By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday commissioned the Cross River State seedlings and seed manufacturing factory in Calabar which he described as a people oriented project.
The President said the project is in line with his administration’s zero oil economic roadmap with Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade becoming a reference point in that vision.
He stated that: “When we assumed the rein of leadership of our dear country, our administration launched a zero-oil economic roadmap as a way of making our country less dependent on oil, while encouraging investments in other sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture.
“I am happy that Governor Ayade keyed into that policy and has today become the reference point in our agricultural revolution effort.
“That we are gathered here today is no doubt a determination woven through to precision and a glowing testament to the fact that the policy is working.”
The President said that the factory spoke loudly about his administration’s strides in agriculture and maintained that it’s capacity to produce high yield and disease resistant seeds, will aid in job creation and earn revenue for the state.
“The factory, said to be the first in Africa, is an automated plant with a capacity to produce high yielding vitaminized and disease resistant rice seedlings,” Buhari said.
On its impact on the economy, he averred that: “Seedlings from this factory will improve rice yield from the current national average of 3 to 4 tons per hectare to about 9 to 10 tons per hectare, thus helping to ensure rice sufficiency in the country and doing away with import and saving foreign exchange for Nigeria.
“Besides creating employment opportunities for the unemployed, I have no doubt that this rice factory will also be a veritable platform for income generation for Cross River.
“I am further told that the factory has the capacity to meet both foreign and domestic demands. This will go a long way in placing Nigeria on the global rice production map.”
He directed relevant federal parastatals to partner with the state even as he hoped that the factory, alongside other agro-based industries being built by the state will inspire other leaders to key into his vision of ensuring food security for the country.
He averred that: “I therefore, enjoin relevant Federal Government Agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria, through its anchor borrower’s programme, to partner with Cross River in the area of supply of seedlings to our farmers.
“With Governor Ayade’s other investments in agriculture such as the ongoing construction of an ultramodern rice mill in Ogoja, the cotton farm in Yala, the cocoa processing plant in Ikom and the Banana plantation in Odukpani, the feed mill and yellow maize farm in Obubra as well as the ultramodern poultry farm for export of frozen chicken amongst others, it is clear that Cross River has found a pathway on how to decouple itself from over reliance on federal allocation.
“It is evident also that by conceiving projects such as this, Governor Ayade has a keen eye for tomorrow; focusing on projects that are building a new economic base for the state rather than projects with short term benefits for the purpose of making cheap political gains.
“It is therefore, my hope and expectation that other states that are yet to fully take advantage of the zero-oil economic roadmap of the federal government will take a cue from Cross River State.
“Once again, I commend Governor Ayade for this laudable initiative as our country makes steady and assured progress towards self-sufficiency in food production.”
The then acting President Yemi Osinbanjo had performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the factory when he visited the state on June 1, 2016 which totals 1 year and 25 days from inception to completion.
And in his address, Governor Ayade said that the state was aware of the President’s focus which inspired the decision to invest on agro-allied industries which include the cosmetic plant, garment factory, calapharm, Instant noodles, rice mill, cocoa processing plant among others.
“These are all products of your discussion with me each time I have to meet with you and therefore, everything Cross River gives me credit, please give credit to our President,” Ayade said.
On the rice factory, the governor called for a standing ovation for the President; a directive which he explained that: “I say so because we have five million hectares of paddy soil in Nigeria, unfortunately, less than 1.7 million hectares of that used to be cultivated; but since you came in with your aggressive program on rice, the amount of cultivable land has grown to three million hectares and it is rising.
He disclosed that the country used to spend about NGN460 billion importing rice and an additional NGN60 billion in December, which according to him, “has come down dramatically and saved the pressure on out Naira courtesy of your innovative thinking.”
The governor posited that with the population statistics, Nigeria faces a “humongous challenge that can lead to absolute sarcasm of social disorder if you don’t take a deliberate step to ensure that we improve on the rice demand and rice supply chain.
“It is against that background that we realise that we needed to do something very specific on rice cultivation.”
He argued that the old way of preserving rice seeds was outdated and counterproductive as the yield was always low, hence the need to go scientific in seed multiplication and preservation which made it “unacceptable for people to go into farming.”
“We needed to change and bring agriculture into a digital age and nexus. It is against that background that Cross River State under my watch, bases on your advice focused on automated rice seed and seedling factory,” he said, adding that: “We are just not stopping at providing seeds and seedlings, we have gone further to also set up the first vitaminised rice plant.”
In a bid to bring optimal value for the rice produced, Mr. Ayade said it will also serve as raw material for the instant noodles factory being set up by the state government.
Remarking on the challenge of financing the projects, Mr. Ayade said that: “There is a new concept which is not just doing business with other peoples money, the new concept in Cross River called intellectual money. It is that intellectual money we have adopted to bring all these to reality.”
Soliciting the support of the President, Ayade added that: “We have done all we can, we can only pass it to the father of the country. This is your property, this is your product, this is a product of your intellectual acumen.”
The president, accompanied by the governors of Kebbi, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, his Abia state counterpart, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu; deputy governor of Akwa Ibon state, Elder Moses Okon, the head of civil service of the federation, Mrs. Winnifred Oyo-Ita; Niger Delta Affairs minister, Mr. Usani Usani and his Transport counterpart, Rotimi Amaechi among others were then led on a tour of the complex by Governor Ayade amidst cheers from a crowd which had gathered to witness the ceremony.
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