By CrossRiverWatch Admin Follow @crossriverwatch
The Cross River State coordinator of the Home Grown School Feeing Program (HGSFP), Mr. Gabriel Okulaja has denied reports that its office distributed rotten chicken to vendors to feed pupils in primary school.
Some Cross Riverians on social media had on Sunday, February 11, 2018 raised alarm that rotten chicken was supplied to vendors.
There were allegations that Mr. Okulaja is bringing the chicken from Uyo and also deducting fifteen thousand Naira from the monies paid to the food vendors.”
But, Mr. Okulaja told CrossRiverWatch in an interview on Thursday that the chicken pieces totaling over 300,000 which formed the protein part of the meal to be supplied to pupils for Monday and Tuesday had been fried and blasted in a freezing equipment to preserve it by the supplier, Akwa Prime Ventures.
“The actual process of the chicken sees it get blasted and it becomes rock solid before it is being transferred to the chilling room,” Mr. Okulaja said, adding that: “Due to the light condition in Cross River State and the failure of the first mode of supply, they (Akwa Prime) now decided to cut it to pieces, fry and then blast it before transporting.”
He said that naturally, fried chicken will change color and when the oil melts, it shows another color and maintained that his office has waited patiently for complains from the field about food poisoning or eating rotten chicken.
He blamed mischievous elements who are not pleased with the non-availability of funds to be embezzled for the bad publicity or they would have inquired about the state of the chicken or why the color appeared that way.
A statement he earlier released had also explained that: “As part of the standardization process, a robust monitoring and evaluation process is in place to ensure compliance and this, not limited to only the state processes, as an independent process is also maintained by the national body.
“This mechanism ensures safe food is delivered to pupils on the program and active all the time .
“Any unwholesome food whether by a cook/input supplier is checked for compliance before consumption.”
Corroborating this, the company, AkwaPrime in a statement debunked this allegation and said that At the onset of the HGSFP in the state, it was engaged in “product sampling” and “utilizing premium chicken as the protein input” when it discovered that cold-chain management was the biggest limiting factor in delivering wholesome chicken to far flung rural communities with very little public services such as power and good roads; therefore, it had to develop another strategy, which is to fry the chicken.
“We developed the fried chicken-chops as the most stable and wholesome product to reach our communities in safe and hygienic conditions.
“Aside from the added value to the product, frying is also the first stage of our preservation (the second stage being that of blast-freezing). It is this fried/Blast-frozen chicken capable of staying outside the cold chain for more than 48hrs without deterioration that we delivered to distribution centers on Sunday 11th February 2018 for feeding on Monday 12th and Tuesday 13th of the same month.
“It is a matter of common sense to know that vegetable oil (long chain fatty acids) turns whitish when it freezes. It is laughable therefore that someone who is obviously fronting for the enemies of the present regime in Cross River State and perhaps even the Federal Government is claiming that this whitish appearance is indicative of spoilage,” read the statement from AkwaPrime.
The HGSFP in Cross River State has over 160,000 pupils being fed daily, and according to the narrative used in promoting the policy which forms part of four sovereign wealth fund programs which got a budgetary allocation of NGN500 billion in the 2017 appropriation act is supposed to see farmers from within a particular geographical enclave provide the foodstuffs for vendors.
But, the company supplying the chicken is based in Akwa Ibom state and Mr. Okulaja explained that the failure of the local agro industries in the state to supply the required quantity made his office to explore other options to ensure it delivers on its mandate and at the same time, grow the local economy and capacity of agro entrepreneurs.
A statement earlier released by him said the state office of the HGSFP has entered an agreement with Akwa Prime to site processing plants in Cross River State with that of the southern senatorial district located in Calabar almost ready to process birds for the HGSFP.
“The core objective to Cross River State, in this relationship, apart from providing wholesome chicken, is to, within the short to medium term, domestic the production of all chicken to be consumed in the program locally as well as reach other markets for capital growth benefits to stakeholders (vendors, farmers, transporters, etc on the value chain). To ensure this, a 100,000 development target for growing broilers by July, 2018 is part of the deliverables and to which the company has commenced the process.
“On our part, we are to identify and locate about 5 farm locations across the state to warehouse these birds and for which we have 2 locations already and ready for inspection by the technical team . These locations will warehouse the first set of 30,000 birds.
“To build on the opportunities provided by the home grown school feeding initiative for growth and sustainability, the Cross River model proposes to connect the consumers from the farm, through a robust value chain process of at least 120 collection and 5 aggregating centers.
“We hope in the long run to have at least 5 food processing centers built around the aggregating centers, starting with poultry meat processing.
Also, Mr. Okulaja said his office was looking beyond the HGSFP as it had evolved strategies to ensure that it develops a full value chain in the agricultural sector in the state as it looks beyond the HGSFP for the vendors and farmers with a few anchormen selected to ensure the sustainability of this plan.
And, on the money allegedly being deducted, he said he had no access to the money and only “manages” the account as his powers are only limited to sanctioning a payment or withholding it if a vendor is found to have failed in meeting requirements.
However, Mr. Ifere had also alleged that: “This chicken is fried and stored under serious unhealthy and unhygienic conditions. By the time they fried the chicken and bring to Calabar, some are already rotten and smelling before they reach places like Odukpani, Akampkpa, Biase, Yakurr, Obubra, etc.”
But, the company denied these and said that the chicken is being prepared under strict hygienic conditions.
It said that: “The fried chicken chops on the programme are prepared under very hygienic conditions and transported directly from the blast freezers hence the whitish frozen oils on a few of them wrongly termed spoilage.
“That Molds will not disappear from the chicken chops if left to thaw as is the case with the frozen oils.
“That the principle of fairness, equity and balanced reportage (assuming the writer is a certified journalist which we doubt considering his style) requires that the writer would have approached the relevant stakeholders in this matter at least to give some appearance of civility to his ‘hatchet job’.”
The company also claimed that it was in the final process of getting different places across the state to ensure that its products arrive in the best condition.
“As part of our deliverables on the Cross River State HGSFP, we are presently domesticating the end stage processing to fried chops in Cross River State. To this end we have last week acquired the needed accommodation to set up the Calabar processing center at Federal Housing Estate while we are in advanced stages of identifying a place for the Ikom Center.
“We have also flagged off a robust out grower programme for the vendors to stock 100,000 broilers in Cross River State by July 2018 with a goal to feeding the domesticated end-stage processing centers spread across the state with chicken. Anyone seeking the truth should approach the vendors to verify this.”
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