By Terver Akase
Tonight at Transcorp Hilton Hotels, Abuja, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom will be crowned as the Best Performing Governor in Agriculture Development in the country. Deputy Governor of the State, Engineer Benson Abounu will be there to receive the award on behalf of the Governor.
The States Competitiveness and Good Governance Awards is an annual event organized by West Africa’s foremost financial and business newspaper, Business Day Media Limited.
In a letter of nomination the newspaper wrote to Governor Ortom, it sated:
“Your Excellency, this nomination by the Award Committee is in recognition of your agriculture-driven industrialisation policy, procurement of agricultural equipment, opening up of rural roads to facilitate the movement of agric produce from the rural areas to urban centres and most especially, the passage of Anti-Open Grazing Law which is meant to protect the investments of small holder farmers across the state.
“In addition, we also recognise the pragmatic steps taken to diversify the Benue State economy away from over reliance on crude oil revenue. This explains why your administration has set in motion the processes that will fully exploit the potential in agriculture, infrastructure while improving the ease of doing business.
Therefore, your nomination for this award category by the Award Committee should been seen as a commendation of the giant strides you have taken so far and to encourage your administration to do more in this regard” the newspaper stated.
To many who have followed developments in Benue State in the last two years, the award to Governor Ortom as the best in agriculture has not come as a surprise. Most of those who have called or written to congratulate the Governor on his nomination for the prize say the cap fits him.
REFILLING THE FOOD BASKET
* The Basket of Opportunities
While he served the nation as Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment, one of the popular predictions of Dr Samuel Ortom was that in the next few years, Nigeria will have to depend more on agriculture than oil to revamp its economy. Perhaps not many people saw that happening in less than 5 years. Today as oil prices refuse to climb and the country is just struggling out of recession, the need for states with comparative advantage in agriculture such as Benue to take the lead in the march to economic recovery has never been more urgent than now.
BENUE’S AGRICULTURE BEFORE THE COMING OF ORTOM
On assumption of office, the Ortom administration met a severely depressed economy. There was no motivation for farmers as cases of fake fertilizer bags procured by the then state government ended the hopes of peasant farmers ever improving on their produce. This made the farmers who constitute 80% of the state’s population but without an option remain on their farms.
In a state with a farming population of about 3.5 million people and arable land of 25,000 square kilometers, farmers had access to only 11 functional tractor units operated by the state’s Tractor Hiring Agency. The story was worse in the supply of agriculture inputs.
WHAT IS NEW IN BENUE?
Agriculture-Driven Industrialization is one of five the pillars on which the Samuel Ortom administration is anchored. What this implies is that the Benue State Government will seek to address development challenges as contained in present administration’s blueprint, ‘Our Collective Vision For A New Benue’ prominent among which is the paradox of escalating food insecurity in the midst of abundant natural resources.
Governor Ortom in his inaugural address on May 29, 2015, set a clear tone of what the people of the state should expect in the area of agriculture. His words:
“In agriculture, our expected outcome is to extend our calling as ‘Food Basket of the Nation”, to include processing of agro-products. We will do this by developing the sector through the introduction of simple technology driven systems and targeted interventions involving agro-processing, improved marketing channels, inputs and rural infrastructure.”
KEEPING THE PROMISE
The Ortom administration has decided that the time to change the unpleasant narrative about agriculture in the state is now. Consequently, the State Government has embarked on an agricultural revolution to rapidly accelerate food production, build commodity value chains and institutions required to unlock the state’s huge agricultural potentials with targeted outcomes. That was how the Deputy Governor, Engineer Benson Abounu and Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. James Anbua reaffirmed the state’s commitment to the agriculture revolution during the Benue State Farmers’ Summit held at Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi late last year.
Governor Ortom who had traveled to Abuja for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, returned on the 2nd day of the summit and drove straight to the stadium where he restated the resolve of his administration not only to refill the Food Basket but also make its contents attractive and marketable to the world.
WHAT GOVERNMENT IS DOING DIFFERENTLY
The steps being taken by the Samuel Ortom administration to address the agriculture needs of the state are aimed at ensuring that produce wastes are reduced by 50% by the year 2019. The efforts are also targeted at making agriculture a business and to increase the income levels of farmers up to 80% by 2019 so that agriculture can contribute substantially to the Gross Domestic Product, GDP of the state.
The steps taken by Ortom administration include the following:
1. Signing of the anti-open grazing law to create a peaceful environment for agriculture and other economic activities.
2. Revamping of the Benue State Fertilizer Blending Plant. Production has commenced in the plant.
3. Promoting processing of agriculture products. Moribund industries are being revamped while commodity warehouses are being built across the state.
4. Encouraging dry season farming through the establishment of dams for irrigation.
5. The process for the use of biomass and feed stock as raw materials for the production of energy to power industries has commenced.
6. Procurement of fertilizer for farmers during the 2016 and 2017 cropping seasons at 38% government subsidy.
7. Revamping of the Livestock Investigation and Breeding Centre at Raav.
8. Facilitated the enrolment of Benue farmers in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.
9. Signed Memorandum of Understanding, MOU with Bank of Industry, BOI to empower farmers and other entrepreneurs with a N2 billion loan at only 5% interest rate.
10. Facilitated loans from Bank of Agriculture for Benue Farmers at low interest rates.
12. Establishment of a Commodity Board to enhance the seller – buyer mechanism. (The process has commenced).
2. In the process of procuring tractors sold to be farmers at 30% subsidy. Repayment for the tractors is to be spread within three years to enhance affordability.
OTHER INCENTIVES INTRODUCED BY THE ORTOM ADMINISTRATION
– Impovement in processing of applications for registration of business and acquisition of land.
– Tax exemption for agro industries during the first five years of operation.
– Commencement of the process for the establishment of industrial layouts in Gboko, Otukpo and other major towns of the state.
A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE
The vision of the Samuel Ortom administration for agriculture is that in the next 10 to 20 years, the private sector will assume the driver’s seat in agriculture with government only playing regulatory roles and minimal supportive services.
Having worked closely with Governor Samuel Ortom and seen the passion in him to enlarge the Food Basket and make Benue greater as the agriculture hub of the country, I am proud to conclude that the award to be given to him this evening by Business Day is well deserved. It is an award for all Benue people.
* Akase is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Benue State.