The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its contractor and Chief of Party, Dr. Adams Shafer, has given a thumbs up to Governor Ben Ayade's
agricultural revolution, noting that Cross River State is on the verge of becoming the epicenter in rice value chain in Africa.
Shaffer, who is the Managing Director of Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), disclosed this when he led a delegation Wednesday, to sign a memorandum of understanding on the Feed the Future Project between the state government and USAID at the executive council chamber of the Governor's Office, Calabar.
The USAID representative who said the US agency was focused on seven key areas of projects financing, investment, agro-business, aqua-culture, among others, hinted that Cross River has distinguished itself in the areas of international best practice, transparency and the willingness to align with the vision of USAID. He said the state topped the list of 36 states of the high powered delegation from the 36 states of the federation for the Feed the Future programme.
Speaking shortly before embarking on a guided tour, along with the Governor, to the Ayade Industrial Park, Shaffer told Ayade of USAID's partnership: "In the forthcoming public private sector partnership (ppsp) on rice value chain and opportunity we intend to bring in investors and financiers not just within Nigeria but around the world to invest in Cross River rice and other value chain.
"We will partner with you in bringing the best in terms of finance, intelligence, experience and broker relationship outside Nigeria for export potential."
According to Shaffer, "There are 16 countries that are part of the this program and Nigeria is one of them. Within Nigeria, there are 11 states that are the target of all our resources. Four in North East and with a focus on the remaining seven states, among which is Cross River, which is at the top of our list.
We also plan to connect with other Feed the Future programmes relevant to the state."
While inspecting the rice seedlings and seeds multiplication factory and other facilities at the industrial park, stunned Shaffer offered: "Well, I will tell you I have seen pictures of this before, pictures of the rice factory, but I thought it was outside of Africa, I never thought that this was in Nigeria, and then when I see it now, I believe it."
Expressing further amazement at the sophistication of seedlings factory, the USAID representative said: "I really have not seen such a consistency from the farm to the set up and I'm looking forward to seeing the Ogoja rice mill tomorrow (Thursday), but this seedling factory is state of the art and it is very impressive, very unique and I'm told it is one of a kind not only in Cross River, Nigeria but Africa."
Continuing, he said: "This is a demonstration of the potential that Nigeria has to feed itself and to feed the region. We need to see five of this, we need to see the the entire value chain at this level of technology of digitalization. Digitized agriculture is the future, hand spreading of seeds is something of the past and it is difficult for farmers to change. I think the growth rate of both the quality and yield across the country would be five times and that is what we hope to do with the digital governor with support from us, and USAID this is truly an impressive site and I'm very pleased standing here."
Responding, Sir Ayade said: "I and Adams have come together to serve humanity and to say yes, we need to feed the future and you cannot feed the future by waiting for a white man from America or waiting on your government, it is you and your contributions that can feed the future."
Emphasizing the import of Shaffer's visit, Ayade said: "And so, what Shaffer is here to tell you is that we are ready to support you through international best practices, assist you with grant."
The governor who assured of the state’s capacity to deliver on the goals of Cultivating New Frontiers for Agriculture (CNFA), an international body with the goal of designing and leading agricultural development and entrepreneurship initiatives to build a prosperous world without hunger, noted: "With the caliber of persons we have around us, we have a huge capacity and practical experience to deliver because the quality of the people truly reflects the successes factor of whatever project that has been brought."
On the Feed the Future Programme, the governor maintained that "it is a reality and it is coming at the right time. The population of Nigeria grows in approximately three percent per annum and the implication is that, Nigeria will in 30 years double her population which is very scary.
"Today we are 200 million people and in 30 years it will be 400 million without a corresponding plan on how to feed your future."
Lamenting the prospect of Nigeria's population exploding in the next years, Ayade decried: "As the poverty level increases, child birth increases. They have an inverse relationship, the higher the wealth the lesser the children, the higher the poverty, the more the children and so, you have a situation where Nigerian population is on the rise.
So, the statistics of 2.5 – 3 percent growth is perhaps even wrong. Sad enough, it is an American that has come to tell us about the need to feed the future."
According to the governor, "There is a new programme to prosper Africa that is being initiated by the American government with the funding of about USD60 billion set aside to bring prosperity to Africa and reduce poverty and once that succeeds, the agency will have it huge footprint, having initiated the right programme and sincerely implementing the rice value chain to success in Africa, using Cross River as an intermediator and USAID will stand as the only agency that has taken Africa to a sustainable future and will grow in lips and bounds translating into good news for us in Cross River and indeed Nigeria."
While urging Cross Riverians to tap into the opportunities offered by the Feed the Future programme, the governor listed such areas as rice farming, maize, soya beans and other food crops. "All these are the crops we needed in our agro-value chain. We have a slaughter house that does six thousand birds per day and we need the maize and soya beans to sustain the feedmill for our chickens and America is number one in cereals production in the world so, we need to work with them to see how we can increase the production of our maize and soya beans."
According to Ayade, "Very one of us must own a farm and for those of you who are in my cabinet, you know Cross River has just release USD7 million to a US firm to provide tractorization, mechanization, earth moving equipment and deforestation equipment for land clearing in preparation for the expansion of the rice production in Cross River State.
"So, if you can assist us with a consultant that can articulate all that we have done based on your own experience going from one factory to another, seeing clearly what we have done, it will give you an insight that truly, this is the most serious state you must focus on."
Assuring CNFA of, and availability of land, the governor said: "Cross River has 23,000 Square kilometer of arable land and if you encounter any challenge, technology can address that and I know America is good in irrigation.
"We believe that we are well positioned by our technology, share size of our land mass , character and decency of our people coupled with the exposure that we have, education and integrity and love for strangers, so, we provide a perfect environment for CNFA to prove indeed that you are the right contractor selected to drive this process. "So look nowhere any more because Cross River is the right place in Nigeria for you to demonstrate your competency."