Frequenting the road behind the main back gate of the Umahis home in Umanaga in Uburu, Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State at noon was a Toyota pick-up van.
Curiously, I moved closer to the tarred road, noticing the van ferrying loaded with sacks from a farm owned by a Fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers, Dr. David Nweze Umahi, a man I have chosen to dub Nigeria’s number one farmer governor.
Still wanting to satisfy my curiosity, I strolled to the farm welcomed by women cheerfully filling more sacs with harvested paddies. Before I left, I counted over 600 bags about to be loaded.
This was mid November 2016.
But less than six weeks after, I was again in Umanaga, early morning, to deliver newspapers to the governor who was in his country home for the Yuletide. While he was having a walkout in the gym, I took another walk to the farm only to behold a lush green field of growing rice stems and cassava leaves.
I had heard of dry season rice cultivation before. But on that day, I saw it in practice. I recalled immediately that the state Executive Council never rose in November and December 2016 without Governor Umahi emphasising the need for government to begin preparations for dry season farming, especially rice cultivation.
The Umanaga rice farm isn’t the only one this farmer governor has. He partnered the Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe, to successfully cultivate another rice farm in Ezillo, Ishielu LGA. Then on January 20, 2017, he again preached farming before the EXCO members. He proudly declared: “Senator Onwe and I made good millions from our farm in Ezillo.”
In April last year when the governor first broached the idea of immediate massive agricultural programme by reeling out the strategies especially for rice cultivation, many thought he would not walk the talk.
To prove that he meant business, he directed all exco members to ensure that they owned at least one hectare of farm land. Umahi did not stop at that, he acquired some hectares of land in Ezillo and directed every EXCO member to immediately roll up their trousers and move in. His idea was that top government officials would have no moral grounds to enjoin the public to get involved in agriculture if they had no farms of their own.
With land available at no cost, the Exco members keyed into the governor’s vision in groups and conquered their hectares. Their farms yielded astonishing results never recorded in the area of agriculture by any government in the state.
As the cabinet members await profits from the sales of their rice, private farmers/cooperative groups supported by agricultural agencies like FADAMA and IFAD in partnership with the Umahi-led administration are already counting their monetary gains.
IFAD alone profiled and supported over 6,642 farmers last rice farming season thereby boosting the state’s economy through the farmers by close to N4bn.
Civil servants and youths were also carried along by Governor Umahi. At every forum he had with their leaders, he harped on the need for the state to regain its number one position as the nation’s food basket.
At a larger gathering on July 6, 2015 when the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, accompanied by his Health counterpart, Isaac Adeoye, visited the state, Umahi lined up tractors which were handed over to youths to deploy in farms as part of the strategies to reduce manual labour and make agriculture attractive to them. Before then, he had bought and sent 13 bulldozers to the 13 LGAs in the state to bulldoze farmlands ahead of their cultivation.
During the visit of Ogbeh and Adeoye, the governor announced a one-man, one-hectare agric policy in which every Ebonyi resident, especially civil servants, was enjoined to partake in.
Apart from N200,000 loan, the governor said the state government would make available to every youth or civil servant interested in the policy, Umahi offered to help them enjoy the CBN-anchor borrowers’ programme on agriculture. Rice cultivation, the governor told them, was not the only area they could go into, they were free to try cassava and yam farming, poultry, fishery, maize and other types of crop farming.
Testimonies of their successes abound. My cousin, Ifeanyi, a civil servant happily told me last week that he would not only make good money, he would have no reason to buy a tin of garri this year for his family as he had more than enough yield from his cassava farm.
A Youth Corps member serving in the Press Unit, Government House, Godshied Kanjal, joined in the frenzy by cultivating over three hectares in Umuagara, Ezzamgbo.
Like Umahi, Kanjal, who has already prepared customised bags of rice for presentation to the governor, happily advises his colleagues to try farming instead of hoping for white collar jobs after service.
Governor Umahi’s policy last year revolutionized agriculture, especially in the area of rice production to the level that some state governments like Taraba, Abia and Edo bought the popular Abakaliki/Ebonyi Rice from the state. Prominent Nigerians like former Senate President Ken Nnamani, were not left out in the rush to savour the popular Ebonyi or Abakaliki rice. They placed orders and were supplied by the state government-owned Ebonyi Rice World.
The popularity Ebonyi rice assumed did not only make Abdulfatah Oladeinde, a columnist with Sun Newspaper to write on December 11, 2015, that, “We can now ‘import’ rice from Ebonyi.”
The agric revolution in the state attracted the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari, who, while presenting this year’s budget before the National Assembly, used Ebonyi State as reference point in the successes achieved by the Federal Government in agriculture.
Before Buhari’s acknowledgement of Umahi cum Ebonyi’s pioneering effort in the area of agriculture, our farmer governor had earlier taken his gospel for all to key into agriculture a notch further. When he received groups, community leaders, monarchs, etcetera, and one major theme of his speeches was agriculture.
Often, he used himself as an example. He never felt shy telling the crowd that his father was a farmer; that he was trained from proceeds of farming. Next minute, he would declare without equivocation that his farm is the best. Another time, he would say: “I was in Abakaliki and I was making money day and night through rice production in Uburu. They were counting my money in millions from my rice farm here (Uburu). There is so much in agriculture. I know this and I personally made sure that I inspected the farm in Uburu nearly every weekend.
“Whoever is involved in agriculture should count himself very lucky because we are going to take agriculture to the next level in 2017.”
Umahi did not only offer loans, equipment, seedlings to any group or persons interested in agriculture, he promised partnership to ensure a geometric boost in the sector.
– Anya is Governor Umahi’s Chief Press Secretary