The interest of the government of Ebonyi State is my interest. The policy of the government of Ebonyi State is my personal commitment. When this government under the leadership of the Governor David Umahi was inaugurated in 2015, the overriding policy commitment, deriving from the manifesto was something we call, PIEâ€”commitment to the welfare of the People, commitment to Industrialisation and a determination to lay the foundation for an Economy that would thrive, expand and afford a decent standard of living to the population.
In 2016, I put about 150 hectares of land into rice production. In 2017, we did about 350 hectares of land. This year, we are targeting about 500 hectares. We also intend as the years come, to diversify into cassava production.
But we want to establish some level of expertise and proper foundation in the area of rice production before we venture into cassava production.
How did you acquire such lands?
In Ikwo, we have land from inheritance. And we buy from other freeholders or communal landholders as well. In Ezillo, the land is government-owned and youâ€™re obligated to make a percentage contribution of your harvest to the state treasury. Itâ€™s been parceled to individuals according to their capacity to farm. I was assessed to pay N8.9m naira to government last year. In 2016, I paid N3 million
What role is government playing in supporting these projects?
Governmentâ€™s involvement ends at the point of provision of inputs such as fertiliser at controlled prices, which is fair enough and honours the age-long dictum that government is almost always a disastrous manager of busines, particularly the business of agriculture. Government workers and bureaucrats are inherently lazy and by their nature prone to corruption. And when you put the two elements together, you have a cocktail of disaster. The headmaster in the agricultural endeavour in Ebonyi is the governor himself. Governor Umahi owns his own multi-pronged farms branching into rice, cassava and animal husbandry. Every farming activity in Ebonyi State is undertaken by private individual efforts not government. What the government does to mobilise funds either through CBNâ€™s CACS or Anchor Borrowers. They help small scale farmers do one hectare of land through the provision of inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, rice seeds and sometimes assistance in land preparation.
Despite the ban on rice importation, the issue of smuggling seems unabated. How do you cope with this ugly trend?
Smuggling is a serious challenge to the sustenance of the current agricultural revolution in the country. Not only rice is being smuggled. Virtually everything is being smuggled. And this is killing the brilliant policy which the government of Nigeria has on agriculture.Â The porosity of our borders and the lacklustre control of the ingress of smuggled food products and the egress of smuggled petroleum products are strangulating the already sterile economy.
Our neighboring countries will never voluntarily curb or even make the attempt to curb smuggling operations that originate from within their borders and terminate in Nigeria. Anyone relying on Benin Republic, for instance, or any of our neighboring countries to collapse the extremely destructive smuggling infrastructure they have so carefully laid over decades is living in cloud cuckoo land! If smuggling operations die, if goods moving into Nigeria stops today, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Benin Republic will fall by a factor of over 60 per cent.
How was the yield of the previous productions compared with the financial investment?
The yield is modest in some areas and very rewarding in other areas, due to the vagaries of rainfall and the total absence of irrigation infrastructure. Right now, we have more than 600 metric tons of rice paddy and 200 tonnes of milled rice that we cannot sell at the current market price because it would entail extensive losses. We cannot even hope to recover our investment, much less making profit. We feel greatly discouraged and but for the encouragement of the governor, we were resolved to pack it in.
The CBN benchmark as at last year was N250, 000; thatâ€™s the figure that theoretically you would need to successfully cultivate one hectare of rice farm. In practical terms, it takes more than N300,000. This is because the cost of inputs is too high, cost of labour is too high, in the absence of a combined harvester you really face a very tough situation. And for those who borrow, any interest rate on agricultural capital above 4 or 5 per cent is ridiculous, in my judgement.
Why we are doing what we are doing in Ezillo and Ikwo is because we have a rice variety called Faro 44. Itâ€™s specifically bred to perform optimally in all soil types including upland areas.
How did you contend with the menace of pest and the challenges of cattle grazing?
The herdsmen are the biggest pest ever to confront ordinary farmers in the entirety of Nigerian history. We faced a torrid weekly confrontation with them in our farms. Pests wielding Ak47 are a terrifying sight. You find yourself menaced by both bullets and horns. The most dangerous pests threatening the very foundation and survival of this country at the moment are armed herdsmen.
We have to decide to take effective action to stop these pests. Their containment will guarantee that Nigeria continues on this positive trajectory of diversification through agriculture andÂ in five yearsâ€™ time, we look back and take a satisfactory stock. If we do not do that, and we allowed these AK 47 wielding pests, they will overrun us all.
Protecting them day and night against the marauding horde of pests with double magazine