Lalong: Diversifying Plateau Economy Through Agriculture

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In this piece, ACHOR ABIMAJE, takes a look at the determination of the Plateau State Governor, Barr. Simon Lalong to turn around the economic status of the state through various agricultural policies.

Plateau state governor Barr. Simon Lalong came to power at a time when the mono-economy nature of Nigeria was going through recession.
As against this background the state government then realised that there is urgent need to look beyond the oil by exploring other potential sources of revenue through  agriculture.
For Lalong, his administration’s commitment to turn around the economic fortunes of the state through harnessing its huge potentials in the agricultural sector would not only benefit the people of Plateau, other governors in the country will also have much to learn by the time some of these initiatives come to reality.
The governor while speaking in Ajikamai,  Shendam Local Government Area of the state during the flagging off of Fadama III rice production disclosed that the state will harvest 6,975 metric tonnes of rice in the  2016 cropping season.

“This is a giant stride towards attaining food sufficient not only in Plateau but the country in general”.
Lalong also said “That the State Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with Fadama III project had disbursed rice seeds to 1395 beneficiaries that translated to the cultivation of 1,395 hectares put together.”
He said that the state government would continue to build stronger bridges between agricultural sector and the rest of the economy. “The Fadama project  has stimulated the government into putting in place measures in establishing processing plants for rice and tomato through public private partnership arrangement”.
“To compliment the efforts, the state is endowed with 100,000 hectares of fadama farm lands, cleared and suitable for rice production “.
He added that there is 200, 000 hectares of farm land suitable for tomato production during both rainy and dry season too.
Lalong also stated that as a responsible government desirous to reduce poverty among its people, and attain food sufficiency, it has promptly paid arrears of counterpart fund for the Fadama III project for 2014 and 2015.
“This is what has given the state the legitimacy to be considered for the Fadama III Additional Financing Project which allows greater participation by farmers in the project”.
He said that the Fadama III Project told him that they would support only tomato farming in the additional financing support but he requested for rice because of the comparative advantage.
In the same vein the Governor, through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mark Longyen further revealed the governor’s plans on agriculture in Port Harcourt, during the 12th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference, with the theme, “Economic Diversification: Agriculture As Option For A Prosperous Nigeria.”
Longyen, who stood in for the governor, told the conference that the Lalong-led administration was already leveraged on the benefits of public and private investment through private sector partnership to achieve the goal of diversifying its economy from reliance on oil revenue to agriculture to achieve food security.
He said the state government’s decision to engage in massive agricultural ventures through public and private sector partnership  was deliberate to ensure that agriculture became the driver of a mixed sector economy for job creation and economic prosperity.
“To this end, the Plateau state government, in partnership with the World Bank Support Scheme, established Fadama Micro Finance Bank in November, 2015, awaiting final CBN licensing.
“This is essentially to provide farmers with the necessary funding for farming, which is an innovative approach, the first of its kind in Nigeria and 2nd in Africa.
“Besides, government has in the last one year leveraged on the attendant benefits of foreign intervention funds to boost the state’s agricultural sector.
“Accordingly, Government paid the counterpart sum of over N105 million for World Bank intervention projects and has so far accessed over N400 million from the bank, while awaiting to access additional $10 million to execute more projects, especially in our three value chain crops, namely, Irish potato, tomatoes and rice,” he said.
Longyen further added that the state government was set to venture into large scale mechanised farming through public-private partnership, hence, its decision to re-acquire its farm, the BARC Farm, for N1.5 billion, which was earlier sold out to an individual by a former government.
“Also, Government has already taken measures to increase the existing number of 400 tractors to 800 tractors, in addition to facilitating the purchase of tractors through a 4-year supplier credit, with 40% subsidy by the government (State-30% and Local government-10%).
“These will go a long way in boosting the state’s overall food production, bolster the exportation of fresh farm produce via the soon-to-take-off Inland Container Dry Port, Heipang, as well as supply raw materials to the Jos International Breweries when it is revived,” the Governor’s Spokesman said.
He further said that it was in line with governor Lalong’s visionary and exemplary leadership style and determination to maximally use agriculture to drive the state’s economy that government recently signed an MoU with a private firm, Solbec Ltd, to revive the abandoned 65-year-old state-owned Panyam fish farm under a PPP arrangement.
“Established by colonialists and once reputed to be the largest fish farm in Nigeria and West Africa, covering a land mass of 309 hectares, the farm has the capacity to produce about 4.9 tonnes of fish and over 10 million fingerlings annually.
“It is expected that when it soon becomes fully operational, the farm’s annual revenue generating potential for the state will hit about N1.7 billion, an amount that is more than the monthly salary of government workers.
“Plateau State, with over 1,000 abandoned mining ponds, many of which have been certified fit for fish production, 20 dams and reservoirs, 673 hectares of water surface area,12 natural lakes and unique, climatic conditions, has huge aquatic and fisheries potentials,” he  said.
According to Langyen, government also keyed into the ranching policy of the federal government and is now considering its implementation after due consultations in order to boost livestock farming, which has myriads of socio-economic benefits to the people.