Reviving economy of Abia with agro-allied industry
Achievements of the late Dr Michael Okpara as a premier of the defunct Eastern Region, especially in agriculture, have arguably remained unrivalled by successive administrations of south eastern states that were part of the said former eastern region.
In the absence of the petroleum resources then, revenue from palm produce, rubber, cashew nuts and cocoa beans was used by the late premier to develop the defunct region in terms of road construction, educational facilities, hotels, housing estates and industrial development across the region.
Regrettably, these revenue yielding agricultural projects were abandoned and left to deteriorate after crude petroleum was discovered.
Reliance on crude oil revenue, it has always been said, is a factor that has left the country and its federating units undeveloped till date.
Abia State agricultural strength
When it comes to certain crops, Abia State has comparative advantages.
The state has agricultural fertile land and located in the rainforest belt of Eastern Nigeria.
Most crops do very well in the state, but the ones with commercial competitiveness include, in the order of quantity and economic importance, palm produce, cashew, cocoa, rubber and plantain.
As typical of Nigeria and most federating units, the state had numerous commercial agricultural companies, but most of them closed up because of mismanagement, corruption, low level of capital investment, shift of focus from agriculture to crude oil earnings and ineffective agricultural policies.
Data from the state ministry of agriculture indicates that Abia produces 190,000 metric tonnes of palm oil per annum; 235, 000 tonnes of palm kernel and 175,000 of palm kernel oil.
Cashew production figure stands at 45,000 metric tonnes, and rubber production is 35,000 metric tonnes, while cocoa production in the state stands at 25,000 metric tonnes yearly.
Abia became the 8th largest producer of cocoa among the 14 cocoa producing states of the country, while a citizen of the state, Chief David Onyenweaku, who started cocoa farming in 1952, became the country’s largest producer about 10 years ago.
However, other states have overtaken the state in cocoa production, as many plantations are getting older and less productive, while younger people are averse to farming.
State of agro-industry in Abia
On the position of some agricultural establishments owned by the state, it was gathered that Abia Palm at Ohambele has been handed over for management at different times to banks, private companies and recently to another private group which is about to reactivate it.
Mbawsi Oil Mill, one of the largest palm oil facilities in Nigeria, was privatised at different times until it went into its present moribund state.
The government also privatised the Rubber Estate with headquarters at Abam.
It was also independently gathered that the government had commenced distribution of 7.5 million Tenera Palm seedlings, with the aim of further boosting palm produce output.
The Abia Golden Chicken at Ukwa East has been rendered non-functional for several years, robbing the country of sources of protein that should have been coming from the facility and employment opportunities for the youth.
Despite high quantities of cashew nuts and cocoa beans being produced in the state, there is neither a cashew processing nor a cocoa processing factory in the state.
Similarly, palm oil refineries are needed to deepen the palm industry, create value addition and curb post-harvest losses in the state, while encouraging intensification of total area of land planted.
A guide to agro-allied industrialists
Nigeria is one of the largest producers of cocoa beans in the world, though behind Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia. Cocoa, before independence, generated about 90% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Fourteen of the states in Nigeria grow cocoa, and they are, alphabetically arranged, Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Kogi, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and Taraba, with Ondo, Edo and Cross River taking the lead in quantity produced per annum.
The country still produces about 250,000 metric tonnes of cocoa yearly, but about 96% of the beans are exported raw.
Therefore, Abia, being one of the cocoa-producing states in Nigeria, with an annual output of about 25,000 metric tonnes, could be explored for possibilities of citing cocoa, chocolate, and beverage processing factories if proximity to sources of raw materials is upper-most in the factors being considered.
Cashew nuts are produced in the state, with an annual output of about 45,000 metric tonnes.
Cashew nut aggregators, processors and exporters like Olam Edible Nuts, among others, should consider localising factories, storage facilities or procurement centres in the state.
The overall effects for Nigeria would be great.
Investing in agro-industrial activities in Abia State would create more job opportunities for Nigerians, help in the fight against poverty, and could reduce the involvement of youths in violent crimes of armed robbery, drug pushing, armed militancy and kidnapping.
The Guardian learnt that moribund investments in the state include Abia Golden Chicken Limited, Ogwe, Ukwa East, with land area of 360 hectares; Abia Livestock Farm, Okoko Item, Bende Local Government Area, covering 75 hectares with poultry production, cattle, piggery, sheep and goat rearing, honey production, fishery and sundry related products; Abia Cashew Company, Mbala, Isuochi, Umunneochi, with 160 hectares planted, 28 hectares fallow; Abia Cocoa Estate, Agbaozu, Uzuakoli, Bende, covering 220 hectares, and Abia Farm, Iodu Ndume, Umuahia North, covering 22 hectares with facilities for fish and vegetable production.
Rubber production in the state is enough to attract tyre and plastic making companies.
With 35,000 metric tonnes of rubber per annum and the potential to double production if the value chain is really developed, small to medium scale factories would find the state suitable as a source of raw materials.
What Abia govt should do
There are basic attractants that do encourage agro-allied investors to any state, and they include the ease of doing business; security of life and property; avoidance of multiple taxation; improved power supply and good road networks.
However, the following are very crucial.
As most parts of the country, Abia State was threatened by insecurity including armed robbery and kidnapping.
This scenario had affected businesses in the state and even caused people to move out of the state.
Though the state government has taken measures to check crimes and improve security of life and property by providing security agencies with vehicles equipped with communication gadgets and banning commercial motorcycles in urban areas, there is room for improvement.
A joint security operation comprising the military, the Civil Defence Corps and vigilance groups should be emplaced and fortified to undertake security patrol not only in the urban but also in rural areas of the state.
No economic and other human activities would thrive without the necessary infrastructure.
The government in the state has given priority to improving dilapidated infrastructure in the state, especially roads, but efforts should be intensified to develop rural communities where agricultural activities are carried on.
A critical evaluation of the development revealed urban bias, leaving rural areas hardly developed.
In this raining season, many roads in the state have become deplorable.
Power supply in the state is not any better than anywhere else, accounting for many collapsed industries in the country.
Tax regime restructuring
Business operators in the state do complain bitterly against multiple taxation and levies, describing them as one of the banes of business operations.
According to them, a multiple tax regime includes those imposed by local government authorities, state and even the Federal Government, which are often forcibly extracted.
Business owners, therefore, have been appealing to the government to harmonise taxes to check the trend.
From the government sources, measures including granting tax holidays to new businesses, allocation of land and other incentives to businesses are part of the government policies intended to facilitate agro-industrial development and attract more investments to the state.
No comments yet