Special adviser to Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, on Agriculture, Mr Mike Ogbuekwe has said that based on the performance of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in the state, it will be the party to beat in 2023. In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
One year as the Special Adviser on Agriculture to Governor of Enugu State, what milestones have you recorded?
Working with Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the Governor of Enugu State, for the past one year has been eventful. We have achieved some developmental milestones in the agriculture sector of Enugu State; that is shaping the agriculture space of Enugu State as well as assuring food security and job creation.
In the past one year we did the following:
We established a hub for training and mentoring youths, handholding them to become agriculture entrepreneurs. So, we teach them how to start their businesses in processing, packaging and marketing of agro products. Everyday, we tell people to go back to agriculture but they do not know where to start from. So, over 1,000 youths have began to engage in agriculture by simply packaging rice in small bags, Garri, honey, palm oil, cashew, etc.
Also, we created brands to help our people market their products and serve as a first step towards having standardized products for exports especially now that the nation is striving to diversify the economy. The brands are Coal City Rice, Enugu Garri, Enugu Honey, Enugu Palm Oil, Enugu Cashew, Nsukka Pepper, Enugu Okro and Vegetables. These brands represent products that Enugu has comparative advantage in. Now we have our Coal City rice brand marketed by the Enugu State Marketing Company.
Equipment such as power tillers were procured and distributed to all local governments in Enugu State to help improve farm mechanization at little cost to the farmers across the state. De-stoning machines were also procured and given free of charge to rice millers in the 5 local governments that produce rice in Enugu State. The aim is to ensure that every rice produced and processed in Enugu State is stone-free according to our minimum standards.
Enugu State distributed improved rice seeds, cassava stems, fertilizers and herbicides to farmers. These improved inputs guaranteed higher yields, thereby increasing food production.
A cattle ranch has just been built at Eha Alumona to serve as multiplication center for the indigenous cows we call Efi Igbo. The population of these cows are dropping drastically and you know that our people use these cows for traditional customary ceremonies. The ranch will serve as a mother ranch that will catalyze a new economic sector development in our villages
Also, in partnership with the Federal Government and World Bank, Enugu State APPEALS programme is engaging about 1,700 women and youths for training and grants. Beneficiaries have been shortlisted and interviewed. The APPEALS program is also profiling about 3,000 cooperatives in order to support them along the full value chain of cashew, rice and poultry businesses.
What revolution should Enugu State expect from your office?
We are already mentoring and grooming an army of youthful agriculture entrepreneurs. By the time we are done, you should expect to see our youths dominating all kinds of trading in agriculture commodities in Enugu State.
You should also expect more export of agro products from Enugu State. Our entrepreneurs are already exporting raw cashew nuts RCN, but we will take it a notch higher by ensuring export of processed cashew nuts. Then we will have more commodities on the export list such as palm oil, pepper and vegetables.
How is the agriculture sector performing in Enugu State?
The agriculture sector is doing well under the able leadership of Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Enugu happens to be the food hub of the South East. We have comparative advantage in Rice Production, with 5 local governments taking the lead. These Local Governments are Aninri, Ezeagu, Nkanu East, Isi-Uzo and Uzo-Uwani. Enugu State is self-sufficient in rice production and that is why we created the Coal City Rice Brand to distinguish our product. We also produce a lot of palm oil, cashew, honey, Okro and other veggies, cassava, Nsukka pepper, etc. So, Enugu is blessed with agriculture potentials and we are utilizing those potentials to feed ourselves and make income.
What are the strategies put in place for developing agribusiness in Enugu State?
The governor is working to grow the agribusiness sector to become a major income earner for our citizens.
We started by sensitizing our people to see agriculture as a business and not just another day to day activity. So, training is a key component of our strategy.
To make this work, we set up the Enugu Agribusiness hub, leveraging the experience of private sector experts in the state. In this hub, youths are trained on the value chains of processing, packaging and marketing. The key message is that our youths don’t have to wait to get a perfect scenario to start agribusiness. We show them how to package existing agro products hygienically and how to market these products to niche markets.
Another key part of our strategy is the branding of Enugu agro products I spoke about earlier. So, the agribusiness entrepreneurs we trained can now market their products using these brand names. Customers can be sure that the products have gone through quality checks and this gives them confidence to buy.
How is the governor sensitizing and empowering farmers since the COVID-19 outbreak?
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the governor has led massive sensitization programmes targeted at the farmers and people at the grassroots, through radio and TV, and community engagements. He also ensured that improved rice seeds (farr-44 seeds), improved cassava stems (TME-419), herbicides and organic fertilizers were distributed to farmers free of charge. In fact, we just concluded the same exercise for the dry season farming for farmers across the 17 Local Governments of the state.
There are reports of farmers being attacked in their various farms by some unidentified men, what is the governor doing on security in the state?
The governor passed into law a bill that set up the Forest Guards in Enugu State. The guards are made up of young men who come from every community in the state. They function to protect our farmers and farmlands. There is also a joint-committee that works to prevent crimes in our farming communities.
What are the chances of PDP in Enugu State in 2023?
Enugu State is 100 per cent for PDP and will remain so in 2023. Our governor and state PDP leader, has led the party creditably. He has shown uncommon leadership, humility, finesse, inclusiveness; he has led the party with fairness and equity while applying the open-door policy. All of these will count to the favour of the PDP come 2023.