A drive from Elimgbu Junction into Oroigwe in less than four minutes would lead to an innocuous gate by the left. Inside the innocent-looking compound is about 16 hectares of abandoned farm facilities with agric staff houses dotted under trees. There lies one of the many wasting agric centres belonging to the Rivers State government without action for over 30 years.
Few years ago, however, worried officials of the Ministry of Agriculture allowed some private investors on lease to put part of the Pabod Farm facility into use. The place has decayed feed-mill, vats, poultry pens, warehouses, and piggery.
The private investor has managed to cut down most of the overgrown bushes, brought in power supply, cleaned up some sections, and over 6000 birds are now being grown there per circle.
BusinessDay gathered that such a wasted facility could have made the state self-sufficient in fresh chicken products. The efforts made to put the place into activity seem to have opened up more challenges needing huge funds to actualise the full potential. That is when private investors in Rivers State realise they have no financial infrastructural backbone needed by businesses anywhere to compete.
Tony Iteuwa, founder and CEO of Maple Marine, which has been into cassava farming, came over when news went round that the Ministry was planning to lease out facilities in the place (poultry pens and piggery) to willing investors in the agro-sector.
They allocated some to his firm and cleaning began. It is sad that most consumables come from outside Rivers State, and most poultry products and the inputs come from Western Nigeria, especially Ibadan. Most persons thought that people from most parts of the country should have learnt from COVID-19 crisis and not allow others to feed them.
Rivers people were farmers and fishermen in the early years, but many feel sad that others now feed them. Even garri is from outside Rivers State, Iteuwa lamented.
The Pabod facility was simply ery deplorable state, in a state of decay for over 30 years of abandonment. They have been able to clean up what they got on lease: which is capable of managing 6000 birds at a time. They also handle feed production needed to feed their birds.
Maple Marine has one major challenge; funding. He said: “We need funds for expansion and to process birds into poultry products (table chicken) and to operate in the poultry value chain. This will enhance Rivers State’s value chain production in poultry. The main advantage is that Rivers State can know where what they eat comes from. That is what food security is all about.”
For instance, there is only one commercial processing plant in all of Rivers State, and it solves a mere minute size of the problem. The state has no commercial hatchery either. There are no information banks and data banks on the sub-section (poultry). Neither the Ministry of Agriculture no the Association of Poultry Farmers has this, it was gathered.
The CEO revealed: “Our firm, Maple Marine, has put up to 80 per cent of the poultry facilities we acquired here into use. Piggery section is totally idle. We are not into that but any interested investor can take up that aspect. It is still decaying and dormant.
“This place can be expanded tenfold. If here is improved, many good things will happen to Rivers State. At least, healthy and affordable products would be guaranteed. It is good to have chicks processed in Rivers State. For now, we go outside the state to process and bring back, thus increasing the cost.
“Some of us (poultry farmers) cannot go to the only one processing facility in the state because they set it up for their own birds and it is always busy. Another person has to wait, and it’s bad for the business to wait, you run fresh costs.”
It was gathered that the Oroigwe centre is a small place compared to the Rumuodamaya Feed mill that also belongs to the state government. The facility there, feed mill only, can feed the South-South, it was gathered, and the School-To-Land project is also there.
His message to Rivers State new administration: “The ony way out of unemployment situation is to lease out all agricultural centres and watch how they operate. Government can also provide funding, maybe through guarantees.
“Rivers has no bank. Most banking decisions are made outside the state; in fact, Lagos decides, but do those persons there know much about us or care for people here.
“Most banks do not care about agriculture of farming. The state government should solve this problem by thinking it out. Cost of funds and land are high here in Port Harcourt. The lands here are not for farming but for property. The lands acquired from Eastern Nigeria are there idle. They can be leased out and made to boost food production.”
Most business people say trucks from Ibadan to Rivers are very expensive and this raises cost of poultry and other agric businesses. “Let the state government do proper policy on agric, do hatchery for us, get us where to process, etc, and lease out. You can put money in Bank of Industry (BOI) as some states and individuals do and instruct the bank to lend to investors in your state.”
Most investors say infrastructure is good but it’s not everything. “Let the new administration support agric mechanisation. This is because subsistent farming will not do Rivers any good.”
The Blue Economy is here but do policy makers in the states understand it. He said: “A lot of things can be grown in this part of Nigeria. The state can invest and boost the liquefied natural gas sector. Aric is the easiest way to reduce unemployment in Rivers State. Other sectors cannot do much.”
On whether town hall system can be done for agric, Iteuwa said: “It is good to do town hall system of policy generation but that would be if the state government will listen to the recommendations. Let it not be a jamboree. Government can create collaboration from the town hall meetings and economic summits and obey the blueprint suggested, and get the private sector to do theirs.”
He said the state can discuss gas and find what to do with it. “We collect peanuts at Indorama but the state can build one with private partners.”
Rivers State is said to have relinquished its shares at Unity Bank but the state can choose a bank where an indigene is influential and reach understanding on what they should do to business people in Rivers State and what the state government would do for the bank. That way, investors and businesses in the state can have a financial backbone.