By Eyitemi Aguda
Recently, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) informed the Accountant General of the Federation that there would be zero remittance to the federation account for the months of May, June and July 2021. This implies little or no FAAC allocation to the three tiers of government, as the governments would be sharing only revenues from the Customs and Federal Inland Revenue Services.
If this happens, there will be grave consequences for the tiers of government as governance will be grounded with the attendant consequences on peace and security across the country, among others. These fears and the fact that oil revenue may dry up someday, have compelled Delta State Government to start looking inwards for alternative sources of income beyond oil.
Senator Ifeanyi Okowa’s administration came on board with programmes and policies to ensure that not just more Deltans are empowered and gainfully employed but also make sure that within a short period, the State will cease to rely solely on oil for its revenues. These include: Youths Agricultural Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP), Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP), Rural Youth Skill Acquisition (RYSA), Women Empowerment and Skills Acquisition Programme (WESAP), Girls Entrepreneurship and Skills Training Programme (GEST), among others.
One of the boldest and assured moves of the present administration towards diversifying the State’s economy and its revenue base, is the Agro Industrial Park located at Aboh-Ogwashi in Aniocha South Local Government Area of the state.
The park, a novel in the state, covers an expanse of land area totalling 220,000 hectares. Essentially, it is designed to render agro processing value chain services to farmers, having been conceived to provide a one-stop shop solution to farmers and agro-industrialists in the State and beyond. Arguably, the project is considered as one of its kind in the country with the prospects for a turnaround of the agricultural economy of the State, with enhanced earnings for the State government and the people.
The chairman of the Project Implementation Committee for the Park, Professor Eric Eboh, disclosed that the park has three major components: the logistics centre, which covers about three hectares; the commercial plots area which, occupies about 34 hectares; and the irrigated farmland area which spreads across 100 hectares.
He said that the rest area is earmarked for farmland expansion, road network and other ancillary uses, adding: “The park will host a variety of co-locating tenant agro-industries for the processing and production of agricultural and food products from rice, plantain, dairy, cassava, yam, oil palm, maize, potato, poultry, cattle, vegetables, fish and spices. At full capacity, the park will host up to 25 separate agro-factories.”
He explained that the project was initiated to provide a safe operating space for agro-allied industries and factories to process agricultural raw materials into edible or finished products and by-products to international standards.
Eboh also said that “Lack of processing facilities is one of the missing links in the agricultural value chain and a major bane to the efforts of our farmers. So it’s expected that this Agro Industrial Park project will be a game-changer for agro processing for domestic consumption and export. It is one of its kind in the country and it has great prospects for the turnaround of the agricultural economy of the State.
“The Park Centre which is the life blood and the epicentre of the Agro-Industrial Park, will have the rice plant, warehouses, residential, hospitality, conferences, trainings, seminars, research and quality control laboratory.”
On the source of the power for the park given the epileptic nature of the public supply from the national grid, Eboh who is also the Chief Job and Wealth Creation Officer in Delta State, assured that the park would be supplied with uninterrupted power from an independent service provider. At full capacity, the park is expected to consume between seven to nine megawatts of electricity. Besides, it is projected that the park will generate up to 3,000 direct and indirect jobs along the agricultural commodity value chain, with a multiplier effect of over 50,000 new jobs throughout the agricultural and agribusiness economy of the State.
According to Eboh, the project went through a rigorous feasibility appraisal at both national and international levels with over three foreign banks competing to fund the project.
“The project went through international validation by three banks as viable and self-sustaining and by the time the project kicks off, the agricultural value chain will never be the same again in Delta. It is understood that the project which started in October 2020, has 18 months’ completion timeline and the Ogwashi-Uku dam was one of the key criteria for the location of the Agro-Industrial Park. The park is a multi-purpose agro industrial park, which will accommodate agro processing of different agricultural products whether root or tuber crops, grains, livestock, among others.
“In terms of the potential impact, it is humongous at the social, economic and developmental levels. “The benefits of the project having been validated by National and International Financing Organizations, we are confident that this project will stand the test of time even after Okowa’s exit as governor,” he said. The Project Consultant, Arch Kester Ifeadi, explained that the site was chosen as most suitable because of the water bodies in the area.
“The central portion is the engine room for commercial plots of 1.5 hectares of land for agro industrial investments. There is a lake of 1.4cubic meters of water to sustain the project all year round including the dam and potentials for generating electricity to jump-start the project. “To ensure the sustainability of the project, it will be private sector driven by the Delta State Agro-Industrial Park Limited with Delta having 40 per cent equity, MRG 30 per cent and Norsworthy Investments retaining 30 per cent,” he said. On his part, the State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, said that the park was a genuine and determined move towards diversifying the state’s economy beyond oil revenues. He said that the park is a catalyst for the economic transformation of the state, as virtually everyone would be impacted positively, including a strong commitment of the Okowa administration to grow an economy that is not dependent on oil. “It will benefit all Deltans irrespective of their location, because everybody involved in agricultural production can bring their products for processing. We believe that by the time the park comes fully on stream, a number of our farmers who farm within the environment where this park is located and those who farm or grow their crops in different parts of the State, will take advantage of the different factories and industries to be located in this industrial park for the purposes of processing and exporting what they have.
On funding for the project, Aniagwu disclosed that N8 billion has been sourced from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) while the project partners are coming on board with their resources to develop the park.”
For Eboh, “The project, when completed, will help to diversify the economy, generate employment for the youths, be a haven for investors, ensure food security, enhance incomes and the earning power of existing farmers and make agriculture more attractive to our people.”
While the world awaits the dawn of full operations at the agro-park, there is need for an efficient cargo terminal at the Asaba Airport to facilitate the export of the agro and allied products to foreign markets and complete the added value chain meant to boost the State’s economy and agro business in particular.
Senator Stella Oduah Ogiemwonyi, while modernising the nation’s aviation sector, especially the outlook of the terminals under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, had dreamt of a modern cargo terminal with bias for agro-products.
She had performed the ground-breaking rites for the dream cargo terminal, promising to be back in less than one year for the inauguration ceremony. But that was the evening she was relieved of her duties as Minister of Aviation. That dream, which would transform the economy of Asaba and by extension the state tremendously, still lives.