By Dickson Okafor
For the people of Nzerem/Ikpem communities in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State, it was an unforgettable day recently.
On that day, the lawmaker representing Imo North Senatorial District in the National Assembly on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Benjamin Uwajimogu, formally kick-started an agricultural development plan for the Okigwe zone of Imo State.
For the people, the long-awaited visit was a welcome development. Dignitaries that received the senator and his team included the former vice chairman, Ehime Mbano Local Government Area, Chief Longinus Amajuoyi, traditional rulers of the communities – Eze Thaddeus Okereke and Eze Ukachukwu Augustus and former caretaker chairman of the council, Hon. Harrison Ogoke. They conducted Uwajimogu round the farm settlement, which had been abandoned by previous governments.
The Senator, a member of the Committee on Agriculture, commended the agricultural policy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, even as he called on well-meaning citizens of the area to join hands to make Okigwe an agricultural haven in the South-East.
He said he was committed to improving the welfare of farmers in the area and urged the people to take advantage of the agricultural development plan to better their lives, since agriculture is the main stay of Okigwe zone. He said the programme would attract development to the area, including roads, water, electricity and other key infrastructure. He also called on the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, to help develop the agricultural potential of the area, which he said was a food basket of the state and the South-East.
“For so many years, we have paid lip service to agriculture and Nzerem Ikpem is a case study,” he lamented.
He regretted that over 2,000 acres of arable land close to Imo River were lying fallow, noting that even the river from where the state derived its name, and which traverses all the six local governments in the Okigwe zone has no bridge linking the area with the city of Okigwe. He assured farmers in the area of determination of the state and Federal Governments and the National Assembly to facilitate agricultural development in Okigwe, adding that for a nation to attain technological, economic and social development, it must feed her people.
“It is only when we have produced enough to feed our people that we can talk of feeding local industries for agric processing,” Uwajimogu noted. He noted that Nzerem/Ikpem had the capacity to produce over one million tons of rice in addition to the quantity produced in Onicha Uboma Ezinachi, Umualumoke and Onuimo, all in the Okigwe zone.
In his response, Chief Amajuoyi expressed gratitude that the community was chosen for the flag-off of the agricultural development plan. He listed some of the challenges of farmers in the area as high cost of labour, lack of encouragement by state and Federal Governments, poor pricing of farm produce and wastage due to the bad road network. He appealed to the federal and state governments to provide seedlings and tractors for local farmers.
The team later moved to Obollo village, Dioka Nzerem, where the senator inspected a massive fishpond constructed by the government 40 years ago but later abandoned. He announced that the Federal Government had taken over the facility. He said the Avutu Poultry in Obowo, established by the late Sam Mbakwe, former governor of old Imo State with a capacity to accommodate over one million birds, was among moribund projects in Imo but noted that Governor Rochas Okorocha had revived it.
He urged the relevant authorities to leverage on the agriculture potential and resources of Okigwe zone to put food on the table of Nigerians.
“We want to work for the farmer, get the people engaged in farming. We are not interested in acquiring their land or making profit out of them, but to help the farmers clear the land, prepare it and help them get tractors to enable them cultivate the land, help them procure seedlings and expertise in the area of agricultural extension and all that is required to make agricultural production easy for farmers in this area,” the senator noted. He assured farmers of government’s willingness to buy off their produce and prevent the crops from perishing. He said some would be stored in silos built by government in Okigwe.
The senator also inspected a dam being constructed in Amuzari, assuring that the project would be completed by 2019. He also promised farmers in the area that seedlings and tractors would be made available to them. He expressed optimism that after three years of such assistance, the agriculture revolution of the government would have been actualised. He also urged the state and Federal Government to build a rice mill in Nzerem/Ikpem.
“When this is done, the husks from the rice mill can be used to prepare feeds for chicken and pigs,” he noted. The senator also said there were plans for a cassava plant and an oil mill to support the palm plantation in Umualumoke area.
During the question and answer session, Uwajumogu was asked about his plan to resuscitate the Nsu Ceramic Factory that had been abandoned for close to 40 years. He reminded the people of his efforts to resuscitate the factory when he was Speaker of the state House of Assembly. He called on the state government to revisit the issue and see how the factory could be brought back to life.