CASSAVA OFF-TAKING CENTRE BOOSTING THE BUSINESS OF AGRICULTURE AND FOOD PRODUCTION
By Ima Nkanta
The miracle that will crash food prices, especially the cost of Nigeria’s major food item, garri, processed from raw cassava is here. It is known as the Cassava Off-Taking Centre. It is expected to bring much-needed succour to millions of Nigerians whose main menu is garri. But lately, high demand of this item gave market operators opportunity to hike its price. It was really alarming until the State Government intervened.
However, the scarcity of garri and the attendant arbitrary hike in prices will be a thing of the past, as the newly built Cassava off-taking factory is set to commence operations. It is sited on a large expanse of land in Nsit Ubium Local government Area, Uyo Senatorial District.
The factory is an ultramodern edifice with three major facilities: 460 square metre space is for storage of raw material, the processing unit is measured 192 square metres and 219 square metres for finished products. The processing unit will churn out a total of 250 tonnes of garri per day.
It will address the problem of shortage of cassava feeds experienced by other processing mills in the state, as cultivators of cassava will now deliver their wares directly to the centre and get paid immediately. Already, massive cultivation of cassava is ongoing in the State, with direct assistance from Government by way of soft loans and availability of hybrid cassava stems. This goal is to have enough cassava to feed the mills and produce at optimum capacity to meet the food sufficiency need of the State and the nation.
Anytime now, state-of-the-art machineries with power generating units will be installed. The project is one of the unsung successes of the Udom Emmanuel’s Completion Agenda, which, among others, has agricultural investments for food security and sufficiency for the citizens at its heart.
ACHIEVING THE VISION
It is a clearly thought-out intervention by this administration, with sustainability plan, such that after the life of this government, subsequent administration’s policy on agriculture and food sufficiency will find it an incredible partner in food production and their huge value chain impact on the state.
The visionary Governor captured the food future of the state this way: “I have been privileged to know the fact that any good leader should be able to feed his own citizenry. And for us, this is just simple; 80 percent of what we consume has to come from here. If you check around, so many countries of the world are not as fortunate as we are. From January to December, everything is lush green.
“In nearly all the months of the year, you have rainfall and as such, there is hardly anything you grow here that cannot have good yield. So, why can’t we grow 80 percent of what we eat here? If you go around the 31 LGAs of the State, we have a major advantage (of fertile lands to grow all types of crops). So, why can’t we grow 80 percent of what we eat from here?”
“This is why I am giving so much emphasis to agriculture. Even God himself started by taking man out of the ground. Everything man needs has to come out of the ground. There is nothing on planet earth that you cannot relate to the earth, because that is where man came from. So, let all of us go back to the ground for the development of Africa. The richest man anywhere in the world that he is found must always have something to do with agriculture. If Bill Gates will have something to do with agriculture, who else shouldn’t.”
“So, as a State Government, we really have to find our strength in agriculture, at least to be able to feed our citizens before we talk about export,” the Governor stated when he gave the mandate to Agricultural Investments Directorate under Pastor Umo Eno to galvanise the crystallization of his robust agriculture and food abundance vision.
The Cassava Off-Taking centre is one of the achievements of the Directorate of Agricultural Investments, Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation (AKICORP). Its pioneer Executive Director and the Honourable Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, Pastor Umo Eno, did not spare a moment, as he traversed the nooks and canaries of the State to sensitize farmers, community leaders and youths on the necessity to return to farm, not just for food consumption but as business. The massive response he got and the need to ensure farmers make profit from their investment, gave birth to the dream of the off-taking centre. Now the dream has become a reality, not only in Uyo Senatorial District, the model will be replicated in Eket and Ikot Ekpene Senatorial Districts.
CHANGING THE NARRATIVES
The Cassava off-taking centre will completely change the narratives of farmers in Akwa Ibom State; their difficulties in accessing the market at a competitive rate and make reasonable profit for their ventures in agriculture will have ended, wastage associated with surplus harvest of cassava will never rear its ugly again. The off-taking centre is large enough to accommodate whatever quantity of raw cassava farmers are able to haul to the place. Also, capital flight will be drastically cut down because non-indigenous middlemen who off-take at ridiculously low prices from farmers in the rural areas, will no longer exact such influence as farmers will prefer to sell their products directly at the Government off-taking centres.
Unemployment amongst the youths and rural populace will have been frontally tackled as a large number of persons will embrace farming as a lucrative venture.
HOW THE CENTRE OPERATES
How does the Cassava Off-Taking Centre operate? The design of the centre is structured with three large warehouses; the first warehouse will receive raw cassava tubers from farmers and process their payments immediately after weighing the goods to determine their correct worth and then prepares the cassava tubers for processing, it then goes through the second warehouse which houses the sophisticated processing plant and other machineries. 250 tonnes of crispy cassava flakes known as garri will be delivered daily. The same estimated tonnes of cassava tubers are expected daily to create the commercial mass required to upturn the tables in the food trajectory of Akwa Ibom State.
WHEN FARMERS WILL SMILE
Fired by the genuineness of the Governor’s interest in changing the food narratives in the State, Pastor Umo Eno, after extensive study of the problems besetting previous food production efforts, strategically commenced massive enumeration of farmers across the State. The success of the enumeration exercise reverberated across states of the nation with the Federal Government borrowing a leaf from Akwa Ibom State. With the off-taking centre now on, enumerated farmers will have cause to smile, as they will benefit immensely from the centre.
The data are currently domiciled in the directorate with an active virtual option anyone can access, provides accurate information on farmers. The main purpose of the data was to help in statistical planning by government and other supportive agencies like Central Bank of Nigeria, NIRSAL, UN agencies, etc.
Then came the fear of a glut. How will farmers handle it since the market has been the problem? This anxiety is what, among others, the Cassava off-taking centre is addressing. Said the Honourable Commissioner: “The Cassava Off-taking centre, together with all other efforts of this administration, will move the state from a culture of Subsistence Agriculture to the Business of Agriculture to boost food production, create wealth and employment for our people.”