Cross River and Otu’s agricultural revolution


Cross River and Otu’s agricultural revolution

 

By Michael Jegede

About ten months into the administration of Governor Bassey Edet Otu of Cross River State, the one-time banker and ex-parliamentarian of note, is leaving no stone unturned, in his determination to fulfil the pledge he made to Cross Riverians to use agriculture as a springboard to turn around the economic fortunes of the state.

Upon assumption of office last year, the governor wasted no time in hitting the ground running, disclosing workable strategies to actualize his vision of improving the economy of Cross River State and boosting food security via agriculture. Various laudable steps have been taken by the governor to revolutionise the agricultural sector with a view to advancing the state’s economy for the benefit of the people.

Last week, in further demonstration of his unalloyed commitment towards making agriculture a top priority in his administration, Otu inaugurated a multi-stakeholder committee made up of experts, professionals, seasoned agriculturists and successful farmers, mandated to design a development framework to optimize the value chains of cocoa, oil palm and coffee in Cross River.

The terms of reference of the committee as highlighted by the governor include: “To develop a 7-year strategic plan that outlines strategies that enhances cocoa, coffee and oil palm cultivation, productivity and quality; to design Value Chain policies for cocoa and oil palm in such a manner that it encourages direct investment, supports farmers and addresses market dynamics.”

The committee is equally expected to devise means of mobilizing resources for the establishment of six new cocoa estates in the state and evaluate existing laws governing cocoa and oil palm production so as to make needed alterations to stimulate growth.

The governor emphasized that “cocoa, coffee and oil palm are crops in which Cross River State enjoys unchallenged comparative advantage in the country. And determined to derive maximum return on our advantage, we have, after a careful consideration, come up with this model of having key stakeholders to achieve our dream in an organized and co-operative manner.

“We have taken this option because of the belief that while the crops are different, your managerial and active experience from your respective backgrounds will complement each other for the greatest benefit of the state.”

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When the Obong of Calabar Executive Forum (OCEF) visited the governor few days after the inauguration of the multi-stakeholder committee, he reiterated that “As a government, we are doing all we can to make sure we change the narrative of things. We are looking at agriculture as our main focus. It has become clear that agriculture is what would get Cross River out of the woods.”

Expressing confidence that his agro-revolution would serve as the catalyst for economic transformation of Cross River and vehicle to lift the state to enviable heights, the governor told the forum that his administration would invest heavily in agriculture across the three senatorial districts of Cross River State.

According to Otu, “We intend to train and retrain farmers to be abreast of international best practices in agriculture. For instance, small holder schemes and grants would be made available for beneficiaries, with government serving as the off taker to farmers’ agricultural produce.”

Speaking on the notable efforts of the governor towards placing Cross River on the path of economic progress through agricultural advancement, his special adviser on general duties, Barrister Ekpenyong Akiba, said: “It is a known fact obvious for everyone to see that our governor has indeed set out major reforms in the agricultural sector of the state. Before now His Excellency, Senator Prince Bassey Otu had set up a committee to carry out a digital soil mapping and fertility survey to ascertain the fertility status of soils across the state. And recently the committee submitted its report which indicated that we have over 27 soil types in Cross River State. And these soil types are all useful and suitable for different kinds of crop production. So, a farmer can now know the fertility level of the soil which is suitable for a particular crop type that he or she wants to plant in Cross River State. For the governor to go in that direction is enough to explain his willingness, commitment, determination and readiness to invest and create opportunities through agriculture.

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“In fact, in one of his presentations, the governor had submitted that the kind of reforms that we are having today in Cross River State is akin to what was witnessed in the days of Michael Okpara during his reign in the Southeastern region. We all agree that agriculture is a weapon for poverty reduction, food sustainability and human survival. So, for us in Cross River, it’s a good thing to see that His Excellency has made this particular sector the main focus of his administration as it will certainly grow our economy. In the state we are talking about a massive cocoa investment. We are talking about oil palm investment. We are talking about coffee investment and other crops. These options have been taken because the governor believes that the different crops if properly harnessed will create wealth and employment, and also increase our internally generated revenue. Don’t forget that our land is very arable.”

Continuing, he stated: “The governor has shown pragmatic leadership and demonstrated in many ways that he is truly determined to boost agriculture. For instance, we have 3.5 million oil palm seedlings already earmarked for planting. We are going to begin the planting of oil palm seedlings that will now metamorphose into the palm fruits that will now be used for different purposes. The governor has already earmarked 3.5 million for planting this year. As we speak, we have also launched a transparent digital management of N30billion commercial agric development fund which is referred to as Project Grow. The commencement of the extension of the smallholder cocoa development scheme will lead to the development of new cocoa estates and regeneration of existing ones with the inauguration of the multi-stakeholder committee.”

Akiba, a lawyer by profession, expressed optimism that the sundry reforms, policies and initiatives of the Otu’s government in the area of agriculture would produce the desired outcomes and bring about a better living standard for Cross Riverians. He averred that the governor’s decision to constitute “a committee with stakeholders who are experts, who are farmers themselves and successful in farming, who have done their businesses in farming privately and have also grown industrially, is a guarantee for progress.” He added that with the impressive road construction and repair works as well as the improved security situation under Otu’s purposeful and resourceful leadership, the governor has created an enabling environment in the state that will guarantee investments in agriculture by independent organisations from within and outside the country.

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In November last year, at the State Executive Council (SEC) meeting presided over by Governor Otu, the Council approved a N400, 000,000 (Four Hundred Million Naira) counterpart funding for the Agro-processing Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS) Project facilitated by the Ministry of International Donor Coordination. Within his first 100 days in office as Cross River helmsman, Otu revealed that he had secured a private sector investment of 15 million dollars for the Ayip Eku Oil Palm Estate in Akamkpa Local Government Area of the state.

At the 3rd Cross River SEC meeting in the year 2024, Otu approved the procurement request of 108 units of three-wheeled tractors for small-holder farmers as part of strategies to pave the way for job creation and enhancement of food security in the state.

According to a statement by Otu’s Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Nsa Gill, the Cross River State Commissioner for Agriculture and Irrigation Development, Johnson Ebokpo, said at the SEC meeting that the tractors, which are to be purchased at a total cost of N993.6 million, would boost government’s drive at fostering mechanised agriculture.

The Commissioner explained that “On delivery, the tractors will be distributed to six youths’ cooperatives of 10 members each in all the 18 local government areas to enable them to provide mechanisation services to large scale commercial agriculture.

“The scheme is expected to create 1,080 direct jobs, 1,200 indirect jobs and improve livelihood for an estimated 2,700 rural households. Moreso, beneficiaries will have six years to repay the principal sum only with a three months moratorium inclusive.”

Michael Jegede, a journalist, writes from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja


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