Why we declared state of emergency in agric - Benue commissioner

Why we declared state of emergency in agric – Benue commissioner

As the Nigerian government seeks to move from an oil based economy to agriculture, the Benue state government is set to declare a state of emergency in that sector  beginning with agric extension workers. In this interview with SCHOLASTICA JOSEPH, the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. JAMES ANBUA, explained that Governor Samuel Ortom is prioritizing land development as well as crop production to live to the sobriquet: Food Basket of the Nation. Excerpts:

 

Six months in office, how have you surmounted the challenges facing the agric sector and what plans for smooth operations in 2016?

Since we came into office we have had a hectic time. I met nothing on ground in this ministry. In the 2015 budget, the whole agric ministry had just about N700 million as budget and before this administration came in, that money was exhausted.

But the main thrust of this administration is agric mechanization. We are going into mechanized farming and that is the main focus of Ortom’s administration. Before any mechanized farming, you have to go into land development and land clearing and this means using serious farming implements like tractors and others to properly develop the land. Though we have plans to go into integrated farming but we have to start with crop production and that is why we have prioritized land development and land clearing in this administration.

That is why on assumption of office, the governor and I as farmers, and we know Benue state has no industry other than farming and civil service, we have to do something to stabilize the economy of this state. And you know there is a paradigm shift away from an oil economy to an agricultural economy.

We have introduced something relatively new in this part of the country called dry season farming, the process is on-going. We have also advertised for land development. Before Governor Ortom came into office, some of these development partners had left the state due to non-payment of counterpart funds. But when he came in, out of our tight financial budget, he still managed and paid the sum ofN87 million as counterpart funding in the area of rice production.

 

Looking at the 2016 budget where the agric sector has N6.2 billion, how excited are you about this and how do you intend to utilize this money for more food production and development of the Benue economy?

I’m excited because we have enough and as I said, we are going to open all the rural areas and encourage all our farmers to go into crop production. Once there is massive crop production, there will be enough for processing and once you have food processing, you will have market for it. I want you to know that every food produced in Benue, there is already market for it. So food production in the state will create stability, market and development for Benue state.

 

Benue state produces some of the best species of fruits for instance oranges and mangoes. But some local farmers have complained that there are no market and storage facilities for their produce, so most of these fruits waste away. Does the government have plans to tackle this?

Already, I have gone ahead to secure a land for the development of citrus market. This citrus market will bring about storage facilities which government and other investors will provide for farmers. Our plan is to encourage our farmers not to take our fruits outside the state but rather we will want to encourage them to sell locally here and also encourage investors to come and invest in Benue state.

Kano does not produce oranges but if you go to Kano, you will see a lot of orange processing factories there. It is our oranges. Our people take it there and if you have your basic economic knowledge, you will know that factories are only sited where there is nearness to raw materials. So an intending investor who wants to invest in a particular produce, he will only invest where he saw a particular raw material available.

It is based on that background that I feel that if we should establish a market here in Benue state so that people from Kano who have their factories in there should come here in Benue state and buy these oranges and go feed their factories. And if they feel that it is very wise to come to Benue state to buy oranges, them they should come to Benue and invest.

 

Where is the site for this citrus market?

We are thinking of Gboko. We have secured a site in Gboko and apart from that we are also looking at a long time industrial citrus site in Guma. This one will be called industrial city. It will produce citrus, a processing zone will be there, a marketing site will be there.

 

What is the situation of the tomato puree factory in Wanune as we speak?

For that, we have already planned out grower’s scheme and we are starting this cropping season. It is only when you have available out growers that that factory will satisfactorily have raw materials. We are only waiting for the completion of that factory. Government is working assiduously to complete that factory and we believe that before the end of the second quarter of this year, something tangible will be done on the factory. Once that is done, we will take off.

As at now, the whole tomato that is produced in Benue cannot satisfy that factory unless we do something more than that and that is why I’m trying to bring in improved seedlings and encourage more out growers so we can have more raw materials to feed the factory.                                        

 

In the past, we had situations where only politicians get fertilizers and other farm inputs while the real farmers get them from middlemen and at exorbitant rates. What are your plans to put an end to this trend?

You are right. I am a farmer and I have a practical experience of what you are saying. And the governor too as a farmer knows that we usually have fertilizers late and sometimes when we are supposed to get, we don’t get.

This administration came in when cropping season was almost late. But as soon as the governor was sworn in, he swung into action by trying to procure fertilizers. We have developed a different model. The model is that government will no longer procure fertilizers. It is now being contracted out to a contractor whose duty is to procure the consignment and we make sure he delivers it to the appropriate farmers who then buy at a subsidized rate.

We as a ministry will only monitor to ensure that the consignment have been delivered and sold at the subsidized rate. For instance, if you are in Vandeikya, farmers in Vandeikya will attest to us how many number of trucks have reached Vandeikya and are being sold to farmers at such rate as approved by government. Last year, it was sold at N4,000. If you are buying in Makurdi, it is sold at N4,000 and it will be the same amount across the 23 local government areas of the state.

 

What are you going to do differently this year to make farming attractive to the youths in and other people in the state?

I will make sure that we have market for our farm produce. In the past, people farm but don’t get value for their produce. That is why we are talking about production, processing and marketing as a value chain which is very necessary.

Secondly, we have to provide farming incentives to the youths. We are talking of agric loans but these agric loans will not be disbursed as direct loans. We will not ’carry cash’ and give to them. But if you are into rice production for instance, you will write and give us what and what you will need for your rice farm in terms of farm implements, seedlings, inputs and so on. Cost it and we will provide them to you using your agric loan. This is because available statistics have shown that direct loans do not work. Most of the young graduates only get these loans and instead of utilizing it for agricultural purposes, usually divert such to either marry a wife or invest in other things.

 

Some people, if you give them N200,000, they will go and start organizing weddings or marrying more wives. Some will use it to pay outstanding debts instead of channeling it into proper agricultural purpose. So, we are not channeling that money into that kind of arrangement any longer.

 

 

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