set up a monitoring mechanism towards ensuring that participants apply skill and knowledge gained. Secondly, to establish food crops processing plants in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe zones of Imo State with his personal resources. Far more fascinating was Hon Ihedioha's framework that the processing plants will be managed by the people themselves especially those who participated in the exercise while the initial expertise would be provided by the National Research Root Crops Institute in Umudike.
Ihedioha's empowerment agenda is beyond doubt pertinent given a growing number of youths who come out of schools every year to swell the ranks of the unemployed youths which in effect create social challenge, deepen poverty and anguish. This explains why many perceive the agro-training empowerment programme as a welcome relief, an interventionist outlet that provides sustainable succor in many homes. This is self-evident in the passion and enthusiasm with which the participants embraced the exercise.
Indeed, by identifying people's challenge and creating veritable but practical solution approach, not a few political leaders in the state commended Hon Ihedioha for the intiative of empowering youths and women. The likes of Senator Hope Uzodinma, Dr Kema Chikwe; PDP state chairman, Ezeduru Ihuoma; State youth leader, Okey Azuruike and a host of others described the programme as capable of alleviating the suffering of many homes in the state and boosting food security.
Noting that the programme is the first of its kind in the state, they urged the deputy Speaker to organize it repeatedly in different other ways. They however advised the beneficiaries to utilize the knowledge they have gained religiously for their benefit and that of the society.
Executive Director of National Research Root Crops Institute, Dr Julius Okonkwo noted that the programme was in line with agricultural transformational agenda of the federal government. He stated that Hon Ihedioha has really demonstrated his penchant for agricultural development and economic empowerment of his people. Dr Okonkwo is right.
The proficient and efficient manner some of the beneficiaries displayed, during the closing ceremony, the skill they have gained to the admiration of many and their effusive disposition to replicate what they have learnt are instructive of a great reawakening in crop production and agricultural development of the state.
- Dr Uganwa wrote in from Abuja