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2023 GOVERNORSHIP AND
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ONE YEAR IN OFFICE OF GOV. PETER MBAH: Xraying Mbah’s Strides in the Agricultural Sector – A Chat with Patrick Ubru, Enugu State Commissioner for Agriculture and Agro-Industrialization
Patrick Nwabueze Ubru, Enugu State Commissioner for Agriculture and Agro-Industrialization
Agriculture

ONE YEAR IN OFFICE OF GOV. PETER MBAH: Xraying Mbah’s Strides in the Agricultural Sector – A Chat with Patrick Ubru, Enugu State Commissioner for Agriculture and Agro-Industrialization

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Patrick Nwabueze Ubru is the Enugu State Commissioner for Agriculture and Agro-Industrialization. With his professional career as a banker spanning close to 14 years, Ubru was Head of Public Sector at First Bank of Nigeria, coordinating activities for the expansion of Agriculture. He was also the Pioneer Manager of the Nsukka branch of NIRSAL, an agency of the CBN, with interventions in the agricultural sector. He is an agricultural consultant and a fish farmer. In this interview with Pacesetter, Ubru lets us in to the achievements of Gov. Peter Mbah in the agricultural sector in the first year of his administration. Dateline: May 22, 2024.

Give us a Food Map of Enugu State

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Enugu State is blessed with abundant resources, land, water and climate. Enugu State has the richest soil in Nigeria. Majorly, we grow cassava. We have been adjudged the largest producer of cassava in the country. We grow Maize, Sorghum, Rice, Groundnut, Tomatoes, Ose Nsukka (Yellow pepper), Yam, Cocoa, Oil Palms, Sesame, different fruits too. As a matter of fact, we produce rice in large quantities better than any other state in the Southeast. Little wonder that on December 8, 2023, we unveiled ‘Enugu Rice’ to support our farmers to stop transporting our rice paddy to other states. So, we take pride to say that we’re the largest rice producers in the country. Anyone can challenge us on that. There’s no crop that can’t grow in Enugu. Enugu State is also the highest producer of cashew. Apart from the state owned cashew plantations, there are pockets of cashew plantations owned by individuals and communities in the state.

Since you assumed office, what interventions have you provided to the agricultural sector?

We have done quite a lot of interventions in the agricultural sector, most importantly for our smallholder farmers. We understood that for us to scale up our production, we will need to get into dry season farming as is obtainable in the North. So, we introduced dry season farming and in doing that, we decided to train our farmers. We took rice as an example because we found out that within the Owo, Idodo, Amankanu and Ubahu axes, those places are rice belts but our small scale farmers farming there did not have the modern knowledge on how to grow rice and optimize their potentials. So, we instituted a team to teach them this and it’s still ongoing. Besides that, we have also provided solar water pumping machines for them to aid the dry season farming. If you go to Nenwe, Oduma, you will see our smallholder farmers enjoying such facilities. Leveraging on the strengthened relationship we enjoy with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, we have also distributed seedlings, fertilizers to our farmers. Soon, we will be distributing rice seeds to over 1,200 farmers in Adani.

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Let us in on Agricultural programs currently ongoing or in the pipeline.

There are a lot of programs. I want to emphasize that the state is keen on expanding its agricultural production capacity. Currently, we cultivate on 111,000 hectares of land but the state has made a bold commitment on adding 300,000 hectares to our agricultural space. Why do we want to do that? The state has a policy of encouraging large scale farming. In the month of March, we signed an agreement with a private investor to cultivate 15,000 hectares of land in Ikem, Isiuzo and work has commenced. He will be cultivating cassava, maize, rice, soybeans, etc.

You asked about initiatives. We have this cassava to bioethanol value chain development where we undertake an end to end approach on cassava development, from the seed multiplication to planting to harvesting to processing to different byproducts of cassava, up to bioethanol refining. The guarantee is that any cassava cultivated in Enugu state must be off taken one hundred percent. Another initiative is the Special Agro-Processing Zones (SAPZ) which the Governor of Enugu State has also assured Ndi Enugu will be established in the three senatorial districts of the state. The pilot SAPZ is already coming up in Owo. We have done the feasibility study and environmental impact analysis for the take-off of the pilot SAPZ, sponsored by Africa Development Bank, other private investors and the state government. It’s a whole lot of thing that the state government is doing. Yet another initiative is the Green Smart School where we’re developing smart farms so that we can teach our children, at a tender age, to embrace agriculture. In 260 Green Smart Schools, we will be having 260 smart farms. There’s still the ‘Food For All’ initiative but it’s still in the pipes. So, there are lots of initiatives by the state government.

Are the Green Smart Schools different from the Smart Schools the governor is constructing in every ward of the state?

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No, they are not different. I’m trying to tell you that we are incorporating smart farms as a part of the smart school. If you go to Owo, the smart farm is under construction and will be ready by next week. We will be training the school children on Poultry, Piggery, Fish Farming, etc. There will also be a greenhouse and an agro forest. We will be using organic materials to grow crops. It’s going to be an integrated farm where there will be zero waste because the waste of one aspect will be converted for use in another aspect.

What exactly are the Special Agro-Processing Zones? What difference will they make?

It is basically bringing a processing cluster close to where the agricultural produce is cultivated in abundance. The agro processing zone will have an industrial aspect where our produce will be processed, packaged and ready for export. SAPZ is a huge employment opportunity for Enugu people. It will employ not just those in the primary production but also those who are engaged in the secondary production, which is the value addition and those in the tertiary production which involves packaging, logistics and the rest. It is a holistic approach to lifting the people of Enugu out of poverty. The pilot processing zone is to be located in Owo. We have carried out the feasibility study and we believe that before the first quarter of 2025, that zone would have started. Apart from the African Development Bank, the state government is also approaching private investors.

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Your Ministry seems pivotal to the governor’s plan of growing the state’s economy from $4.4bn to $30bn, a projection some believe is impossible.

Agriculture all over the world is the surviving strategy of every nation. It is the mainstay of any economy. Agriculture employs over 70% of the population, maybe basically for subsistence farming. Our governor has promised to cause a rebirth in Agriculture through the introduction of technology to appreciate the yield beyond subsistence farming. In the process of expanding production, more jobs will be created. Beyond this, our governor has said we are going to add value to our crops. This is going to the secondary and tertiary aspects of agriculture which will involve processing, packaging and export of our agricultural products to consumers in other states and countries. So, the governor is visionary, he knows what he is doing and it’s not lost on him that agriculture is the main driver of the economy.

One of the greatest challenge to farming is insecurity. In practical terms, what is being done to arrest this so that food insecurity doesn’t become a thing in the state?

Our governor does not joke with security. Let me give you an instance. If you go to Isiuzo, the Ikem-Nkwo axis to Odenigbo, down to the boundary of Enugu and Benue states, suspected Fulani herdsmen had chased the indigenes of the community away but if you get there today, because that is where the Enugu State Produce City, the first of its kind, will be, you will find out that the government has established a military base there. If you also go to Uzo-Uwani where you also hear about issues between communities and herdsmen, the kind of security presence there is incredible. Naval officers are occupying Uzo-Uwani because they are building their naval base, school and hospital in Ogurugu. Intentionally, the governor asked them to move in to Adarice to provide security for the rice farmers. So, the governor is not joking with security at all. Besides these, we are also in talks with the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, to activate the Agro-Rangers which was established in the Buhari administration. Our farmers are encouraged to go back to their farms.

Between February 2023 & February 2024, food inflation stood at 30.07% nationally. In Enugu, what’s being done to increase the purchasing power of the people?

Once money is chasing few goods, there’s always inflation. Food inflation may also have been caused by what is known as cost-push inflation because there are a lot of things that go into production of food. You talk about the transportation of the produce from the farm down to the market. It’s a factor. Come to Enugu state, when you see a government that has gone head on to provide infrastructures like roads, to ease the transportation of food produced to the market, it will more than reduce the cost of food. When you see a governor who’s interested in providing good health facilities to enable even farmers take good care of their health and not lose some days due to sickness, it will help to reduce food inflation. When you see a government that is interested in educating the citizens, inclusive of farmers, to have more knowledge in producing more food, because if we expand our production base, definitely it will knock down the cost of food items. When you see a government encouraging everybody and every household in Enugu state to plant something even behind their compound, it will more than reduce the cost of food. So, a government that has a strategy, supporting its farmers, will reduce the cost of food. Once we produce what we eat here we, becoming self-sufficient, definitely the cost of food items will come down. Once you arrest the price of food items, you arrest the price of other things needed to aid life.

Are there agricultural taxes presently collected?

Obviously, there should be agricultural taxes collected for instance, for veterinary services. Veterinary services are not in the primary production line. These taxes are however very friendly, not painful, because agriculture is a sector every government wants to support and subsidize, to be able to extend help to farmers.

Are there agricultural produce from the state that have hit the markets nationwide?

Of course. For instance, our rice, our cassava are in the market. As I speak to you, we export cassava chips outside Nigeria. We also get demand from Lagos to buy our cassava chips. We also have El-shaddai Foods producing sorghum flour. These things are in the market. Our honey is one of the best of its kind and it’s in the market. Our cashew, yellow pepper, palm and so many others


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