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Onukwuba sets on agric turf with innovations in mind



FROM first meeting, Nnamdi Onukwuba, Anambra State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mechanisation, Processing and Export leaves you impressed. Pose your question,  he get you convinced  and on any issue before him.

A man of immense wealth of confidence and high pitch knowledge in agricultural matters, yet humble in his assignment.

He distinguished himself as Senior Special Assistant to Gov. Willie Obiano on Agricultural Export and Livestock Value Chain Development. His sterling performance as SSA led to his appointment as Commissioner for Lands, Physical Planning, and Rural Development and now in the Agriculture Ministry.

Onukwuba is a disciplinarian, who teaches by example. He doesn’t tell you to come to work by 9am and reports to office by 10am. Even as a public servant, by 9am, he is at his desk. He operates an open door policy to receive whosoever wants to see him.

His vision for the ministry is to upscale agriculture in the state to the next level. He burns with passion and urgency to move the state from the traditional place of crop cultivation using some indicators and programmes, such that more people in the state would be empowered and the state richer. “We are diversifying the agricultural sector in the state.

The ministry is kicking off this new phase of agric revolution with apiculture; honey production. We want to use it to further empower our youths. We would look at live stocking, and then, we go to other productive sectors of agriculture.”

On the commissioner’s innovative drive is the plan to establish cluster farms across the state, which entails taking agriculture to the communities but in a more advanced and packaged format. “Development of cluster farms is something that we are going to approach the communities for. Sometimes, acquiring these lands becomes an issue.

We might lease these lands from the communities, so that we can empower our people, by engaging them in agriculture. When we get these, we have to break it down to one hectare for each farmer. These initiatives specifically target youths and women.

“The Central Bank of Nigeria is involved in the development of these youth farms. The apex bank will provide the  funds to push youths into cluster farms.

The ministry will get cluster managers to package and teach beneficiaries agronomy practices. What they are going to produce, we have an off-takers, who would pick the produce from those farms for sale, or be moved to farmers’ shops.”

The proposed farmers’ shops will have a big hub in Awka, with others in Onitsha, Nnewi and Ihiala and perhaps one in Ekwulobia. The purpose of these farmers’ shops as  Onukwuba envisaged is to pick up fresh organic produce from the farms, beside empowering people is to encourage organic farming.

The farmers shop is one-stop outlets where someone can go to buy all the fresh produce the person wants. The livestock component will be there likewise the crops.

“That is what we are going to be looking at and then, holistically, we want to advance agriculture business. Hence, we want to look at agriculture as business and not on subsistence bases. People who are producing should have something to take home after their production.

We are developing partnership with certified seed producers to ensure that the seeds our farmer plants is the right seed, with high viability. The seeds would be distributed to our farmers on recovery basis.

“Gov. Obiano has charged us to breed local cattle. The ministry will visit a farm in the coming week. Regarding the size of the ranch, which specialises in local breed, we need to see what needs to be done to upscale production. Efi Igbo is something we can do. They don’t go wild grazing, and we can domestic that one. Soon agric would be so highly rated.

If you are into farming, you will see yourself as a businessman not just a farmer or labourer. We want to make sure that everybody has some IT training. So that you have capacity, you don’t just look at yourself as ordinary farmer tilling the land, but farmer with some resources behind.”

The state has always played big the launch of farming season at the commencement of the rains every year, which some people view as not helping the agricultural drive of state, since such is not replicated during the dry season.

The commissioner acknowledged that the normal farming season is the beginning of the rainy season and that is when every farmer, big or small can go to farm and is assured that there is enough water in the soil to get his crop germinated, and produce.

“For the dry season, we are going to champion it. We are looking at all year round irrigation. When our irrigated farms are producing, there will no longer be any difference between dry and wet season. One major project that is coming to the state is Lower Anambra Imo Basin Irrigation at Ayamelum Local Government Area of the state. A big pump will power it, when it comes into play.  We are partnering the federal government on this.

“As a way of going to the lowest basics of agriculture, the ministry encourages small and medium scale farmers and those out of school to approach ASBA for soft loans, like N300,000 for small scale entrepreneur, then come to the ministry and register and be specifically told on how best to invest in the sector.

“Even in schools, the ministry has done agricultural school quiz in the past to encourage children to go into agriculture. We have what we call Ugbo Umuakwukwo. We are championing that every school that has a compound instead of leaving it to encroachment, let the students go into farming.

We support them with inputs and necessary tractorisationn for these farms and then, they keep producing. Like Gov Obiano has said, the produce from these farms would be shared into three, one part goes to the teacher, who is championing the project, one for the pupil who is doing the framing and the other part for the school to keep multiplying what they are doing. So, it is a win-win for everybody.

School children will have it at the back of their minds of an already existing culture that agriculture is more of business.”

Being the second smallest state in the country, this requires that the state needs to maximize its lands. The commissioner is reconsidering hydroponics; a concept where water or chemical solution than soil, placed in bucket, basin, or container hanged or suspended is used to grow vegetables and some fruits.

“I remember as an SSA on export, somebody brought that programme here. The building behind the agric ministry was erected for that project. We need to look at what the situation is there. Beside hydroponics, there is a new concept of planting in bucket; you can grow tomatoes, pepper, and oranges in buckets or other containers in front yard of your house.

On the state of Igbariam Farm Settlement, Onukwuba assures that the state government will look into it. The locals, he said, are trying to take over large chunk of the land chasing away producers. “It is a whole lot of issues, which we will need to discuss with the community leaders and their Igwe. Though the land is government’s property, we need to find amicable way to solve the problem; revitalise the settlement from the rent the settlers pay, we can renovate the property for them, so that they can continue their farming.”

Onukwuba frowns at the skyrocketing rate chemically preserved produce floods the markets but is upbeat that with measures the ministry adopts, the Produce Department will be enhanced to ensure that health status is maintained.

“We are championing agriculture. We want you to come to us for everything you want to know about agriculture, assistance wise. We are looking at trying to empower women and youths in our programme. Ndi Anambra, be hopeful that there is a source for you in agriculture. Come to us.”

The commissioner described Gov Obiano as a visionary leader, who means so well for ndi-Anambra; a leader that wants Anambra to be counted in every sphere of life. “Working for Obiano is wonderful. The last thing the governor wants to hear is that his commissioner or anyone working for him is underperforming or is involved in any negative issue.”

As a legacy, Onukwuba would love to have structures and institutions in place at the ministry that would attest that he was once in the ministry as he has done where he passed through.

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