By Muhammed Kuta Yahaya
Have you met the Governor of Cross River State, Professor (Senator) Ben Ayade? I have and nothing has made me more confident about the future of Nigeria like my encounter with the helmsman of the Nation’s Paradise. Compact, sturdy, and articulate, you see the wheels practically turning in his head as he patiently listens to you. When he responds, you are suddenly aware of his keen mind and the deep seated drive to get things done at all costs.
Thus, one of the areas of strength of the ebullient Governor of Cross River State is his ability to deftly make tough decisions and carry them out with tact. And no one ever sees him coming. Although at the inception of his administration he promised to change the face of Cross River’s politics and socio-economy in as thoroughgoing manner, he has elected to play down his achievements in key areas of the state’s economy, especially the massive gains recorded in agriculture.
Ayade is aware that Nigerians are used to sloganeering. But he is also aware that slogans have never solved any problem. In the past we had Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, Farm Settlement Scheme etc., but hunger is still top of the challenges holding the nation from realizing its full potentials.
So, it is not suprising that Ayade decided to quietly pursue an ambitious quest to feed the entire West African sub-region and bolster exportation of the staple food item beyond West Africa.
CrossRice, the state’s flagship agricultural project is a multi-billion naira Commercial Agriculture Development Project promoted by the Cross River State Rice Company Management Board, the Central Bank of Nigeria and Sterling Bank.
Over 2000 Cross Riverians have already been either directly or indirectly engaged in the scheme as part of an ambitious employment generation move that targets 5000 people in the next one year, making maximum use of commercial and mechanized farming methods.
The state government under Professor Ayade is determined to increase rice production in the state from a paltry 50,000 metric tonnes in 2015 to over 500,000 metric tonnes annually. In 2015 when Ayade took the reins of power, Nigeria spent N1bn daily on rice importation from India and other countries of the far East, including Thailand.
Nigeria was the largest rice importer on the African continent, with imports amounting to over 2.5 million tons in 2012. Nigeria’s quest to increase local production led the President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government to ban the importation of rice which was followed by the closure of all land borders. The motive is to discourage importation and encourage local production.
The CrossRice Project which is response to President Buhari’s call for diversification of the nation’s economy from dependence on revenues from crude oil is conceived to help citizens seize the opportunity and be part of the rice revolution in Cross River State by becoming modern mechanized rice farmers facilitated by the Cross River State Rice Company Management Board.
Under the scheme, farmers are aggregated into cooperatives to cultivate cluster farms in various locations in the state while the Cross River State Rice Company Management Board provides land, funding, farm inputs, mechanization and serve as off-takers for the rice paddy produced by the farmers.
CrossRice project will also improve rice yield through the use of improved seeds and seedlings, employment of mechanized farming, deployment of technology and innovation and expansion of processing.
A little over a year after the ban on importation of rice and less than a year after the closure of land borders, Nigeria is increasingly relying on Cross River state’s rising rice cultivation profile to achieve this dream. While it is not in doubt that the state is now amongst the nation’s top rice producers, the state government is also not leaving any stone unturned in its quest to attract the right volume of investments in order to dwarf its current achievements.
Already, Governor Ayade’s administration is working closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to maintain its place in the scheme of things in that sector.
At an event in Calabar, the Cross River capital, Managing Director of Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), Adam Shaffer led a high-powered delegation to sign a memorandum of understanding on the Feed the Future Project between the state government and USAID. Shaffer said at the event that at the event that the state topped the list of 36 states of the federation seeking to key into the Feed the Future programme. He emphasized that Cross River was first considered because it has distinguished itself in the areas of international best practice, transparency and the willingness to align with the vision of USAID.
These initiatives were bolstered by Ayade’s first-hand experience of Adam Shaffer’s Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) intervention in the USA especially small holder farmers’ partnership with equipment leasing and manufacturing firms and decided to replicate the American model to address the challenges confronting prospective entrepreneurs in the state, nay the nation and the sub-region.
Some of the best practices, Ayade has brought to bear include, setting up Agricultural Equipment Hiring Centres, bolstering cooperatives and rice production clusters and encouraging private sector participation. Already, several rice milling centres and “food banks” have been established in all local governments in the state.
Not done, Governor Ayade of Cross River has initiated an empowerment programme called G-Money meant to boost agricultural activities in the state. G-money is an empowerment of young people through agriculture, job creation through agriculture, establishing massive equipment.
The state government is partnering with an American agric equipment firm to provide end to end solutions to Agro-mechanization across the rice value chain. The firm, John Deere will be promoting “total value, total systems” solutions that will focus on development across the value chain.
Ayade told journalists last week after conferring with President Buhari that his state government procured the equipment from John Deere of the United States, the biggest company in the world for land clearing and land preparation for agriculture.
He noted that with the partnership Cross River has with Tata, the local partner, “we have made order and taken delivery of a large number of tractors, bulldozers, pay loaders, excavators, the list is endless,” he said.
Already, a tour and assessment of Agro farm facilities at all major rice farm clusters have been concluded. The sites visited were proposed locations for Agricultural Equipment Hiring Centres.
The governor expressed the hope that the programme, when fully functional, would create jobs for over 2,000 young persons who would have at least 5,000 hectares of farmland for rice.
Additionally, the state government got 30,000 metric tonnes of fertilizers to rural farmers to up the ante, while he has continued with his administration’s policy of buying 100 tractors every year, a good number of which have been evenly allocated for the purpose of rice production in the state.
That’s not all. The Ayade administration has also tapped into the Prosper Africa programme initiated by the American government with the funding of about USD60 billion set aside to bring prosperity to Africa and reduce poverty and using Cross River as a mediator is already growing in leaps and bounds translating into good news for Cross River and indeed Nigeria.
It is a self-evident fact that President Muhammadu Buhari now has a ready-made ally to drive his economic diversification agenda beyond rhetoric and empty promises made during past agricultural policies. Similarly, the Cross River Rice Example heralds a new dawn for extension professionals anxious for the actualization of the extension profession’s policy framework currently awaiting executive and legislative action to empower practitioners to promote what is good and educate others about best practices in other climes!
As a popular saying in Yoruba goes, “what we are looking for in Sokoto is in our ‘sokkotoo’. The emerging development from Canaan city is good omen for Nigeria. Thus we don’t have to go far, best examples are here for all to see!
With a robust rice value chain programme and a world-class slaughterhouse that does 6000 birds per day, there is no gainsaying the fact that Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State is taking the lead in the sub-region for others to follow. Hence, the actualization of his Superhighway and Deep Sea projects deserve FG support and his giant strides worthy of emulation and support of all and sundry.
Yahaya is a Professor of Agricultural Extension and Development Communication at the University of Ibadan