David Alagoa is the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Bayelsa State. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he speaks about the starch factory that will soon be commissioned, among other issues that border on agriculture
Despite the limited land space compared to other parts of the ountry, Bayelsa is doing so much in agriculture. The starch factory, for instance, is a big one. Are you thinking of encouraging the farmers around to increase their capacity so as to meet the factory’s raw material needs?
The farm’s capacity, as you said, is clearly not enough and the factory can run at full capacity from the beginning. What we just need there is to outsource. I think at any capacity you have to outsource because even if you take all the hectares around there, it will not be enough.
Probably for now, we will source from outside the state but the whole idea is in every local government in this state, we can plant enough cassava. What we have around there potential is about five hundred hectares. I mean around the factory, so, you have the factory as 250 hectares attached to it, but that belongs to the factory and now you have all the outsource lands around there.
Take it up to even around to one thousand hectares. But you will probably need about three thousand hectares. It will now mean that may be people in Kolokuma and the neighbouring local governments can now plant.
A lot of farmers are given the sticks to plant and all that, but I think that before we get to that stage, may be some time, but for sure, in terms of the factory to run, we will buy cassava from outside the state. In the first instance, that will have to happen.
Is it true that it is starch for export that the state government is targeting?
It is not starch for export. It is industrial starch, even for fabric companies, paper and tablets. If it is enough, we export.
But weed seems to have taken over the starch factory. The machines too seems abandoned. Why?
It is locked up until it is commissioned. We have test ran it. It’s working. His excellency has been there with us. We ran the whole machine. And we are now waiting for the commissioning.
How much did it cost government to bring it up to this level sir?
I don’t know. It has been on before I came on board.
How about the planting of the cassava?
The planting of the cassava will be done by the communities around there. It is a two way thing. The factory itself has its own cassava farm and then the communities around will also farm.
That is the whole idea to take the people along. There is no way you will run a farm like that successfully if firstly you don’t have your own bank of cassava. And because you don’t have enough land, you will have to buy from people around. It is art of a value chain.
The factory is somewhere in the middle. The raw materials come from the farms of the communities, not the factory.
When completed how many manpower are we looking at?
I don’t know the exact number, but I think it should be something within the range of four hundred, because we will do it shifts. We will do three to eight hour shift.
The fish ponds at Yenegwe has been moribund and it is a deserted place now. What is government’s plan to reactivate that place?
The plan of government can’t be disclosed. It is a plan we are going to work with. I can’t reveal that now because I don’t want to be misconstrued as often could be the case with journalists.
The poultry farm at Ebedebiri that has been taken over by University of Africa, does it mean that government has hands
off? You have to ask the University of Africa what their arrangement is. I’m not from there.
I’m sure that government wants the price of food stuffs to go down and the starch factory you know gari is a stable diet in this area and with such a large factory to produce starch. If most of the farmers shift their cassava to the factory, don’t you think that less will remain for garri. At the right price, people might sell off everything?
If you were a garri farmer and you are producing for a starch factory, would you sell all your cassava. If you do, it means you will use the cash to buy the garri. You will still achieve the same thing, but I’m sure that logically, most farmers eat what they produce first and the balance they will give out.
This factory has been on for some years now. I don’t know what has kept it till you came on board? Don’t ask me about anything before I came in. You need to ask the relevant persons such questions.
What I know is that the factory is about to be commissioned and those tractors you saw are not abandoned as you put it. I know one or two are deflated. It is out of season so they are just parked until when they will be used.
When are we expecting the first produce from the factory?
Already there has been a first produce in the testing. May be you were not aware that we have test ran it. In the test run, we have the expatriates who build the factory came.
We had picture of various levels of starch that came out of it and then at the commission you will see a lot of starch. What will happen in the commissioning to satisfy people like you, we are going to run some days before because these machines are not something that you just turn on and then you get the cassava.
It takes a whole while of spaghetti that it goes to before it comes out. So for us to be able show the capacity at the commissioning, we will start the machine may be three or four days before.
It is obvious that youths of nowadays are not interested in agriculture, so how are you going to get your manpower to run that factory?
Once there is enough materials, you will get people to do the job. Technically speaking, they are not going there as farmers. They are going there to be factory workers. So it is a very different thing. It is just another part of the value chain.
Are the staff going to be chosen from the ministry of agric alone?
The staff are going to be chosen from Bayelsa. It is going to be an open thing.
You were not there before the aquaculture and the poultry stuff. But as the commissioner for agriculture, what do you think can be done to facilitate that aqua culture?
When you are looking at things from the outside a lot of people might think critically about these things, but I can assure you that all steps are being taken to make sure that things work, but now that we are coming out of the COVID situation, we are coming out of world depression in terms of economy.
So all these things came to play their part but that does not mean that government is not trying its bits. I mean we are always trying to connect somebody somewhere so that we can get these things going. It is not easy to do business, especially business that is going to be international standard. I’m sure you heard yesterday that we signed MoU with some Greek consortium to bring industrial fishing.
That also took the best part of two years to mature. Just yesterday, we signed an agreement with African Atlantic Gulf of Guinea Fisheries Limited and we are going to be bringing here huge investment in terms of the fish value chain. They are going to be employing 2500 youths.
They are going to bring one factory making vessel. They are going to be bringing fish processing factory and that is going to be employing a lot of women and men.
What I’m just saying is the projects are also gender friendly and that is just in the direct employment and in the indirect employment. Direct employment 2,000, indirect employment will be up to 6,000 people in the first year.
As much as you are saying, Yenogwa, I’m surprised you didn’t mention Bayelsa palm. All these issues may take time to build. If you look behind you, for example, those are products that are made in Bayelsa. Everything you see there is made in Bayelsa. The plan- t a i n flour, the palm oil we are now trying to encourage farmers to come forward.
On Monday, they are coming with all their p roduce. Let us see what Bayelsa farmers are doing. Let us see and then we can start coming into some sort of relationship with the farmers. All these are the type of things that we are trying to g e t people to do.
One of the people waiting now is an alligator farmer. So that is another potential. He came to me and said that he has an alligator farm. May be that will be the beginning of alligator skin business. First to get food security because I tell you, eighty per cent of food that we eat comes from subsistent farmers.
It is those village farmers that feed us. So we have to empower them. That is one angle that we are looking at. The other angle is to mechanie the farms. When you get the cassava what do you do with it. Take it to the next level. That is why you are seeing all these factories.
Do you have partnership with these investors that will run over a period of time?
That is why, for instance, the fish unit we are not running it. We are partnering with them. We are providing the land and the enabling environment.
They are bringing their money and bringing in their technical expertise. There are even companies in Europe that are coming together with one Nigerian company to run this fish company. These are companies already in Europe doing fish, prawn, packaging and storage. They are all coming into Bayelsa. That is the model that we are using now. We are getting experts to come and run the show and we become their partners.
When you talk about the subsistence farmers being empowered, do you mean the N3 billion loan. Can you say anything about that loan?
The N3 billion loan is a totally different thing. We are talking about empowering the subsistence farmers in the sense that they produce most of the food.
There is a package coming out soon. I can’t tell you the details because until his excellency approves, but these are things that we have in the package to boost the subsistence farmers because if now they are doing what they are doing without this empowerment, you can imagine what they can do if they are empowered. We are looking at getting constituency offices.
We are going to have 24 offices so everybody is nearest to their constituency rather than their local government. If we use the constituency approach to farming, we will reach more people.
Can you say anything about the controversy around the N3 billion?
There is always controversy about everything. Even Jesus Christ who was perfect was controversial. It will always come up and if you look at controversy, you are not going anywhere. In everything you are doing, remain focused.
The government said that probably by December this year, Bayelsans might eat rice produced in Bayelsa. How far sir? You will. Already if you want, I can go and show you some rice that we have already harvested. Is
it in commercial quantity? Is it cheap?
What is commercial quantity? Is rice cheap anywhere now? A bag of rice costs N32,000.
On how to get it cheap, you have to ask the Federal Government. This a macro issue because we all know that a bag of rice once cost N7500. Whatever it is, you will get rice is December.