From Emmanuel Uzor, Abakaliki
Apparently piqued by the worsening economic realities in the country as a result of over-dependence on crude oil, the Ebonyi State government has dusted its hoes and other implements to return to farm as a way of surviving the imminent global hard times.
Thinking of how to achieve this, Governor David Umahi has remembered that Abakaliki was once the food basket of the entire old Eastern region, and had exported its unique brand of Abakaliki rice to even other far West African countries.
However, at the advent of the discovery of crude oil and the dependence by successive governments in the country on it, agriculture which used to be the only stick in which the nation stood was relegated to the background.
But Governor Umahi recently said the state may pay dearly for the mistake of continuing to ignore the emerging global economic crisis and hunger if it fails to return to the farms, the pride of its existence in the old Eastern region era.
He said that his administration has identified that the only way out of the crisis was to send everybody, including his own family members to the farm.
He said the choice of rice farming above other agricultural areas was informed by the arable nature and suitable land for rice farming, adding that the nature of Ebonyi soil that cut across the three senatorial zones is suitable for every agricultural activity but more for rice production.
The governor through his agricultural revival policy upon assumption of office convened agricultural colloquium for the stakeholders in the state to deliberate on the way forward to revitalize the agricultural sector in the state and make it a viable alternative to the state survival and self determination.
He said the essence was to seek their own opinion on how to return the state to agriculture, especially now that the country is facing difficult challenges.
He said that his administration was going to make rice farming very lucrative by investing heavily for the youths to see it as attractive so that everybody would be forced to participate.
To achieve this, Umahi announced that the era of subsistence farming was gone just as the era of depending on local farm implements, saying that this would be replaced by the era of mechanized farming where the state would participate heavily in mechanized farming to produce the products for her teeming citizenry and also in commercial quantity to export to other parts of the country and even abroad.
He pointed out that the reason for the major attention in rice farming was not unconnected to the rich nutrients and uniqueness of Abakaliki rice which he said was capable of feeding the entire country and save the people from eating chaff and non-nutritious rice in the name of foreign rice.
It would be recalled that shortly after he assumed office, Umahi had carried Abakaliki rice to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno State as part of his contributions towards their rehabilitation.
And determined to achieve the much desired goal in mechanized farming in the state, the governor imported and commissioned 13 bulldozers jointly procured by the state government and the caretaker committee chairmen of the 13 local government areas of the state for rice production.
He disclosed that it was a joint agreement between the state and the local government areas that every council area must have one grader and a bulldozer in order to create access roads and also to prepare their farmlands for rice production, adding that one caterpillar each had already been distributed to all the council areas in the state and urged the council chairmen to deploy the equipment to work and ensure that employments were created for the people.
The Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, Mr Samuel Okoronkwo explained that the 13 bulldozers were purchased and 40 per cent out of the total cost has been paid while the remaining 60 per cent would be paid in an installment within six months.
Okoronkwo also said that 13 graders purchased by the local government council chairmen would soon arrive in the state, assuring the governor of the commitment and readiness of the council areas to key into the agricultural policy of the state government to boost food production and internally generated revenue.
Oriental News gathered that the state government had earlier sent a team of agricultural experts led by the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Recourses, Mr Uchenna Orji to Thailand and China to understudy the way mechanized farming work in those countries.
The team after understudying these countries came back with a blueprint that has been gazetted into the state government agricultural policy which was a resolution of the State Executive Council meeting that apart from the 10 hectres of land the local government areas are expected to provide for rice farming, the state government could actually go into the communities to take active part in rice production.
Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe while briefing newsmen on the outcome of the Executive Council Meeting said the council resolved that all the local government chairmen should go into their areas and take stock of large expanse of land suitable for rice farming, get the owners involved and get the land surveyed and certificate of occupancy issued the owners of the land to allay their fears that the state government is not planning to take their land away from them.
Onwe said the idea was to allay the fears of the owners of the lands that the state government has identified them fit and suitable for the mechanized rice farming that the land still belongs to them by a way of getting the land surveyed and certificate of occupancy issued to them so that others would be willing to donate their lands for rice production.
While the state government was still making efforts to revive the agricultural sub-sector, the Nigerian Army also disclosed their intentions to partner with Ebonyi State government in area of agriculture and other areas to achieve collective gains.
The Chief Transmission/Innovation of Nigeria Army, Major Gen Edward Nze disclosed this when he led delegation from the Army headquarters to pay a courtesy call on Governor Umahi.