By Chinyere Anyanwu
When he assumed office on May 29, 2015, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State was clear on what he wanted for his state. His dream was to turn the state into a vibrant economic hub that would transform it into an investor’s haven as well as the people’s dream home.
Among sectors of the state’s economy through which Governor Ayade intended to accomplish this was the agricultural sector, which received prompt attention from his administration on his assumption of office. With investments in the sector, the governor’s target has been to boost the state’s revenue and employment generation as well as ensure food sufficiency not just for the state but also for the entire country.
Cocoa, one of the state’s major crops, was first to get the administration’s attention. In 2018, the state took delivery of equipment for its cocoa processing factory located in Ikom Local Government Area. The 30,000 tonnes per annum cocoa processing plant, which has the capacity to process cocoa beans to chocolate bars is targeted to bring about value-chain addition to cocoa, which will ultimately enrich cocoa farmers in the state. Prior to the investment in the cocoa processing plant, the state’s cocoa farmers suffered the misfortune of having merchants from other regions of the country and the continent taking glory for their produce and efforts. Thus, the processing plant put an end to the trend of other states taking glory for cocoa produced in Cross River State.
With the processing plant in place, an effective off-take arrangement was established, which now offers cocoa farmers in the state “the opportunity, platform and industry to process their own cocoa, giving (them) premium value for money. A cocoa house is going to be built here. Once you have a cocoa farm, you just come here, collect money during harvest, we take your cocoa, so you have money for the product and you don’t have to go to bank to get a loan,” Ayade said.
The state’s investments in cocoa are expected to earn it about N80 billion annually in addition to about 500 direct jobs and more than 5,000 indirect jobs it would create.
The industrialisation moves of the Ayade administration also saw it venturing into poultry and livestock production, and frozen chicken processing factory. In early 2019, the administration commenced the construction of a poultry and livestock farm in Odukpani Local Government Area of the state. The project was birthed to feed the billion-naira frozen chicken processing factory in Calachika, Cross River State.
The poultry, deemed to be the biggest of its kind in the South-South, has a production capacity of 22,000 birds per hour. The farm, which rolled out its first birds at the end of the second quarter of 2019, according to the state governor, has six broiler houses, layers and hatchery, with each broiler house producing 22,000 birds and huge number of eggs.
Ayade, who was upbeat about the project had noted that, “the poultry farm is the most sophisticated in terms of equipment and production line in Africa.”
You have three major downstream benefits from this business; eggs in abundance, day-old chicks and frozen chickens, and that is what we are doing to industrialise the state. All the small poultry farmers in Cross River State and its environ can now start buying their day-old chicks from our facility instead of going far West as the case is currently.
“We also have a slaughter house at the Ayade Industrial Park where we are going to slaughter 6,000 birds per hour for export. That is why it is located close to the Bakassi Deep Seaport. So, as we produce, we take them to the cold room before exporting them as fresh chicken.”
The frozen chicken processing factory in Calachika, which processes about 6,000 frozen chicken per hour, off-takes birds from the Odukpani poultry farm. It commenced the sale of frozen chicken to consumers in the state in December 2020 at a subsidised rate.
In addition to producing poultry products for consumption, the poultry farm and frozen chicken processing factory became massive employment generators for youths of the state as the governor urged them to take advantage of the projects and go into poultry farming. He assured them that, “the factory is going to be off-taker for every allied poultry product produced in the state.”
Still taking steady strides in its agricultural programme for the state, the Ayade administration, in 2020, entered into a multi-billion naira agreement with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) to supply rice seedlings to farmers in the country. To this end, the state government embarked on the establishment of a rice seeds and seedlings factory in Calabar, the state capital.
Through the rice project, the administration said it was set to produce and equip about 160,000 rice farmers with farm inputs, including clearing the forest, preparing and levelling the land and providing the seedlings. Ayade said the state is determined to ensure food security for the country as well as reduce hunger and poverty. The state is optimistic it will produce 1,000 millionaires from rice production even as it estimates to earn about N70 billion annually from the seeds and seedlings supply, and about N100 billion from milled rice annually. In terms of job creation, the investments in the rice value chain, from the rice seedlings and seed factory to the ultramodern rice mill will generate 5,000 direct jobs and more than 20,000 indirect jobs, according to the state’s projections.
Pushing further his industrialisation agenda for Cross River State through agriculture, the governor, in the first quarter of 2021, commenced work on a 12,000 litres per hour groundnut oil processing factory in Nyanya, Bekwarra Local Government Area of the state.
Bekwarra was picked as the choice location for the groundnut oil processing factory owing to its huge potential for groundnut production. According to Ayade, “this local government is known to be the largest producer of groundnuts and indeed the best quality in Nigeria. So being the largest producer of groundnut in the whole of Nigeria, I decided to set up a vegetable oil plant.”
He explained: “The vegetable oil plant is projected to mill 12,000 litres per hour on completion, producing natural vegetable oil from groundnut. So we have a system where the groundnut comes fresh from the farm, goes through a drying and de-shelling process and further down to a granulation and frying, from where it goes through a pressing session to a refinery and finally it goes through the bottling line.”
In compliance with the administration’s policy of revenue and employment generation, the Bekwarra groundnut oil processing plant is expected to employ over 500 indigenes of the area upon completion.
The administration’s Ayade Industrial Park located in Calabar, close to the Bakassi Deep Seaport, which was built within the first three years of Governor Ayade’s tenure, is the cap of the agro-industrialisation policy of the government. It houses most of the agriculture projects of the state government, among other projects.
Governor Ayade’s enviable footprints in agriculture have earned him the admiration and commendation of economists, investors, political counterparts and other stakeholders.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, who had paid a courtesy visit to the industrial park, commended the governor’s agro-industrialisation efforts saying, “I salute His Excellency, Prof. Ben Ayade, for creating the enabling environment for agriculture to thrive and sinking himself into the revolution and development of the economy of Cross River.”
He urged other states to emulate Ayade’s agro-industrial projects, which he noted, “have huge potential to impact on the living standards of the people of the state in particular and the Nigerian economy in general.”
Looking at the administration’s accomplishments so far in the agricultural sub-sector, Governor Ben Ayade, who did not mince words when he came into office in 2015 in stating his blueprint for the state, can be said to have lived up to his word. Thus, he won’t be faulted for saying, “I knew where I was going from the beginning. I am following an agenda that at the end of my eight years in office, when every single citizen of the state remembers my days, he or she will say this young man had a great vision.”