Says, ‘Mechanization is solution to food problems’

It is no longer news that the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has insisted at many fora that the state must produce at least 80% of local foods consumed in the state, yet with two years remaining in the life of his administration, this vision appears un-accomplishable, given the tardiness of implementers of the programme. This is the observation of a key practitioner in the food production chain, Engr. Ntiense Ubonisrael in an interview with this writer last week in Uyo. According to him, the Udom Emmanuel’s administration has good intention in agriculture and food production but the attitudes of operators in the core sector may slow down the realization of the governor’s foresight in ensuring food was no longer a problem to Akwa Ibom citizens.

Asked how the gap in food sufficiency and security could be bridged, he said as good as the governor’s programmes are, the challenge in the chain were mainly human’s. His words: “I will talk with you as a stakeholder in the industry and as someone who really looks forward to see this problem overcome. It’s not about criticising anybody. I think we have a human problem, yes we have a human problem, and I can tell you so. I have interacted with a few people in the system; I don’t think the vision of the governor, his zeal and desire is coming through. And sadly, at the human level, it’s tough! For me, if you don’t carry a heart of service and be motivated by, “Let’s get it done,” you’ll quit.”

He observed that realizing the governor’s food sufficiency and security vision was easy to achieve if all actors in the industry agree to solve the problem. To break the logjam, he said, the governor will need not only loyal people but those who have love for the people and the state.

“The big problem is that we have not agreed. What does that translate to what I was saying? There are people in the system who will say to the governor, “Oh, Your Excellency, Yes, Your Excellency!” I’m not sure he really agrees or believes or maybe he believes in something else. You will talk, give instructions and release money, it doesn’t translate. How do we solve this problem? It is to have people in government who really love the land and love the state, these are people well processed overtime, if you don’t have people to implement your policies, they won’t work. This is the naked truth, God needs to help us,” he lamented.

Giving kudos to the governor for his interest in ensuring that his citizens have enough food, he called on the governor to expedite action in making good his policy on local food production. He lamented that the rising cost of garri in which most people consume in the state, was beyond control as the product was mainly imported into the state from Cross River State.  

“The Government has very good intention and means well for the people. I speak so because I have interacted with many people in the food production chain, who mean well for the people. We have had a government before now, so if you compare both, you will agree that this government means well, they have good policies but beyond meaning well, there are certain economic laws that just play. For instance, talking about garri, much of what we consume here in Akwa Ibom State is not produced here. So, you’re dealing with variables that you really cannot totally control. The situation cannot improve until we get a hand on actual production of cassava and we cannot achieve this without huge mechanization.”

Continuing, he said: “No matter how good your policies are and how you talk about them, if you don’t deal with the issues in production, you will not achieve your goals. I’m saying this because I am a key player in the food chain. Our plant is relatively a small plant – five metric tonnes per day of garri processing plant, relatively small, compared to other processing plants outside the state, but we really do not have enough cassava feed to run the plant on a relatively sustainable basis.”

“Most times when I tell people we don’t have cassava, they are surprised because they grew up to know that most of our people plant cassava but these are only subsistent farming and the level of yield does not produce much to meet the food need of the state. So, what you need is huge mechanization. If there is one thing that we need to solve this problem, it is huge mechanization, which will give the ability to cultivate large quantity and cultivate varieties that have high yielding capacity. Unless we do this, the cost of garri will still be out of control because a large quantity of it is still brought into the state. For garri, the market is there, so if you have enough cassava to produce you will sell.”

Ubonisrael, who is also vice president of International Christian Chamber of Commerce, ICCC, Sweden, noted that the cost of labour was so high in Akwa Ibom State and that it was discouraging small holder farmers from farming and that his plant has stood the test of time because he has approached the food production business as a ministry to help meet the needs of the state. He regretted that his products were sold higher than what obtains in the open market because of quality input and manpower involved in the process. He, however, urged the state government not to shy away from subsidizing the cost of the products so that his plant will produce enough to feed the state. He advocated that government should encourage setting up of cooperatives for rural farmers so that they can access lands and farming assistance from the cooperatives.

Quest News 24

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