Emmanuel Addeh writes that Bayelsa State Government has turned to agriculture to boost its revenue base and create employment for residents
Bayelsa State, like Nigeria has been over-dependent on revenue from crude oil, commonly called the black gold. The state is currently suffering the consequences of that unwitting decision or indecision since the fall of its oil earnings by more than a half.
But what many do not know is that if properly harnessed, the state’s rich agricultural resources could be a major revenue spinner and indeed serve as a model for other states.
To drive home this point, experts in the field of agro-business assert that the southern region of Nigeria where Bayelsa State is located, has one of the most productive ecosystems in the world.
As a matter of fact, the state has the highest rainfall in Nigeria, with an annual average of approximately 140 centimetres per year (and up to 400 centimetres in some areas), with a short dry season between November and March.
Not a few persons believe that agriculture, rather than crude oil, which was first discovered in the state in 1956, holds the key to the future survival and growth of the state rather than a most unpredictable natural resource like crude oil.
For one, the agricultural base of Bayelsa State is extremely rich. Food and tree crops like cassava, plantain, sugar cane, coconut, oil palm, raffia palm, African mango, rubber and seasonal food crops like maize and fruits, as well as timber, could be produced in commercial quantity with a little encouragement from the authorities.
Just taking cassava alone, a product for which Nigeria is reputed to be the biggest producer in the world, an academic research carried out by Elijah Ohimain, Daniel Silas-Olu and Joy Zipamoh, all of the Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa, in 2013, suggested that majority of those engaged in its production in the state were mainly small holder farmers.
The report published in the Greener Journal of Environmental Management and Public Safety, carried out in eleven sub-communities in the area, noted that cassava produced in areas of interest usually start decaying between two to three days because there are no facilities to preserve them.
It revealed that much of the product was manually processed, with peeling and frying being the most laborious, reason mechanised farming should be encouraged.
To compound the problem, many of the local farmers and fishermen have had their means of livelihood taken away from them due to the massive pollution of the environment by the spilling of oil into their land and waters; why they needed government intervention to mechanise the production of food in the area.
However, with the establishment in conjunction with Ostertrade Engineering and Manufacturing KFT/DPP International APS, a Hungarian/Danish consortium, of a cassava starch processing plant with a capacity to produce 600 tons of industrial starch per annum and an out growers scheme of 600 hectares cassava farm, the farmers might soon have a reason to smile.
But why are the authorities in the state turning their attention to cassava? One, cassava is the source of garri, a staple food made of cassava flour enjoyed by almost every household in the state and indeed Nigeria.
The Bayelsa State government says it is one of the major crops which it is interested in developing and encouraging investment in because of its sheer capacity to turn around its fortunes.
Also, with attention shifting from oil, a wasting asset, the government says it believes that local farmers can benefit from the government’s cassava commercialisation programme, through the provision of planting materials available to cassava farmers.
The two major species of cassava produced in the state are bitter cassava and sweet cassava, but the state `s Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) assures that it is encouraging farmers to plant improved varieties, which are also made available to them.
As earnings from oil declined in mid 2014, it probably forced the government to invest in a cassava plant population of 10,000 plants per hectare with an average yield of 15 -25 tonnes per hectare and an estimated land cultivation rate of about three hectares per season per farmer.
With the government’s renewed effort in the cassava programme, where the local farmers receive improved species and planting materials, production is expected to accelerate.
This is likely to drive the anticipated industrial revolution in cassava-based industries in the state.
Though every aspect of the processed cassava tuber is useful, the lack of adequate modern processing facilities in the state, has limited other by-products that could have been derived from the product.
Cassava is useful as a raw material for a variety of products, and its abundance, the government assures, would support cottage and large-scale industries throughout Bayelsa State.
Since there seems to be a strong, direct relationship between agricultural productivity, hunger and poverty, the new initiative is likely to pull many away from the pangs of lack.
Aside cassava, the state is said to have comparative advantage in large-scale production of rice, palm produce, aquaculture, banana, plantain and vegetables.
It has, therefore, invested in aquaculture projects with two Israeli companies, which are presently under construction to produce 3,000 tons of fish annually. The vegetation is suitable for three cycles of rice production.
With 4,000 hectares of rice farm at Peremabiri, 5,000 hectares at Isampou and 2,000 hectares at Kolo, the governor posits that the state has the capacity to grow and produce rice that will feed the entire Bayelsa State, Nigeria, West Africa and for export overseas.
“We have concluded a seed multiplication farm on a 40 hectares at Ebedbiri for this cassava farm. The state has a palm plantation of 1,200 hectares with a potential to grow the palm plantation to 2,000 hectares at the current location.
“Similar opportunities abound across the state to increase the palm production capacity. Bayelsa has the capacity to be like Malaysia and Indonesia in oil palm production. We therefore invite investors to partner with us in the agriculture sector,” Governor Seriake Dickson said on why Bayelsa was returning to the farm.
The government also seems to be forward looking in terms of a route for exporting the products from the investment in agriculture.
To this end, it was observed that there are also attempts to link production and transportation, which have been major challenges in the state.
“We are currently working with the Federal Ministry of Aviation to develop an international passenger and cargo Airport, which is now under construction. The State Government’s contribution to the development of that airport is over N24 billion.
“We hope that, God willing, the new airport should be ready this year. It is not a military airfield but the idea the Airforce has just come up with having a smaller airstrip within the metropolis that will serve military purposes which will also be opened for some limited civilian flights is wonderful.
“Moreso, because we are also thinking of a city airport within Yenagoa having opened up Yenagoa to the investing world from within and outside.
“We are concerned about a situation where people will land within the state capital and within the city centre, transact their businesses and possibly get back to their various destinations,” Dickson noted.
It was gathered that the runway of the Bayelsa International Airport under construction will be 3.4 kilometres long and dredging as well as sand filling has reached advanced stages.
The Cargo International Airport to prepare the state for the export market from Bayelsa to anywhere in Europe is less than six hours in flight time.
“With the airport in place and the harnessing of all the state’s agricultural potential, Bayelsa will be able to feed Nigeria, Africa and indeed, the rest of the world,” Dickson says.
But some critics of the governor have also said that the funds for building the cargo airport should be used to pay workers salaries. But those who believe in the fresh attention being paid to agriculture disagree.
As the first cargo airport East of the Niger, with the objective of improving commerce in the Niger Delta, the government notes that the facility will connect the region to the outside world and facilitate import and export trade.
Commissioner for Works and Infrastructural Development in the state, Mr. Lawrence Ewhrudjakpor, during an inspection of the progress of work at the airport, specifically said that the first cargo plane will land in the airport in October this year; about four months from now, and would boost the export of all the fruits of the agricultural programmes being put in place.
“The cargo airport will enable us to key into global economic development and we are still standing by our October date for the first plane to land here in Bayelsa.
“It is not the ordinary regular passenger airport; work is seriously going on at the site and over two Kilometres of the runway have been sand filled.
“And what we need is about 3.5 kilometres. The contractors have also started the vertical drains which make the sand easier to settle,” he said.
He added that markets around the East and South would
be coming directly to the airport when completed.
Ewrudjiakpor, who described infrastructure as the key to driving the economy of the state, said the airport would link Bayelsa to the business world.
He added, “Development and infrastructure are like twins; you cannot separate any of them because they are interwoven. If you have infrastructure, then development will follow; investors and tourists will come in.”
Aside cassava production, government also said it was into a bilateral agreement with the Israeli Government to partner in the cultivation of large scale fish farms, food crops and vegetables, to tally with a policy aimed at making Bayelsa State the hub of rice, and poultry production, for commercial purpose.
Rice milling machines are also being installed in strategic places across the state, building of livestock/piggery pens, construction of humidity combustion chambers for speedy plantain growth and building of a veterinary hospital are part of the overall plan in repositioning agri-business in the state.
The construction of the Agge Deep Sea Port in Bayelsa State, due to the state’s littoral and maritime environment, the government believes, would also help revive agriculture, boost the economy, attract business from Delta, Edo, and the East especially Onitsha, which is the commercial hub of Anambra State. The port is to occupy an area of about 8,000 hectares when completed.
“Over the years, there has been over reliance on oil revenues to the utter neglect of agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, which shouldn’t have been allowed to be,” Dickson recently lamented in a bid to draw attention of the people of the state in the new policy direction.
But he quickly added that the 400 hectares of cassava farm at Ebedebiri in Sagbama Local Government Area in addition to a cassava processing plant, which he described as the largest in the country, being constructed by the Danish company, would boost the state revenue.