…As Delta’s N600m Rice Investment Lies In Ruins
By John Oghojafor
From the euphoria that greeted the inauguration of the State rice production programme in March this year by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State ought to have joined the league of successful rice producers’ states like Lagos, Kebbi, Kaduna, etc by last July. However, the reverse seems to be the case as the over N600 million allegedly spent by the government to cultivate 74 hectares of rice in Ogiliamai, Ndokwa West Local Government Area have reportedly gone down the drain with a yet-to-be convincing reason that the entire farm was destroyed and swallowed by flood.
However, a group known as Delta YAGpreneur Rice Clusters Group, have stoutly debunked the claim by the state government officials that the 74 hectares of rice cultivated by the state as form of youth empowerment, was destroyed by the flood which allegedly submerged the farm in July.
Officials of the group who did not want their names in print told The New Diplomat that the true situation about the farm was that the rice which was planted in mid-March this year was actually ripe for harvest in June, that is, more than 105 days which was the duration for it to be mature and ripe for harvest.
The source further told our correspondent that the problem started when the bird repellant supplied by the government officials who were in charge of managing the farms failed to protect the ripe rice from birds which ravaged the entire 74 hectares of farm and reduced them to shafts.
Said the source: “We are the beneficiaries of the government Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP) of the state government under rice production. We went through the training successfully for three months and after that, they established us at Ogiliamai in a 74 hectares of land with each of us entitled 2 hectares.
“We observed from the beginning that some of the products they supplied to us in the farm were not active but despite that we tried our best to ensure the programme was successful. The farm yielded well but when it was time for harvest, due to attitude of those in charge of the management and especially, the man in charge of the implementation of the programme, Prof. Eric Eboh, they could not fulfil the promise they made to us that they will protect the farm.
“The entire farm was ravaged by birds but to cover up, they claimed it was the flood that happened in July that destroyed the farms. But the truth is that before the flood came, the farms have been ravaged by birds. If the rice were protected from birds, they would have succeeded in completing the harvest of the whole farm before the visit of the flood.
“They deliberately neglected the farm and allowed birds to have a field day. This is because they believed the government would still provide money for another farm. They did not even care to know that we as beneficiaries would have built our future from the farm if it had succeeded.”
Speaking on the management’s poor attitude towards the protection of the farm against birds, the Secretary of the group said that if they had applied the original bird repellant which was made in China in the farm, it would have prevented birds from visiting it for between four and five months. But according to him, the chemical applied was mere powder and could not scare the birds away.
“The original bird repellant was imported from China. If it is applied around the farm, it will protect it from birds for about three to four months or more. But they supplied fake powder and it did not work”, the group said.
Speaking further, they averred that not even a cup of rice was harvested even though the yield would have been much, adding that at the end of the day the YAGPreneur as they are called, lost everything.
“The government is broadcasting everywhere that they have empowered the youths but there is nothing of such. They are claiming they have spent N600 million on the farm. Later they have explained that the farm was destroyed by flood which was not true. We are supposed to be beneficiaries of the programme. But as you can see the only benefit I got from it is this YAGEP vest I’m wearing now. Not even a cup of rice was harvested from the farm. We have been telling them to compensate us for the nearly one year we wasted in the farm but they have refused. We have written letters to the SSG and the governor but there is no response up till now”, they averred.
They further called on the government to compensate them and also for the governor to set up a panel to probe the manner in which Prof. Eric Eboh and other government officials and contractor handled the wasted multi-million naira rice farm.
Although, the call put through to Prof. Eboh was not answered, a source very close to his office however refuted the claim of the YAGpreneur that the farm was ravaged by bird and not flood, adding that the management even invited some experts in rice protection from Anambra State to assist but their effort was not successful.
The source told The New Diplomat that the young entrepreneurs who were assigned the farm were not serious, adding that they were not always in the farm.
It would be recalled that the Commissioner for Agriculture in the state visited the farm sometime in September and was also convinced that it was destroyed by flood. He was quoted as saying that the government would source for a higher land in the next planting season to repeat the rice production programme.
Although, Governor Okowa’s expectation of about 300 metric tonnes of rice for Deltans came to nought, the state government nevertheless spent well over N600 million for the programme. The group are asking for compensation for their wasted effort and the probe of how such money was spent without result at such a time like this when the state revenue keeps nose-diving.
NNN.COM.NG is a portal where you can read latest Nigeria News from all Nigeria Newspapers such as such as Punch, Vangaurd, Daily Times, Thisday, Guardian, Nation, Leadership and more in one place. NNN aggregates Naija News and sort them according to their sources, category and relevance as a way of reducing the effort a news reader needs to put in to reading breaking news in Nigeria and across the world.