How River Basin Au­thor­i­ties can change face of agric in Nige­ria – Eseme Ey­ibo

Mr Eseme Ey­ibo is the chair­man of the Cross River Basin Au­thor­ity and the dean, Com­mit­tee of Chair­men, River Basin Au­thor­i­ties. In this in­ter­view, the for­mer spokesman of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives spoke on his plan for the Cross River Basin Au­thor­ity a

Sunday Trust - - AGRIC BUSINESS - By Mau­reen Onochie

What roles are River Basin Au­thor­i­ties play­ing in Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to boost agri­cul­ture?

River Basin Au­thor­i­ties have huge roles to play in boost­ing agri­cul­ture in Nige­ria. Be­fore now, agri­cul­ture was the main stay of the na­tion’s econ­omy. It was in an at­tempt to step up agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment in Nige­ria that the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment cre­ated the River Basin De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity. But due to poor lead­er­ship in the past, the po­ten­tials of the Basins were not max­imised. Now, things are chang­ing. The River Basins are a spe­cial pur­pose ve­hi­cle to de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive sur­face and un­der­ground wa­ter re­sources man­age­ment that will en­hance the util­i­sa­tion of our na­tion’s land re­sources and the cor­re­spond­ing de­vel­op­ment of an­cil­lary in­fras­truc­ture for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple.

The cur­rent gov­ern­ment has the po­lit­i­cal will to boost agri­cul­ture, and that is why Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari chose very qual­i­fied per­sons to chair the Boards of the Basin Au­thor­i­ties.

Also, the Min­is­ter of Wa­ter Re­sources, En­gi­neer Suleiman Adamu and the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary in the min­istry, Musa Ibrahim, are do­ing their best to en­sure that we suc­ceed and that the Basins per­form.

Take a look at the Na­tional Wa­ter Bill. It has been there at the Na­tional Assem­bly for a very long time, but the cur­rent min­is­ter de­cided to ac­ti­vate and give it ac­cel­er­ated pur­suit. Now, it has been passed at the House of Reps and the Sen­ate is also work­ing on it.

What is the im­port of the bill?

In the Cross River Basin De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, for in­stance, we have a dam in Obudu. The Cross Rivers State Gov­ern­ment pumps wa­ter from that dam into its wa­ter treat­ment plant and dis­trib­utes to the peo­ple and they pay for it. But with the Na­tional Wa­ter Bill, the dam will be par­tially com­mer­cialised and the Cross River State Gov­ern­ment will now be an off-taker. We will sell and make money. The bill will also take care of many other is­sues. There are so many dams in this coun­try which de­vel­oped but later shrunk due to lack of at­ten­tion. And that is be­cause wrong peo­ple were put in right places.

But now, there is a de­ter­mi­na­tion in River Basin Au­thor­i­ties to change things for the bet­ter. We have a per­for­mance bond. All the River Basin Au­thor­i­ties are un­der a per­for­mance bond, and that means it is no longer busi­ness as usual.

Im­me­di­ately we were in­au­gu­rated, the min­is­ter urged us to think out­side the box. He even put to­gether a re­treat to dis­cuss on prac­ti­cal things that would add value to the River Basins, and by ex­ten­sion, the lives of Nige­ri­ans. The chair­men of the boards re­solved to al­low the sys­tem to work. There is con­struc­tive syn­ergy go­ing on to en­able us give back to the peo­ple.

To­day, agri­cul­ture is no longer mech­a­nised. It is tech­nol­o­gy­driven. We have re­new­able en­ergy, smart cli­mate change, where you would have peren­nial wa­ter from the dam and the down­stream is ir­ri­ga­tion. So you could have hor­ti­cul­ture, aqua-cul­ture, green fields so that at the end of the day, we will be able to en­sure that we don’t only have food enough for the peo­ple, we will also go into the is­sue of pro­cess­ing. We have the largest land ti­tles. What are we us­ing all the River Basins for? We must re­view that sit­u­a­tion.

How is the Cross River Basin Au­thor­ity go­ing to har­ness re­sources to boost food pro­duc­tion?

First of all, we need to get the peo­ple to buy into the project be­cause you can­not do any­thing with­out the peo­ple. Once you bring the peo­ple in, you cre­ate a safety net, and in it you have to cre­ate a port­fo­lio for clus­ters of co­op­er­a­tives. Take aqua-cul­ture for ex­am­ple - the man who is farm­ing his fish sells it off at a cheap rate be­cause of lack of stor­age fa­cil­ity, to a man who owns a point-and-kill joint. The point-and-kill spot owner makes more money, about N4,500 per kilo. And when you look at what he has put in, his profit is heav­ily max­imised. But the fish farmer who feeds the fin­ger­lings, First of all, we need to get the peo­ple to buy into the project be­cause you can­not do any­thing with­out the peo­ple. Once you bring the peo­ple in, you cre­ate a safety net, and in it you have to cre­ate a port­fo­lio for clus­ters of co­op­er­a­tives changes wa­ter etc, makes min­i­mal profit. There is prob­lem with the value chain. So, value chain man­age­ment is part of our strate­gic ap­proach. We want to en­sure that the farmer does not pro­duce at a loss.

How do you in­tend to achieve that?

We want to get the farm­ers to see us as part­ners. We want them to en­joy the con­fi­dence of gov­ern­ment; that at all times they can have tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance. They can use our land as well.

How do you in­tend to go about the co­op­er­a­tives you talked about?

In the next two months, the Cross River Basin De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (CRBDA) will go into a pub­lic pol­icy di­a­logue. We are go­ing to have a road show on strate­gic de­vel­op­ment frame­work and re­sources. This road show will be done in the lo­cal­i­ties Cal­abar and Uyo. We will bring in tra­di­tional rulers, opin­ion lead­ers, farm­ers and ev­ery­body we un­der­stand to be stake­hold­ers.

As we speak now, we have al­ready formed what we call an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee. The ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of the CRBDA is made up of three for­mer man­ag­ing di­rec­tors, one per­son from the pri­vate sec­tor depart­ment of ECOWAS and a for­mer Na­tional Plan­ning Di­rec­tor. These peo­ple are ex­pected to give us tech­ni­cal ad­vice, opin­ion and par­tic­i­pate in the is­sue of build­ing peace in our catch­ment com­mu­ni­ties. The theme of the di­a­logue will be on ir­ri­ga­tion and agri­cul­tural mod­els.

What is the place of the av­er­age farmer in this?

Prior to the pub­lic pol­icy di­a­logue we are build­ing con­ver­sa­tions. We are meet­ing tra­di­tional rulers, go­ing to those com­mu­ni­ties we took land from to ex­plain that we are back, and to make our in­ten­tions known to them. We are build­ing ad­vo­cacy, which is done in multi-me­dia ap­proach. For ex­am­ple, we will talk to vil­lage heads and lo­cal farm­ers’ co­op­er­a­tives. About 80 per cent of ac­tual farm­ers are women and youths. Once we get them to­gether they will form the ful­crum of what we in­tend to do. They are the peo­ple who will give us agri­cul­tural ecol­ogy. They will tell us what to plant and what not to.

We want to cre­ate a model where the farm­ers can have ac­cess to us. Af­ter that, we will bring in ex­pert in var­i­ous fields to go into the prac­ti­cal con­ver­sa­tions. Then, we will talk of re­source mo­bil­i­sa­tion.

Cur­rently, ECOWAS has a lot of win­dows and we hope to ex­plore them. We need to re­turn to the core man­date of the Basin Au­thor­i­ties. For in­stance, why should peo­ple leave Akwa Ibom State for Jos to buy toma­toes? Whereas with the ad­vent of Green House you could farm toma­toes that would be enough for pro­cess­ing.

We will talk to the In­sti­tute of Oceanog­ra­phy, the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Trop­i­cal Agri­cul­ture (IITA) and other com­pa­nies to come and do ex­hi­bi­tion, show­case what they have and train the farm­ers. We ex­pect those who are in­volved in haulage, farm­ing etc to come in. We will be the con­nect­ing rod be­tween farm­ers and the re­quired tech­nol­ogy.

We want to de­velop the Cross River Basin De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity to a point where it be­comes a peer re­view cen­tre, where peo­ple can come and see what is hap­pen­ing. Big com­pa­nies that have to do with agri­cul­ture will come in. We want to make our place at­trac­tive for farm­ers and those in­volved in re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

One of the du­ties of River Basin Au­thor­i­ties is to pro­vide ir­ri­ga­tion fa­cil­i­ties, how well is the Cross River Basin Au­thor­ity do­ing in that area?

In the up­per part of Cross River, Ogoja, Obubra etc, the chal­lenge they have is wa­ter. So dam is very im­por­tant. We want to make sure the dams are work­ing at op­ti­mum ca­pac­ity. When you have a dam, the down­stream is sup­posed to be for ir­ri­ga­tion and the farmer is sup­posed to ben­e­fit, but most of these op­tions are not ex­plored. Peo­ple still want to go through the stereo­type. Peo­ple need to come in and teach our farm­ers how to min­imise waste etc. Farm­ers need to have con­fi­dence in their prod­ucts. A sit­u­a­tion where a cup of garri in Akwa Ibom is N100 is un­ac­cept­able be­cause agric ecol­ogy is sup­posed to pro­duce enough cas­sava. To­day, we can­not pro­duce enough cas­sava, yet we want to earn for­eign rev­enue.

Things have to change and fast too. We want to also in­tro­duce the Song­hai model so that our youths can be en­gaged. That way, they will be­gin to have con­fi­dence in the gov­ern­ment.

Re­cently, you were made the Dean of Com­mit­tee of Chair­men of River Basin Au­thor­i­ties. What does that mean to you?

To me, it is a fur­ther def­i­ni­tion of lead­er­ship. Lead­er­ship is not a gift but a re­spon­si­bil­ity, and you are un­der obli­ga­tion to ac­count for it. So, I thank my col­leagues for the hon­our and prom­ise not to fail them. We are work­ing to­gether as a team and the level of col­lab­o­ra­tion is mas­sive. On a daily ba­sis, we think of in­no­va­tions to bring on board so that we leave the River Basin Au­thor­i­ties bet­ter than we met them.

Mr Eseme Ey­ibo

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