Using the example of the collaboration between Enugu State government and some private investors which resulted in setting up of profitable pineapple farm, MBADIWE OKWOR examines the possibility of reviving agro economy in Nigeria
Economists recall that agriculture remained the mainstay of the country’s economy before the discovery of oil in Nigeria. They note that the discovery of oil affected agriculture so much that people played down agricultural activities to the detriment of the nation’s economy.
On the other hand, they observe that what is heartwarming is the new crave to return to the farms to once more move up the country’s revenue in the face of dwindling global oil fortunes. According to them, this development, perhaps, informs the new focus on commercial agriculture with the establishment of different funds to revive some of the moribund agricultural programmes.
Some of the crops on focus are cocoa, cotton, oil palm, groundnuts, pineapple and food crops such as rice cassava and corn, among others. They observe further that pineapple growing in commercial quantity was done by small-holder farmers who tried to meet local demands as it was not considered an export crop as at that time.
Pineapple farmers, however, note that the decision of Enugu State to collaborate with San Carlos Enterprises Ltd. to set up a pineapple farm has put Nigeria on the world map of pineapple growers. The company, a joint venture between the state government and a private investor, is a Nigerian registered company.
Enugu State owns 40 per cent while the private investor, a Mexican, owns 60 per cent. Mr Obiora Ugwo, the General Manager of the company, said it acquired 3,400 hectares of land from six communities in the state in 2012.
The communities are Agbudu, Ihe and Enyimba in Awgu Local Government Area; Ama Nkpunato and Achi in Oji River Local Government Area and Umabi in Udi Local Government Area. Ugwo said that the company had only cleared 300 hectares of the land and actually planted pineapples in 250 hectares with each hectare holding 50,000 suckers.
He said that the company deployed more than 200 workers to the farm in the second quarter of 2013, explaining that 95 per cent of the workers was from the contributing communities. He said that the farm started test-harvesting in October 2014 and started exporting to Europe in December.
The general manager said that the European market was very large, especially during the summer and that the company had been meeting the demand the customers. He, nonetheless, observed that in the recent time, the company had not been able to clear new grounds in the acquired land because the original land owners became agitated over non-settlement of their compensation claims.
Ugwo said the land owners became restive when they realised the end of the immediate-past administration.
“They were afraid that a new government might not continue with the negotiations for the compensation,” he said. A member of Ihe community in Awgu Local Government Area, who did not want his name in print, said the state government had refused to pay the compensation after a committee it set up concluded “enumeration of the valuables.
“We are not complaining about the land but they have to compensate us for our trees and crops they are destroying. They have done enumeration, we want our money because the new government will come and start all over again”, he said.
Ugwo admitted that the state government disagreed with the committee that enumerated the valuables and had not made payments to the land owners. Some members of the community noted that before the end of the immediate-past administration, the Agbudu and Enyimba communities protested the non-payment of the compensations by marching to the State House.
They claimed that the state government allegedly lured them to open accounts with a commercial bank for the payment but that nothing was paid thereafter. Ugwo explained that the company was facing the challenge of lack of infrastructure in the area.
“The company runs its facilities on generators because it has not been connected to the public power grid; this affects the company’s cooling system for export. Although its cooling plant is still under construction, it uses special containers designed to keep the fruits at some cooling level before export.
“The farm is accessed through three major roads via Ihe, Umabi and Isu Awa but the extension to the farm is still under construction; this limits the type of vehicle that can access it,” he said.
Ugwo also listed government bureaucracy as part of the problems confronting the company, alleging that import waivers granted to it for certain agricultural equipment did not usually come when needed.
“This forces the company to import its implements at commercial rates, in spite of this, the company plans to expand the farm beyond pineapple cultivation,” he said. Ugwo said it would introduce cattle breeding and build a ranch, observing that breeding buffalo would produce more milk and meat for Nigerians.
“It is planned that the cattle, expected to weigh 1,000 kilogrammes at maturity, would feed on the pineapple plants after two harvests and fertilise the land with dung preparatory for re-planting.
“The company has also acquired 250 hectares of land at Ibite Olo in Ezeagu Local Government Area for a banana plantation. It plans to export the bananas from the farm. Already, it has begun the production of tomatoes from Ogbeke Nike in Enugu East Local Government Area. The greenhouse tomato farm produces high quality fresh tomatoes with a longer shelf-life than the ones produced by local farmers in the state,’’ he said.
By and large, observers note that with more than 200 villagers employed as workers in the company and the rate of its expansion, San Carlos Enterprises Ltd. has opened a new vista in the development of Enugu State. (NAN)