30 January 2013

Nigeria: Reviving Nation's Agricultural Sector

Enugu — As Nigeria seeks to revive agriculture in a bid to boost its economy, the south eastern states seem to have good concepts on how they can contribute their quota to the country's development.

From palm plants to massive rice production, Anambra, Imo and Enugu States have tried to boost the economy of the South-East. One thing that seems to be lacking however, is the 'dedication' to see these projects succeed.

In two weeks, the National Good Governance Tour team visited the Songhai Farm located in Adani, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State and a palm plantation in Imo State. The Songhai farm has a fishery, piggery, poultry and 5 acres of land which has the capacity to produce 50,000 tonnes of rice annually.

It seemed as though the Adarice irrigation project was in a comatose state as there was no sign of recent cultivation on the seemingly endless rice field. On a normal basis, the project sees rice being produced twice in a year but last season it was only possible to harvest once because the irrigation facilities in the farm had broken down.

Managing Director, Anambra-Imo River Basin Development Authority, Onu Eluwa, attributed the state of the project to the over 25 years of neglect. Eluwa said the sum of N1.16 billion was earmarked by the Federal Government as intervention for the project in 2004 but the contractor, Bussdor and Co Nigeria Ltd, could not commence work until 2007.

Though the state government has undertaken rehabilitation work on the project, Eluwa said it lacks capacity to run the place. Leader of the team, Information Minister Labaran Maku expressed disappointment that the farm was being left to waste.

He blamed the failure of the project in the first instance, on the government's involvement in running the farm, adding, "Government should not be involved in running this irrigation project. It should be handed over to private farmers," Maku said.

The minister, who was quick to reiterate the Federal Government's commitment to its transformation programme in the agricultural sector, informed the delegation that the Minister of Water Resources, Sarah Ochekpe, had in a telephone conversion informed him that she had submitted a memo on the status of the project to President Jonathan and it was receiving his attention.

At the Ohaji palm plant in Egbema local Government Area of Imo State, we learnt that the government concessioned the company for ten years at N3.2 billion to Roche Agric Company and it earns N200million annually from the agreement, despite owning 5 percent of Roche Agric Company.

The company produces between 70 to 92,000 tonnes of palm oil monthly.

Despite these, workers at the plant complain that an 18 months salary arrears owed them by the immediate past administration of Ikedia

Ohakim has still not been paid.

The workers also expressed grievances over the government's refusal to review their salaries after several years in service. One question which comes to mind is whether the agricultural sector (private and government) can afford to displease their workers at a time the country is working towards implementing new reforms.

If agriculture is fully revived across the country, not only will it solve the problem of unemployment, it will certainly see the rise of Nigeria's economy if properly maintained. So while the government continues to reiterate its commitment to reform the sector, it is hoped that the private sector will collaborate with all tiers of government to make the reforms work.

Other agriculture projects visited by the team include an agricultural food storage facility located in Igbariam, Anambra State, which has a 25,000 metric tonne storage capacity and the Lower Anambra Irrigation Project for massive rice production in Omor, Ayamelum Local Government Area. This is one of several agriculture projects that have suffered poor maintenance and neglect.

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