Recently, Anambra State Commissioner For Agriculture, Dr Forster Ihejiofor spoke with journalists on a wide range of issues affecting the agricultural sector.
In this interview, Mr. Commissioner believes state government’s various intervention programmes, including oil palm and coconut project should be supported to maximize the benefits for economic sustainability of the populace.
*Mr Commissioner, can you tell us the achievements of your ministry since the inception of this administration?*
The activities of this solution government, which is a very visionary government is committed to the welfare of the people in a manner that is indeed incomparable. Governor Soludo is determined to make sure every minute, every kobo count for the people of Anambra. Ministry of Agriculture is one of the ministries that he is using to execute his multi pronged approach to liberating our people from poverty and improving the quality of life and livelihood of Ndi Anambra.
In Ministry of Agriculture,Mr Governor hit the track running from day one.In fact looking at his manifesto he did promise to make agriculture one of the major growth sectors for the state transformed economy. He is doing this from multiple angles,but the most prominent is the fact that Mr Governor has identified the oil palm and coconut agricultural sector as very potent tool for eradicating poverty.
This move is quite apt because in the 60’s Dr M I Okpara achieved an economic growth that was unrivaled in the whole of West Africa. A very high rate of economic and GDP growth that informed the visit of the Malaysians who came over here and obtained seedlings and went back to their place,utilized the oil palm and coconut to bring down their poverty level from 55 percent to 5 percent over a period of time.
Mr Governor has adopted a socio economic model of bottom up approach where seedlings are procured and distributed to Ndi Anambra targeting the most vulnerable and of course extending to the rest of the populace.This improved oil palm seedlings which is called Tenera Seedlings that we are procuring and distributing has the capacity to make just five seedlings of it after three years,three and half years will begin to produce and by the time it reaches the height of productivity,the five seedlings will be generating over a million per annum.
This is without stop,it will continue to produce oil and other value chain items. For a period of 35 to 40 years the seedlings will continue to produce.Mr Governor’s agenda is that every qualified family in the 326 wards of the state will be given between 5 to 10 seedlings per annum over a period of four years.
So, you get a tune of 40 seedlings and a minimum of 20 seedlings, each family that gets just 5 has exited poverty line forever,in fact they have become millionaires.
This is being carefully and intentionally implemented across the state.We have already bought and distributed a million and fourthy thousand to Ndi Anambra targeted at about 130,000 households.
This year 2024, another one million plus seedlings will be distributed across the 326 wards of the state. So,by the time this programme is fully implemented,in fact,within this first term,245,000 households in the state who statistically are under poverty line would have been lifted out of poverty.So this agenda alone will eradicate poverty from Anambra State.
*What is the Mnistry doing to sustain other intervention programmes?*
Alongside this, several other intervention programmes are on board.You realize that we have the agricultural policy of the state which is described as Regenerative Agriculture.This regenerative agricultural approach is a copy of the natural crop production system which is a system that is highly sustainable because it leverages the inputs of biological wastes that have been composted rather than chemical fertilizers and chemical inputs.
So using the affordable input of biological compost ensures that the farmer recycles biological wastes rather than going to buy expensive inorganic fertilizer and chemical agro inputs that help to degrade our soil and worsen the climate crisis that we face.
Regenerative Agriculture employs agricultural pathways that are eco friendly and help to mitigate the climate crisis that we face,help to sustain the soil structure and sustain life in the soil which makes ecosystem productive and functional.And makes even our soil less vulnerable to erosion.
When you use chemical agricultural inputs,you kill the microbes in the soil and that leads to soil compaction that leads to loss of soil structure and then gully erosion.So,this policy alone will make agriculture more sustainable,more resilient and indeed more profitable to Anambra farmers,besides producing crops and commodities that are healthy and then food as medicine.
Now, we have intervention programmes in the ministry. FADAMA CARES which has just exited,we still have Value Chain Development Programme (VCDP) which is funded by International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD). We have the Agricultural Transformation Support Programme (ATASP 1) funded by the Federal Government in partnership with African Development Bank.
These intervention programmes are targeted at our stable food value chain cassava,maize,rice, sorghum. They target these stable foods to enhance the infrastructural requirements in these areas of production and empower farmers through subsidized inputs to produce more and ensure food security in the state.
These programmes for instance ATAPS 1, is responsible right now for reactivation of a high capacity Irrigation Pumping Station in Ifite Ogwari that has the capacity to irrigate about 10,000 hectares of farm land.
Farmlands where rice production,maize production,sesame seed, sorghum can go on round the year once the reactivation is completed.It also means that we will be able to produce food all round the year.Rice can be produced three times rather than once which is what is happening right now.
Beside these major projects which is on going,they are also involved in supporting agricultural co operatives with infrastructural and equipment inputs.They help them to build warehouses,give them equipment for processing of their commodities like rice,maize,sink boreholes and supply the farmers Solar Dryers.
Even access roads to farm lands and agricultural projects are provided by these intervention programmes VCDP and ATASP 1.So,under Mr Governor’s watch agricultural sector is receiving unprecedented attention.You must have heard about the RAMP project which is Rural Agricultural Access Project,where rural roads leading to agric lands are being targeted specifically to make way for evacuation of produce.
As i speak to you right now,the people from Abuja because it is a federal government project but the state has to be responsive for it to happen.Mr Governor has prioritized this project,those people are here in Anambra visiting the nooks and crannies of the state to open up our farm lands and create access for evacuation of produce.
So much is happening besides the oil and coconut palm seedlings which we are procuring this year.
*On the Ministry’s plan for economic trees?*
Endangered economic trees are receiving unprecedented attention,Ukwa,Oji Igbo,Akiilu,even paw paw and a number of economic trees have been selected for procurement, distribution and planting across the state.
This year,we will be encouraging the beneficiaries to plant in clusters.We encourage people from the same kindred,same villages to locate their farms together or use their communial lands to do the planting.
For obvious reasons,we open them up to attract funding from the banking sector and make it easier for them to receive extension services from the Agricultural Development Programme of the state.
*What are you doing in the area of livestock production?*
We do produce a large quantity of poultry. However, there is a challenge with infrastructure in their case. The veterinary clinics are dilapidated and they do not have a well equipped, functional laboratory in the state to ensure precise disease diagnosis and treatment.Often,they will have to send their samples outside the state for analysis and diagnosis.
When i came in, I asked questions and found out that the state has been pursuing an intervention project called Livestock productivity and Resilience Support Programme (L-PRES).
For that reason,the state government held back from investing in veterinary services infrastructure hoping that at the take off of L-PRES, these things will receive comprehensive attention,but as i speak to you the project is yet to take off.
However, in this year’s budget Mr Governor has allowed some funding which we will use to address the most acute needs of the Veterinary Department.