— 19th March 2018
By Okechukwu Anarado
On the day of his inauguration as Anambra State Governor in March, 2014, Chief Willie Obiano announced ‘Mechanized Agriculture, Industrialization, Trade & Commerce, and Oil & Gas’ as the four cardinal pillars of his government’s economic policy, it was obvious that he dreamt a vibrant state economy driven by private entrepreneurship. Though the Governor hardly expressed discriminatory predispositions to any of the sectors, it soon became obvious that the agricultural sector readily assumed preeminence in situating the growing economic activities in Anambra State.
Unarguably, the tendency of the sector to provide employment and food security; and the relative ease in acquiring commercial farm plots – owing to State Government’s special intervention – aided its sudden prime relevance in discourses on the glowing economy of Anambra State.
It is pertinent to recognize Chief Willie Obiano’s strategic approach towards exploring and maximizing the latent opportunities the agricultural sector holds in Anambra State. About three days into the life of Chief Obiano’s administration, the Governor constituted a 14-Man Team of experts in agriculture and related fields. He charged the team with the responsibility of producing a viable blueprint upon which profitable agricultural practices in Anambra state would be structured.
Professor C.P.C. Omaliko, a renowned agronomist, was made the Chairman of this think-tank on agriculture. The group duly conducted a mapping of arable land in the state, indicating where the cultivation of crops like cassava, rice, maize, yam, carrot, cucumber, wheat etc would enjoy maximum comparative advantage.
The Governor also constituted the Land Acquisition Committee to forestall undue bureaucratic bottlenecks and sundry inhibitive observances in localities that might frustrate prospective commercial farmers in acquiring farm land. Dr. Tim Menakaya was made the head of the Committee. The information provided by Omaliko’s and Menakaya’s committees helped the State’s Ministry of Agriculture to properly document and monitor the spread of accredited farmers and farmers’ cooperatives in Anambra State; hence the data bank is domiciled in the Situation Monitoring Room in the Ministry of Agriculture. From the e-monitoring centre the ministry interacts first hand with farmers on real time basis.
With proper mode of data collection therefore, the agricultural activities in the state have become measurable. The performance indices of particular crops and the aggregate input of agricultural activities in the economy of Anambra State today are therefore ascertainable. Evidently, since Gov Obiano’s maiden launch of the 2014 Farming Season in Anambra, on the May 15, 2014, at Nteje, the ritual of yearly launching the farming season stuck. Such occasion affords the farmers in the state the opportunity of sharing their experiences with their Governor who freely recharges their supplies of improved seedlings/stems, and provides them other aids that facilitate bountiful harvest.
This encounter, which the farmers eagerly look forward to, boosts their zeal for greater productivity. In furtherance of these aids, the State Government encourages its financial agency, Anambra State Small Business Agency, ASBA, to lend fund to farmers, especially in their cooperative clusters.
This scheme and government-assisted training of budding farmers, as well as retraining of those already in the field, set the rhythm for extensive utilization of the huge employment opportunities in this cadre of farming. As a result, more youths are engaged in this small scale farming than they are, cumulatively, in the employment of the large commercial farms in the state.
Gov Willie Obiano’s administration has created a partnership model with some of the reputable commercial farms, more by the provision of suitable land for mechanized farming as the state’s equity. The successes this partnership has engendered are exemplified in the huge investments in agriculture by Cosched Farms with over $150m investment portfolio in an ultra modern rice farm located at Anaku, Ayamelum Local Government Area. Cosched is the highest single contributor of paddy in the popular Anambra Rice narrative. Other significant investors in the sector are JOSAN Rice Farm with over $150m investment; DelFarms Ltd ($40m) who are experts in growing organic crops that include maize, cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, paw-paw, sorghum, millet, cassava, okro, carrot etc.
DelFarms’ choice brand has gained them the recognition to supply the SABMiller Group (the brewers of the popular Hero beer brand) sorghum. The ultra-modern Lynden Poultry Farm at Igbariam with the capacity of producing over two million birds annually is equally noteworthy.
Anambra State’s concern in agriculture has made it possible for farmers in the state to export vegetables (ugu and bitter leaf) of commercial note to Europe, while yams from the state are in high demand in the United States of America. Governor Willie Obiano has continued to seek improved means of increasing the quality and yield of farm produce in the state.
This effort has led to successful FADAMA-assisted irrigation projects at the various rice producing clusters at Ogbaru, Ayamelu, Orumba North and Ihiala local Government Areas of the state. With this success, rice farmers in the affected areas can now conveniently do three seasons in one year. This makes the Governor hopeful of harvesting over 600,000 MT of rice at the end of 2018. Recall that four years ago Anambra was producing just 80,000 MT of rice annually against 345,000 MT it produces today.
With well over $1bn private investment in agricultural ventures attracted to Anambra state through the deliberate design of Chief Willie Obiano, many Anambra youths, who might have gone into criminality owing to unemployment are now gainfully engaged and helping sustain the food security and genial neighbourhood in the state. Little wonder many people associate Chief Obiano’s sterling success in governance with the revolution in the agriculture sector.
Anarado writes from Adazi-Nnukwu