By Egufe Yafugborhi
The perceived imbalance in the distribution of Federal Government’s incentives for agricultural development across Nigeria has been agitating the minds of stakeholders in the Niger Delta who feel the most shortchanged in the scheme of things.
At the recently held First Ijaw Youth Council World Summit, the subject was the crux of the summit’s communiqué in which stakeholders called on the Federal Government to ensure that the South-South gets its fair share of public distribution of fertilizers, agric loans, capacity building and sundry opportunities to enlarge the scope of economic empowerment opportunities for teeming unemployed youths in the region.
However, in Ajigba, a remote Itsekiri community along the Warri River, Delta State, folks have gone beyond wishful thinking in the agitation to remedy the perceived inequity. They are taking practical steps.
Led by the outspoken activist and Igba of Warri Kingdom, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, the people of Ajigba and neighboring Orugbo, Ugbodede, Inorin and Usele communities in Warri South Local Government Area recently dragged the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources to the area to validate their farming potentials, especially rice farming.
“The idea, Chief Lori-Ogbebor told Vanguard Metro, “is about proving to the Ministry that Ajigba and its neighbours have commercially viable arable land for rice, fishing and other forms of farming with a view to attracting the Ministry’s support to wholly tap and maximize these potentials in line with the current Agric Minister’s commitment to duty”. She did not stop there.
“Part of the problem has been that the Ministry and the FG are made to believe that the Niger Delta is all about oil activities and restiveness. But years ago I conducted an independent expert investigation and realised that the community founded by my grandparents has great potentials for rice farming. So I engaged 50 youths to kick start the Ajigab Rice Field.
“We also have a large piggery and a harvest-to-processing cassava farm. Today majority of those engaged left due to impatience. But the few who persisted have grown in capacity and welfare rewards. Part of the problem though has been that due to lack of capacity to process the rice, we have had to limit our production volume only to the strengthen of our mainly manual capacity.
“Our piggery is doing well with breeding and rearing. For cassava, the one acre farm and the processing unit is shunning out Ajigba Garri brand. The challenge with rice has been overwhelming because of the capital intensiveness of a processing meal.
I was compelled to meet the present Agric Minister whose commitment to duty impresses me. The result is the fact finding team of the Ministry’s directors coming down from Abuja to verify our claims because we strongly feel we deserve government support,” she said.
Ministry’s findings, verdict
The Ministry’s team led by Dr. Aderiye Adefemi, Assistant Director, Animal Production also included Ikhadeunu Andrew, Chief Agric Officer (Rice value Chain), and Ayeleke Dauda, Agric Officer (Rice Value Chain).
After a tour of the farm, the Ministry’s experts addressed a gathering of the community at the Ajigba Hall. Ikhadeunu said: “I am amazed at the rice potentials in this environmental. The general feeling is that the creeks in the Niger Delta only support oil exploration and bunkering activities.
“It is equally interesting that there are abundant human resources in the able bodied men I see around here to explore the viable rice growing terrain here. With the right support, Ajigba can compete with Abakaliki and other rice producing communities in Nigeria.”
Among its current rice farming support programmes, Ikhadeunu’s Assistant, Ayeleke said: “Under the rice development policy, interested farmers in Ajigba can get a rice processing plant to deal with the aggregate production within the vicinity. It is private public partnership which the interested cluster of farmers form a cooperative.
“The intended rice processing plant cost about N10 million. The farmers are expected to bear just 10% and FG and the partner consultant provide and install the plant. The idea is to encourage a cluster of rice to maximize production without worry over being able to process the harvest.”
Processing the harvest
Meanwhile, fishermen in the area have been assured of the provision of free fishing nets in the next few weeks. Dr. Adefemi who was also impressed with the Ajigba Farms piggery further informed the people that other agric development benefits including fertilizers and seedlings have been fashioned by the ministry in such manner that a farmer pays who pays for one gets two at subsidized government rates.
Community’s response: Inspired by the Ministry’s enlightenment visit, virtually all community members present on the occasion got listed in the registration of farmers sought by the officials. Each listed farmers also surrendered their phone numbers with which the Ministry can be sharing information and improvement insights with the local farmers.
The occasion also afforded the folks to vent the community’s anger with the “total absence of government in the development of Ajigba and neighboring communities”, according to Pa Dennis Olubami, Olare-Aja of Ugbodede.
The people lamented the absence of school, health facility, market or other social amenities saying the situation was making life difficult for the people. In response, the ministry believes effective harnessing of the agric resources in the area would put the community in the public light and compel government to be responsive to the development challenges.