23rd Apr, 2006: NIGERIA - Considering the role agriculture can play in a people’s economic life, the Ebonyi State Government has taken steps to make the state a food basket across the Niger.
The mantra in Nigeria is that almost all the states created in the country are not economically viable, except perhaps Lagos and Rivers states, all others rely mainly on federal allocations that are shared every month. In fact, most states will become non-functional without this allocation. The allegation is rife that many state governors lack the initiative to put up viable ventures that will boost the states’ internally generated revenue. They are in a lurch about what to do, as it has become obvious that governments in Nigeria do not run profitable businesses and there are very limited opportunities for many states to find a niche to make more money in addition to what comes to them from the federal allocation.
All these challenges ordinarily should have left the state governments in a quandary, but it became a source of motivation for Ebonyi State. In fact, in those days, and even now, the area was the food basket of the Eastern region. The area has fertile land and was producing a sizable amount of food that served the people of the South East, that even today people come from different areas of the zone, as far as Imo state to buy agric produce from different communities in the state.
How did Dr Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State exploit this opportunity? Knowing that Ebonyi is an agrarian state, where more than 70 per cent of the citizenry are engaged in agricultural activity, especially farming, he decided to build a fertiliser blending plant. As an agriculturist, he knew that many years of exploitation of the soil has left it bereft of nutrients and this has to be replenished if the farmers must have something to show for their exerted sinews at the end of the farming season.
Besides, there was always yearly clamour for fertiliser by the farmers all over Nigeria who needed the product to revitalise their farmlands. But fertilizer over the years has been in short supply in the country, a situation that usually leaves many farmers frustrated. To put an end to this desperate search for fertiliser by farmers in Ebonyi State and to boost internally generated revenue, Egwu established the 45 metric tones per hour fertilizer bulk-blending plant at OnuEbonyi, Abakaliki, at the cost of N248m.
However, the administration’s project that has already proved a commercial success in the agric sector is the establishment of a fully automated modern poultry complex capable of producing 9000 broilers weekly, 4.2 million eggs annually and 1.5 million fertilised eggs per annum. The project, which is touted to be one of the largest in the West Africa sub-region, has already become a source of eggs and chicken for food companies like Mr. Biggs and Bubbles a new eatery that now come from as far as Port Harcourt to buy poultry products from the farm located at Nkaliki, near Abakaliki, the state capital.
According to Chief Onyekachi Eni, the Chief Press Secretary to Egwu, the idea of an integrated and automated poultry complex was the brainchild and initiative of the governor. The idea came to him while he was in an agric show in Israel and “he saw that the poultry farm could be a major source of economic development for the people of Ebonyi and also discovered that even within a small parcel of land you can have massive production through technological advancement.”
Also the fertiliser blending plant has completed the procedure to extend its products to farmers beyond the state. This was what THISDAY learnt when it visited the plant at OnuEbonyi and spoke with the Sole Administrator, Mr. Augustine Ogbuagu.
Ogbuagu said that the demand for the product is high and to meet this demand the company has to secure a loan to buy more raw materials. According to him, the state government has given the company the freedom to take its own decisions and actions with the aim of meeting the objectives for which the fertiliser blending plant was established. The first objective is to ensure that farmers in Ebonyi never lacked fertiliser again, and this, the company is poised to meet.
The Sole Administrator also said that if the soil is not enriched by organic or inorganic fertiliser it would lose its nutrients and becomes very poor soil. “Since last year the need for fertiliser is being realised as this plant has started meeting the demand for the fertiliser input. The plant became operational in May, 2004.
“We make money, but we are conscious of ourselves. We do not want to sell of the fertiliser so that we can meet the demand during maximum period. When we sell off we procure materials and produce more. If we have the cash we get the raw materials and then we can produce at maximum capacity. We are now discussing the possibility of borrowing money from banks to purchase more raw materials so that we can see whether we can meet high level of the demand for the product,” Ogbuagu added.
He noted that by establishing the fertiliser blending plant, the state governor has provided for his people what they are in dire need of, as a large portion of the population are farmers. In addition, Ogbuagu said that the governor has provided the state the opportunity to make money and also to see that many citizens from the state are employed.
On employment, the Nkaliki Poultry Farm complex has given a boost to that. Not just those who are engaged to work in the farm, from agric experts to farm hands, but ordinary people who are now making their living from the farm. With more than 500 crates of eggs produced daily many Ebonyi people, especially villagers and host community have found themselves employment as they now buy and sell eggs.
The Project Manager, Mr. Vin Ogba, after touring the farm, told THISDAY that the farm has galvanised economic activities in the state capital and it’s surrounding. The egg and chicken market have expanded and stirred increased demand by both local consumers and many who come from outside the state.
Ogba said he was thrilled by the number of people that have secured employment directly and indirectly through the farm and the promise which it holds for the people of Ebonyi State.
“Right now, you can see people outside, waiting to buy eggs. You see them waiting to buy frozen chicken. Some of these people were jobless before the farm became operational. Now they have a ready job. I can tell you that those who started their business with 50 crates of eggs have grown up to buy 400 crates and those who started with, like 12 crates are now buying 100 crates. The farm has created job for the people… for the unemployed,” the Project Manager said.
The farm which is very large and has the potential of doubling its present production has its own feed mill, its slaughter house which is fully automated, nine pens for layers with about 25, 000 birds, 40, 000 broilers and 8, 500 parent stock with 2459 and 8, 572 male and female pullets. The hatchery has six sets and each set has 16, 800 birds. So it is really a large farm, but Mr. Ogba said that the farm still aims to increase the population of the birds. The Project Manager said that the slaughter house of the farm is probably the most sophisticated in the country.
“But now the intestine, the liver and gizzard are separated. People come for the liver, the intestines and the gizzard. The other day somebody came and ordered for 500 kg of the intestine because he has a fish pond,” Ogba disclosed.
The Project Manager said that the farm had a setback during the time there was the fear of bird flu in Nigeria. Although the farm was not affected, nor was there any sign of the virus in Ebonyi State, but due to the fear consumers shunned poultry products. This affected the farm drastically as it lost about N11 million in wasted eggs and over grown broilers, which had to be thrown away, as there was no market for them.
“We had to stop the layers from laying eggs as there was no market for them so we did what we call “molten” in agric parlance. We stopped feeding the birds and gave them water for a number of days and then we introduced calcium for their bones. They are still throwing away some of the bad eggs. The loss in terms of the eggs should be getting close to N8 million and broilers which were culled and destroyed were about N3 million. We are still destroying left over eggs,” Mr. Ogba explained to THISDAY rather sadly.
However, there are plans for the Nkaliki Poultry Farm to negotiate a horizontal business relationship with Ezillo Farms, which produces maize in commercial quantity and which is also owned by the state government. According to the arrangement, Ezillo Farm from next year will start supplying the poultry farm maize as raw material for the production of its feeds, while the fertiliser blending plant will be providing Ezillo all fertiliser input it needs. In this way the state government would cultivate an interdependent agric chain, which benefits each partner in the arrangement and ultimately benefits the people of Ebonyi State.
The Project Manager said Nkaliki plant has given to Ebonyi people protein input by providing every home affordable the nutrient at prices. Before now, he noted that due to the high price of chicken it was beyond the means of many Ebonyi households and consumption of eggs was seen as the lot of the privileged, but now at relatively cheap, wholesale prices all these poultry products are available to the ordinary farmer in the villages. And this is telling in the appearance of people who obviously are now living healthier lives because there is improvement in the food they eat.
Ogba said although the farm is self sustaining it has the potential of multiplying its present revenue when it has operated for a one or two more years. According to him, the consultant which was managing the farm had just ended its agreed tenure with the state government and handed over to his team, and at the time the bird flu scare was having its toll on poultry farms across the country.
However, he noted that what happened was a temporary setback, which has almost come to an end, as the demand for poultry products has started to rise. This situation, Mr. Ogba explained, would be corrected within some period of time.
He also added that at normal operation the farm has been providing the needs of customers who travel from different parts of the South East to buy poultry products. “The projects are self-sustaining and at present the state government is working towards privatising them, but it will be privatisation with human face, because the privatisation the government has in mind is not such that the companies will go to the highest bidder. He sees them as the collective heritage of Ebonyi people,” Eni explained.
He further explained that the privatisation will have to do with the institutional management of the enterprises, but this would not affect the welfare of the people employed in the companies and the stakeholders will include local governments, individuals and sections of other Ebonyi people.
Ogbuagu, told THISDAY that he supports privatisation because it will be the only way the plant’s productivity could be sustained, but counselled that government should still have a fare share of the stakes so that it will still have some measure of control.