Missan Ukubeyinje, Agriculture and Natural Resources Commissioner, says a lot of investments is being made in the sector because agriculture is a major factor in Delta Beyond Oil strategy of the state government
What would you describe as the agric policy of Delta State?
The agric policy of the state was drawn before I came in. The agric policy we are adopting now was made in 2009 and the policy is basically, one, to give support to farmers, to encourage food production, to reduce poverty, to meet the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs. One of the MDGs is to reduce poverty; to provide food for Deltans, to discourage rural-urban migration through rural integration, to provide raw materials for the industries by increasing food production, to create jobs. In summary, that’s the policy.
One of the banners we saw on our way to your office says the objective of the agric sector in the state is to be the leading exporter of food in the country. How do you hope to achieve that?
Well, the policy remains. Every state is in competition and you will agree with me, for quite some time, since, probably the Second Republic, the agric sector in this country generally dwindled. It is now we are talking about transformation of agriculture. Before now, we were talking about improving the livelihood of the poorest of the poor at the local level and then encouraging those in the business of farming to upscale. We cannot produce everything but in cassava where we have comparative advantage, I can tell you, yes, we can do that. We have some large-scale farmers on cassava because we can produce cassava in this state. For rubber, of course, Delta was one of the major exporters of rubber and we are also upscaling that. I believe that with the partnership we are going through, because we are partners of Rubber Institute of Nigeria; the partnership and funding we are expecting from that sector, the MoU has already been signed with the AFD and we have brought in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. For that, I can tell you that yes, we can be one of the leading exporters of rubber.
In oil palm, we also have great potential if we also upscale it. I’m sure we can lead in that area. In plantain production, we can also do that because we are already encouraging the processing of plantain to plantain flour. We can do that. It’s a policy that’s still in existence. It’s achievable. We are good in fisheries. And I’m sure you know that here in Asaba, we have fish farm clusters in Camp 74. In Uvwie, around Warri area, we have the Uvwie Fish Farmers.We call them Ufuoma Fish Farmers. Our production capacity for fish is about 50,000 tonnes and we have over 74 farmers at Camp 74. We have over 3,000 farmers in Uvwie and we also have private farmers. The state government is going into the production of four feed mills in collaboration with the Bank of Industry. Two of them have taken off; it’s a way of ameliorating the cost of production for our fish farmers.
The federal government has a very ambitious agric policy, the Agric Transformation Agenda. How is Delta State benefiting from that?
Delta State is benefiting greatly. First, let me start from loan. Over eight cooperatives have benefited from the tractorisation policy of the federal government. They benefited in the form of buying tractors at subsidised rates. I can tell you that currently, we have registered over 250 farmers from the state to benefit from that project but our target for this year is about 200,000. For last year, we have over 135,000 that benefited from the project. The programme is part of the policies of agric in the state to support particularly small-scale farmers. And what we do there is to give at least two bags of fertilizer to each farmer to help them; it’s subsidised because they pay for one while the federal and state governments pay for the other one at 50 per cent each. Before now, they were given seeds. Those that were into maize production were given free maize seedlings while others got free rice seedlings. But for this year, due to budgetary challenges, they want the farmers to pay a little; so they only pay 10 per cent of the cost of the seedlings, so we are benefiting in that area
And then, on the Cassava Transformation Agenda, we have also benefited. Presently, I can tell you, we have acquired over 4,000 hectares of land at Abraka which spans Eku and others; but currently, they’ve done over 100,000 hectares in preparation for the demonstration farming. And there’s also going to be a processing mill and the purpose is for export; high quality cassava flour for export, and that’s for 240-ton daily capacity and that’s the partnership between federal and state government. The state government provided the land and we will provide the enabling environment. The farmers will be on ground; they will bring the expertise and then renew the private sector concession. So, those are some of the aspects of the transformation agenda which we have keyed into which we are benefiting. Like the rubber production I told you about, there’s a target for production of at least 6000 hectares in Delta State which we are going to benefit from and which is going to be funded by Agric Financial Development Programme in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agric and Central Bank of Nigeria. A MoU has been signed between us and the Rubber Institute of Nigeria and the AFD which is before the Federal Ministry of Agric.
The next level is to fine-tune the final memorandum of understanding between states; once that is endorsed, the programme kicks off and that’s to say we are going to benefit from 6,000 hectares production for rubber. The gestation period for the new improved rubber stump is about seven years. Once you can plant fresh, from that seven years from the day of harvest, because it’s a commercial crop, you harvest for quite a long time – between 20 and 30 years. It will just be producing and only requires that the farm be maintained.
How far has the state gone in realising the target of poverty reduction and discouraging rural-urban migration?
To achieve that, we have keyed into the FADAMA project with the World Bank. We have also keyed into the FAG/Community Development/NDDC and the federal government programme. Basically, it’s for the poorest of the poor at the rural areas – to upscale them. And this is a counterpart funding; even the rural poor too contributes, the federal government contributes, state government contributes and the World Bank contributes. The state government has paid up to date on a yearly basis. They have various projects that they do although they are majorly agric enterprises. The overall objective is to reduce poverty and to discourage rural to urban migration.
What is the place of agriculture in the Delta Beyond Oil initiative of the state government?
Agriculture is a major factor because the essence of Delta Beyond Oil’s strategy is basically to invest the revenue we are getting from oil today. And one of the best areas to invest it is agriculture. Apart from food to man, most industries are agric-based because of the source of raw materials they provide. We have a chap who just left here who’s doing toothpick and tiles. Where did the raw material come from? Agriculture! So, I believe that agriculture is a major thing. The only problem, like I mentioned to you, was that there was a time in this country that we abandoned agriculture but the interest is rekindled now and people and governments are talking about it. So, agriculture has its place greatly in the Delta Beyond Oil initiative.
How much investment would you say the state government is making in the agric sector?
We have trained a lot of youths in the various sectors of agriculture particularly in livestock. With that, the government has spent over N1 billion in that project. If you are talking of annual budget in the past 15 years, I’m sure government has spent over N20 billion. And this investment has translated into massive job creation especially for the youths.
There is a partnership between the state government and Obasanjo Farms; what benefit has the state derived from that?
The benefit we have derived is that, it has developed the poultry industry, in that the production system is modern. A lot of our poultry farmers go there to enhance their skills. That’s one. Two, it has also brought businesses for the egg vendors; we have a lot of them around this area so they’ve also benefited. And then in terms of employment, it’s also created job for direct and indirect staff there. So, those are some of it. However, the general benefit will come when it comes to full capacity because we are supposed to have processing machines for broilers; we have not done that yet. What we are doing right now is just eggs production. And they have their own mills there. Other poultry farmers also go there for feeds for their poultry. So these are some of the benefits. For now we have not gotten all, but we will get there.
Still talking about farmers, some years back, government used to encourage farmers by building farm house in their locality. What is the situation now?
Yes, we have communal farms and then we have existing farm settlements in the state. We have about 10 communal farms and about four farm settlements in the state. People live there.
Are there specific grants that are open to farmers in the state?
In 2012, we gave out N1 billion loan to co-operatives to upscale them. For now, there’s no grant, but we are processing a N2 billion agreement at the moment which we are expecting the governor to approve. Bank of Industry is funding 50 per cent, while we will fund 50 per cent. That fund will also be for farmers.
‘Delta Beyond Oil’s strategy is basically to invest the revenue we are getting from oil today. And one of the best areas to invest it is agriculture. Apart from food to man, most industries are agric-based because of the source of raw materials they provide’