DELTA is a blessed state with a total land area of 16,842 square kilometres (6,503 square miles). Its waters empties into the Atlantic ocean making it to have an international boundary. With rich soil and favourable climate, there is hardly any crop that cannot be cultivated in the state; and, with the aquatic resources – ocean, seas, rivers and swamp – the state is also home to fishes and other aquatic animals.
Over the years, however, the people have not been very encouraged to go into large-scale agricultural production. This is largely because of their ugly experiences in the past where their produce got destroyed due to poor storage, and in most cases, they operated at huge losses due to “unforeseen circumstances”, which made most of the farmers to go into subsistence farming despite the favourable environment for commercial agriculture.
Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa emerged as the governor of the state in 2015. His coming on board has greatly changed the agricultural landscape as he has encouraged more persons to go into farming through the Job Creation Bureau.
As someone who lived with his people in a predominantly agricultural area, Owa-Alero in Ika North-East Local Government Area of Delta State and someone who found himself serving the people as a Local Government Council Chairman and, later, Commissioner for Water Resources, Secretary to the State Government and Senator, Governor Okowa was abreast of the challenges confronting farmers in the state, nay the country.
The State of Israel is just a little bigger than Delta with 22,145 square kilometers (8,630 sq. miles), of which 21,671 sq. km is land area, yet, it has managed its agriculture to the extent that the country is earning a lot of foreign exchange from its farm produce while the people have a lot to eat.
With the benefit of such knowledge and bearing in mind that whereas Israel depends heavily on artificial means to grow their crops, there is hardly any crop that cannot be cultivated in Delta without resort to artificial means of enriching the soil.
Again, concerned about the over-dependence on oil revenue by the Federal Republic of Nigeria – from where monthly allocation trickles down to the federating states – and the fact that oil has expiry date, and so could suffer the fate that befell coal mining in the country, aside the “threat” posed by the coming of the electric cars and other sources of energy, Governor Okowa moved decisively to ensure there were alternative means of sustaining the state beyond oil.
His administration came up with a unique idea called the Job Creation Office, which was novel in Nigeria. The Job Creation Office, through an act of the Delta State House of Assembly, has since been transformed into the Bureau for Job Creation. The office, among other things, created a database of the jobless people in the state.
This knowledge challenged the governor to look at how best to engage the teeming number of the unemployed, which brought about the need to encourage them to go back to agriculture. It is a fact that while the oil and gas industry engages less than 50,000 persons in the country, agriculture remains the greatest employer of labour all over the world. And, considering the fact that the greatest challenge facing farmers in the state was how to make profit and remain in business as their produce often get spoilt before they get to the market, Governor Okowa initiated the Delta State Agro-Industrial Park.
It is on record that within six years of his becoming the governor of the oil and gas rich state, more than 100,000 persons have gone back to agriculture. Through the Job Creation Bureau, people of the state – men, women and youths – have been trained in fish farming, snail/goat rearing, poultry, piggery, cassava, plantain and palm cultivation, among several others. The people were not only trained, they were equipped, mentored and monitored to ensure that they become successful in their chosen areas. The beneficiaries have gone further to train several others and, in the African traditiin, some have “settled” those that have concluded their apprenticeship.
During the South-South Export Enlightenment and Engagement Forum held in Asaba, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa said, “We need strong, dynamic and effective Public Private Partnership models to not only accelerate infrastructural development but also actualise critical investments in the non-oil sectors that will aid diversification of the economies of the South-South states and stimulate export.
“This we are doing in Delta with the Ogwashi-Uku Agro-Industrial Park, a partnership between the Delta State Government on one hand, and Mirai Technologies and Norsworthy Limited on the other. I make bold to say that any prospective investor in Delta State will be sowing on good and fertile ground.
“Since 2015, we have put in place policies and structures to make the State very investor friendly. One of my first actions as Governor was to facilitate easy access to land by introducing an electronic-based system, known as Fast-track 90, for obtaining Certificates of Occupancy to landed property within a maximum period of ninety days.
“I followed this up with the promulgation of the “Delta State Public and Private Property Protection Bill, 2018,” which prohibits forceful entry and illegal occupation of public and private landed property, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to public and private landed property.
“The law came into force in June 2018, and prescribes various terms of imprisonment and fines for any person who forcefully and unlawfully trespasses or invades another person’s property. Through this law, we are tackling the “Deve” (omonile) syndrome that has been an impediment to land acquisition development and a disincentive to prospective investors.”
The governor had emphasized that the agro-industrial park is the “cornerstone of agricultural value chain transformation drive” of his administration. Chairmanof the Implementation Committee for the Park, Professor Eric Eboh, disclosed in an interview that the project went through rigorous feasibility, appraisal and analysis – both national and international process – with over three foreign banks competing to fund the project.
Prof Eboh said, “The Agro-Industrial Park is one of the major flagship of the Okowa administration. The project went through international validation by three banks as viable and self-sustaining and by the time the project kicks off, the agricultural value chain will never be the same again in Delta. It tis meant to be a game changer and a one-stop shop for agro-processing for domestic consumption and export in Delta.
“The project, which started in October has 18 months completion timeline and the Ogwashi-Uku Dam was one of the key criteria for the location of the Agro-Industrial Park.”
Also, the Project Consultant, Arch Kester Ifeadi, explained that the land comprises of 220 hectares with 100 hectares of rice farm as the anchor project and assured that there would be constant electricity and water supply in the park. “There was a feasibility study carried out and the present site was chosen as most suitable because of the water bodies in the area. The central portion is the engine-room for commercial plots of 1.5 hectares of land for agro-industrial investments.
“The Park Centre, which is the life-blood and the epicentre of the Agro-Industrial Park, will have the rice plant, warehouses, residential, hospitality, conferences, trainings, seminars, research and quality control laboratory.
“There is a lake of 1.4cubic meters of water to sustain the project all year round including the dam and potentials for generating electricity to jump start the project.
“To ensure the sustainability of the project, it will be private sector driven by the Delta State Argo-Industrial Park Limited with Delta having 40 percent, MRG 30 percent and Norsworthy Investments 30 percent,” he stated.
There is no doubt that agricultural produce from every part of the state would be processed in the park, which will encourage the farmers to work harder with full assurance that they would reap the benefits of their hard work.
Also, a lot of persons would be engaged to work in the Park which will also give a great boost to the job creation efforts of the Okowa administration.
Professor Eboh pointed out that the essence of the project was to provide a safe operating space for agro-allied industries and factories to process agricultural raw materials into edible or finished products.
He said, “Lack of processing facilities is one of the missing links in the agricultural value-chain so it is expected that this Agro Industrial Park will be a game-changer for Delta. It is one of its kind in the country and it has great prospects for the turn-around of the agricultural economy of the state.
“In terms of the potential impact, it is humongous – social, economic and developmental – to the agricultural value-chain of Delta. The benefits of the project have been validated by National and International Financing Organizations and we are confident that this project will stand the test of time even after Okowa’s exit as governor.”
The Coordinator of the Project, Ran Yogev Sequoia Group, said that the engineering, procurement and construction of the project were expected to be completed within months. The park has also been described as a multi-purpose agro-industrial park, which would accommodate agro-processing of different agricultural products ranging from root or tuber crops to grains, livestock and others.
Throwing more light on the park, the Chief Job Creation Officer stated that when it becomes fully operational, it would eliminate the persistent infrastructural and logistics constraints to ago-industries, remove the business environment bottlenecks to the inflow of ago-industrial investments, bridge the gap created by the absence of a first-rate hub for ago-industries and agribusiness required to tap the state’s huge agricultural production potentials.
Eboh, who was lured out of the four walls of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to serve the people of the state, added that the concept of the Park is to ensure a “safe operating space” that shields ago-industries and agribusiness from pervasive business environmental constraints and bottlenecks; an “infrastructure, logistics and services sanctuary” with diminished operational costs for ago-industries and improved business competitiveness in a conducive operating environment.
He emphasised that the purpose of the Park was to provides exclusive, constant and reliable power, water, security, research, sewage and waste management, supply marketing and logistics services including product warehousing, research laboratories forquality assurance, wet and dry storage as well as equipment maintenance, provide support facilities and amenities including spaces, conferences, residential and hospitality.
There is no way that Aboh Ogwashi-Uku could have been chosen for the project without a lot of consideration and Prof. Eboh first observed, it was its nearness to water, asserting that the Park is at the confluence of two all-season rivers – River Ubu and Iyi-Ada – both merging into a single flow to River Niger. It covers land area of 220 hectares, about 25km from the state capital, Asaba, with an international airport, it can be easily accessed through road transportation from all parts of Delta State and from South-East and South-South regions of Nigeria.
“The layout design consists of three integral parts: (i) logistics centre with infrastructure, facilities and amenities exclusive to the agro-industrial park (ii) commercial plots for co-locating agro-industries and (iii) farmland for irrigated cultivation, as such, it will reduce cost of operations for agro-processing factories and agribusinesses, improved operational efficiency and profitability of ago-industries, increased flow of agro-industrial investments into Delta State, catalyze the transformation of the agricultural value chain through market-driven agro-industrialisation, creation of direct and indirect jobs along the agricultural value chain and throughout the economy, and sustainable growth, wealth creation and diversification of the state’s economy,” Prof. Eboh said.
On how the project was being financed, the Chairman of the Implementation Committee for the Park, simply said, “Debt (85%) and Equity (15%), debt is fully guaranteed by Delta State Government.”
He explained that the park provides “exclusive factory plots, infrastructure, facilities and amenities to co-locating agro-industries at predetermined charges, project appraisal and independent validation show that the agro-industrial park is financially profitable, bankable and economically viable.”
One question that people would always ask concerning the Park is, “Who owns the Park?”
According to Prof. Eboh, the public-private partnership (PPP) model whereby ownership is vested in a special purpose vehicle incorporated as Delta State Agro-Industrial Park Limited.
The public-private partnership model promotes management efficiency, investor credibility and sustainability. Delta State Agro-Industrial Park Limited has three-part ownership/equity: Delta State Government (40%), MGA Agricultural Resources Ltd (30%) and Norsworthy Investments Ltd (30%).
He disclosed that agro-industries and product types that are eligible to operate at the Park include rice mills and rice flour manufacturers, cassava chips, flour, starch and garri producers; banana/plantain flour producers; palm oil and palm oil-based products; milk processing and milk-based products; abattoirs for beef, broilers, pork and related livestock products; dried and/or pickled fruits and vegetables; fresh and processed vegetables.
Governor Okowa administration is reputed for effective delivery of projects and construction at the Park has reached an advanced stage as it is expected to be be completed in May, 2022. Already, marketing of factory plots to prospective agro-industry investors has commenced.
There is no doubt that the Park will speed-up the industrialisation of the state as its functionality would lead to the establishment of more industries which will make the oil and gas rich state to become an industrial hub for agricultural prduce.
With what Okowa administration has been doing, with the nearness of the Onitsha market and Asaba International Airport to the Park, certainly, the dream of sustaining the state economy without full dependence on oil or “allocation” from the Federation Account is achieveable.
Governor Okowa deserves commendation for the bold step in venturing into this “one-stop shop” project for agricultural produce because, over the years, the people of the state have been yearning for a functional industry close to the state capital since the shutting down of the Asaba Textile Mill in late 1990s.
Those who are in the know are already excited that Governor Okowa is not just providing an enabling environment for the establishment of an industry but the establishment of industries and they believe that the Park will not only assist farmers in the state to have good returns on their investments but also, farmers in neighbouring states like Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers and Anambra will have a great relief believing that as the industries increase, the demands for raw materials, farm produce to service the industries will also increase.
God bless Delta State!
The writer, Fidelis Egugbo is the Special Assistant, Media, to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.