Songhai Farm, Imoke’s Parting Shot To Boost Cross River’s Economy
Farm produce, processed products for local, export markets
LONG before oil went into a slump and set federal (and state) revenue nose-diving, the Senator Liyel Imoke-administration had made a critical self-assessment of the economic status of Cross River State. The Governor was under no illusion that all was rosy and things would only look up if diversification became the new game.
Agriculture could not be put at a distance and became one of his seven-point agenda to take the state to a greater height, especially as the state lost out to Akwa Ibom several oil wells.
To achieve this set goal, the governor and some members of his cabinet took a trip to Songhai Farm at Port Novo in the Republic of Benin and that resulted in the establishment of the “Songhai Cross River Initiative (SCRI)” hosted by three communities of Itigidi, Adadama and Annong in Abi Local Government Council. This is all about integrated agricultural systems with Songhai in Benin as a model for Itigidi.
Besides other massive agricultural projects like the Calaro and Ibieye Palm estates, the government embarked on a massive agro-based Songhai Farm programme in Itigidi, which is expected to cover about 450 acres of land and make Abi council the food basket of the state and the nation at large.
The SCRI, which has trained over 100 youths form the initial nucleus of the farm, is an integrated world class centre for agricultural business and entrepreneurship and it is also expected to be a centre of excellence for training, production, research, demonstration and development of sustainable agricultural practices in the country.
Apparently thrilled with the prospect of Songhai Farms in the state, Imoke said, “so far we have trained about 100 graduates in Port Novo as the first set of people that will be part of this project. The whole idea is that this becomes the centre of activity but in each local government area we are going to have what we call out sourcing, where these young people who have been trained are able to get the seedling.
“This is not just a farm; it is an integrated project where you start from the farm, primary production, from planting to processing to the market. The entire value chain can start here at minimal cost. For instance, if you are thinking of plantain, plantain chips could be made here, packaged here and they will be sold from here. The same thing goes for the fruits, and pineapple juice. Here, they do not believe in waste, they also generate their own electricity from water hyacinth and wastes.
“The process, if we can scale it up from this part, will go a long way to address food insecurity, provide good product at inexpensive prices for our markets and create significant employment for thousands of young men and women. The ultimate cost of the project in the first stage will be about N400 million, including all the training at Port Novo for about six months.
“The next phase, the processing, there will be additional funding for that and ultimately, we think that the yield from here will far exceed any expenditure that we have made in terms of employment opportunities, economic benefits. The whole idea is that everybody from these communities can benefit from it. It will also transform the way we do agriculture. It has tremendous economic benefits if it is well run”.
Commenting on the project, the Project Accountant, Ekoma Christopher, said, “the project is an “integrated agricultural systems to make the area the food basket of Cross River” based on four-phases, which include the technological pack; the processing pack; the agricultural pack; and the service pack.
According to him, the project, which began in May last year had already harvested products for the local market and would, in due course, produce for export as the project was initiated to serve both local and export markets and provide employment for young people.
“In May 2013, we started putting up the structures. It is a four-phased project. We have the Technological pack; the Processing pack; the Agricultural pack; and the Service Pack,” he said noting that the Agricultural pack combines primary production – crop production, animal production and market garden or what people consume on daily basis.
According to him, “every three months, we are supposed to be having a regular harvest of the market garden. We have started this by harvesting sweet corn and cucumbers. The onions are also coming up. In crop production, we have the soya; there is the pineapple plantation, the orchard, which we will soon start – the agro forestry. These are all designed to make sure that we have food basket in Cross River.
“In animal production, we have the quail house; free range – meant to breed the geese and the turkey to roam around. At the same time they will be domiciled in their houses within the farm just like we have in the local environment or residences. We also have the pen for pig production. There is the abattoir to ensure that whatever meat that we have for the market can be slaughtered here in a very good and hygienic condition”.
Based on its strategic approach to agriculture, nothing is a waste at the farm and the Initiative’s technological pack combines local and modern technology to ensure zero emission waste. “That is to say there is no waste. We make use of everything that comes out of this place; we recycle them and put into use. The waste from animals will go into the farm – the rice farm, the corn farm, Soya farm and so on.”
According to him, “we also have the aquaculture, where concrete as well as earthen fish ponds are located, the earthen ponds are three. They are for large-scale fish production. There are feed mills and the processing pack, where every harvest will be passed to tertiary production. We are also going to have a hotel, restaurant and service pack – something like the tele-Centre. In fact, we want to create a village in Abi local government at the end of the project.
“When you look at the production of pigs, if the parent stock is 60 and you have 200 within three months these will multiply. In terms of numbers, the capacity of the layers (poultry) is about 6,000 and 10,000 broilers, it is both for export and local. We have the hatchery for the fingerling for aquaculture. For the first batch, we will get the fingerlings from our parent farm, or one of our farms in Abuja or Enugu. The acreage or total land area we are looking at 200 acres of land in Itigidi, we also have 200 acres at Annong. At Adadama we also have about 50 acres.”
Christopher said that by the first quarter of 2015, the project would run at full capacity, notwithstanding foreseeable challenges as, “we were given four years to complete, but we are looking at two years. One of our challenges is the terrain. The topography, which is natural, required some level of control. We do not fight nature here, but are trying to use nature. Cost of land is another challenge. We are also working with the Civil Society groups and consultants to get over this as well as youth restiveness. We are at the building stage and have not yet started employing, but at this stage most of the workers here, about 80 per cent, are drawn from this local government area. The project is contracted to Songhai to build, but apart from the major or management staff from Port Novo, we make use of the local content.”
One of the technicians, who benefited from the training in Porto Novo, Pastor Igre Ina Okpa was full of excitement for the farm saying, “this is a dream come true for Gov. Imoke, who has quietly been pursuing an agricultural revolution programme in the state.
“For him to bring the Songhai to us here in Itigidi is great. The youths have been trained and as the farm grows many more will benefit. I was in Benin for six months for the training in the areas of Piggery, Fishery and Market Garden.”
The Project’s Team Leader, Mr. Roland Bosa disclosed that about 150 people would be employed directly by the Songhai Farms in Cross River and “we are expecting about 150 in direct employment as well as indirect employment most of whom have been trained in Songhai Porto Novo in this farm.