By Ndubuisi Michaels
It was in 2018 that the people of Akwa Ibom saw what many at that time called the ‘Udom wonder’ when the price of garri was crashed from more than N200 a cup to N100 a cup.
For a former top banker it was another move that further crashed the idea that the Governor Udom Emmanuel administration would only be focused on the corn flakes eating elite class in the state.
It was indeed a move that tended to project Governor Emmanuel as a man of the masses and one who was in touch with the feelings of the masses.
For a government that has opened up the state to many industrial schemes and turned the state into one of the major Foreign Direct Investment, destinations in the country outside Lagos, the task of keeping garri at low prices was, however, a difficult task.
The government was faced with major constraints. One was from the well organized garri sellers’ unions.
The second was the structural disconnects in the agriculture value chain.
The garri sellers in the state had organized themselves in a way to sustain prices at high levels by limiting supply.
Given the increasing demand for garri upon the increasing numbers of Nigerians feeling the economic heat, keeping the price at high levels appeared to be an easy task for the unions.
By a joint agreement among the union members, it was resolved to limit supply by making the garri wholesalers trade on alternative days.
The government’s initial plan was to burst that racket by going round the unions to flood the markets with garri.
However, that was to prove unsustainable given the government’s unwillingness to turn itself into another business concern.
So, after repeated moves to force down the price of garri, the Emmanuel administration has gone for the ultimate solution by opening garri production and processing in a way that stakeholders say would also create jobs and boost the economy of the state through involving locals in garri production.
Explaining the government’s scheme which is now in its final stages in an interview, the executive director, Directorate of Agricultural Investments, Pastor Umo Eno said:
“The governor approved a plan to bring down the price of basic food commodities in the market and to engage our people and put them to work.
“We have a programme called the end to end cassava value chain production. You work with the farmers. You work with the farmers by giving them seedlings, giving them all the things that they need and at the end you also offtake,” Pastor Eno said.
Pastor Eno who was also recently appointed by Governor Emmanuel as commissioner for lands while also keeping his position at the Directorate, said that the governor’s plan aims to be mobilise farmers to produce and have a guaranteed market for their products.
He explained that one of the major problems for farmers, especially cassava farmers was the fluctuation of prices of cassava from time to time which made acted as a disincentive for them.
Governor Emmanuel according to Pastor Eno has now approved a plan to build three processing plants in each of the state’s three senatorial districts which will act as off-takers for the cassava products produced by farmers.
The guaranteed prices are expected to keep prices of garri at constant levels.
As Pastor Eno explained:
“One of the problems farmers have in this area is who buys my products? So, it becomes a buyers’ market. if they know that their cassava is going bad they would be forced to sell at any price, so next year nobody wants to plant. But people don’t know that you can make good money out of agriculture.”
“Government has approved the construction of three warehouses across the three senatorial districts of the state. the first one is literally waiting for commissioning. Where you have garri processing mill and a big warehouse and all that off taking I can now put it in this warehouse.”
One of the factories which is located in Ikot Ekpene Udo in Nsit Ubium Local Government Area after the installation of the plant is expected to produce 250 tonnes of cassava a day.
Part of the scheme is that farmers would be given cassava stems to plant, they would also be given some other inputs with the assurance of a ready market in any of the three warehouses nearest to them.
“Because you have controlled input, then you can control output including price,” Pastor Eno said of Governor Emmanuel’s final answer to the skyrocketing prices of garri.
Besides solving the problem of glut, the government scheme is also expected to boost employment and in turn raise the Gross Domestic Product of the state.
The governor, he said, has also approved the setting up of a microfinance bank, Ibom Fadama Micro Finance Bank which is expected to be used to facilitate the process.
“We have just gotten an approval in principle from the CBN, the bank is already in place so that whatever money government wants to give to the farmers, goes through this bank and the governor found that to be a good idea.
This he said, will address the issue of unemployment and apart from that, the issue of rural–urban drift will also be addressed.”
Pastor Eno informed that prior to the upcoming agricultural revolution that the government did an enumeration to establish a database of all farmers in the state.
Besides garri, the government has also initiated a scheme to revive the Akwa Palm, a plantation that has been abandoned for more than 30 years.
Saturday Vanguard learned that Akwa Palm which was established by the government of the defunct Eastern State covering over 70 hectares and spanning three local government areas was the source of the palm kernels taken to start palm production in Malaysia.
“Akwa Palm has been moribund for 30 years and there is so much lying down. We have been talking with CBN. That place can employ over 500 persons,” Pastor Eno revealed.
Just as the plans for garri, the government he disclosed has already gotten some major conglomerates to be off-takers for the products expected from Akwa Palm.
“The CBN is prepared to loan us up to N10 billion but they said we must show good faith and right now we are opening up the roads,” he said.