In this interview with Gist Agrica Correspondent in Owerri, Chief Gasper Obinna Ibole, a Community leader and an agriculturist who hails from Imo State, bared his mind on what he termed the marginalization of the southeast region, and proffered solutions on how federal government should balance the equation, among others. Excerpts:
Your name Sir?
My name is Chief Gasper Obinna Ibole
Why the marginalization?
It’s not marginalization. It’s a calculated attempt and assisted by our selfish leaders in the South.
At end of the civil war we heard of Desert encroachment into Nigeria and they started forestation program while this way we started deforestation and destroyed our land; rendering it useless.
We were granted opportunities to develop our place but those entrusted with it messed it up, used up the money for what it was not meant for.
Kano for example has extensive Rice Farms but Abakaliki that had a Rice Mill before almost went extinct.
We were producing Palm Oil before but now go to the North along the Road you see Palm Oil displayed for sell on the road whereas here the World Bank made us develop Palm Plantation but there was no Processing Mill to boost production.
These are things that made the south now reliant on the north for almost every agro product.
Sir, what are the solutions or remedies
The solution and remedies hinge on pursuing an intensive revert back to the Land.
Encourage communities to engage in community Farm projects. This is because there is scarcity of land.
Some of these remedies include engaging in a Land Army where community lands are cultivated collectively in such land spaces as can be found in Community schools.
Encourage individuals to get back to farming, develope local food crops like bitter leaf which grows all over. Encouraging households and backyard farming like cultivating pepper, introducing better species of various food crops and providing fertilizer and machine that will make farming easier. Reintroducing cultivation of most food trees that are going extinct thereby commencing forestation down the south to assist land to resuscitate and become productive.
While doing all these efforts should be made to provide the relevant processing mills such that farmers don’t have to cultivate and not find market to dispose of the commodities.
Also, the youths need be induced and encouraged to take to farming thereby reducing the mass exodus from rural to urban cities. To do this entails making sure that the rural areas have the social amenities to attract school leavers to stay back. If there are employment opportunities in the rural areas agriculture will receive a big boost and we can move back to being exporters of food than importers.
What do you think the federal government should do to balance the equation?
The Federal Government needs to provide the logistics and make things attractive to investors.
Provision of basic amenities is the responsibility of the Federal Government – such amenities as Good Roads, Electricity, Health institutions, encouraging financial institutions to relocate to reach the local producers, ensuring that participants and those involved are solvent enough to carry out their activities. Most importantly is ensuring that there is security of lives and property.
The Federal Government stands to gain because with massive rural industrialization, export trade will be on the increase and the GDP will rise and standard of living will greatly improve.
The Federal Government must be ready to stand as surety and guarantor that will attract those who’d come to invest and or provide the industrial base so that employment will multiply and this will, to a large extent, reduce redundancy that leads to crime and unrest.
What should South East governors do to ensure they get their own equation on the subject matter?
The South East Governors are yet to realize that their zone is losing out in the Scheme of Agriculture.
They are complacent in their attitude towards rural development that they have nearly abandoned rural development for urban development.
They need to realize that the region was once the agricultural base of the nation.
They need to be propelled to realize that governance is for the benefit of the rural people and not for the urban class.
They need to soften their land use policy to encourage rural farmers to be at their best.
South East Governors must liaise with the Federal Government to ensure that agricultural equipment and materials reach the rural people and that amenities in the rural areas are conducive to encourage those staying back to produce food for the rural people.
The Governors should understand that they need to work cooperatively for the achievement of agricultural development in their area.
They need not go into unhealthy competition that will duplicate their efforts and end up not producing to their optimal.
States that have multiple palm plantations need to focus on providing processing mills so that the palm produce can be used in the industrial growth of the region and their states.
Governors should stop embarking on wasteful projects and focus on making the people take interest in Agro and allied production that way they will be making meaningful impact on the lives of the rural people as against now that the rural areas have become deserted areas with no economic activity.
What advice would you give to Imo State government based on this?
Imo State was the in the past a major food producing area but it is not as it ought to have been because it’s no longer backed by government. Imo State has consolidated agricultural institutions and facilities that were abandoned midway or mismanaged which can still be revived.
The ADAPALM in Ohaji is enough to handle all Palm Processing in the state if the road networks are efficient to encourage the movement of palm from the various palm Plantation scattered all over.
In like manner, Imo is blessed with fertile and arable localities that can handle massive agricultural production and cultivation. Ohaji and Ngor Okpala come close to mind.
There was an already established Farming Poultry Unit capable of producing enough Poultry product for local and external consumption.
The Okigwe area has large land space that can handle animal husbandry.
If the Imo State Government remain sincere in the next few years, it will possibly emerge a Food and Agriculture based state providing for local and external production.
Imo has the advantages of the labour force as well as the land space what it lacks for now is the will to effectively organize for full scale agricultural production for rural development and industrialization.