Okorocha, Ortom and the queer agricultural revolution

In June, the governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom led the state’s executive council to announce the approval of Fridays, the last working day of each week as a work-fee day. The explanation by the state government was that the measure taken at the 16th session of the council would enable as many workers as possible to produce food to feed their families in view of the current economic downturn in the country.

The government announced that the work free day would commence from Friday, 10th June, and last till the end of July, 2016. The governor himself also volunteered to take a two-week vacation from Monday, June 13th to enable him work on his farm.

Barely a month after that unique decision was taken, Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, followed the same footsteps but in a largely modified manner. Okorocha, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, announced the declaration of Thursdays and Fridays as holidays to enable civil servants to return to the farm.

The Imo State government, which announcing its “Back To Land For Agriculture” policy said that the measure would enable the state “engage and invest heavily in agriculture for self-sustenance since

from all indications the state can no longer depend on monthly allocation for survival.”

According to the government, from August 1, 2016, civil servants in the state will only work from Mondays to Wednesdays, in line with the “Back To Land For Agriculture” policy. They are expected to utilise Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to work on their farms, in an apparent bid to shore up the state’s agricultural yields.

The governor, who further elaborated on the policy while playing host to some traditional rulers in the state said: “We shall try this programme for the period of one year, starting from 1st of August 2016 and hopefully this will help. Let me make this emphasis before it is misconstrued or misrepresented, that this does not in any way affect the salaries of the workers. Workers will get their full salaries as has been the practice. So the policy does not mean that there will be a cut in salary rather let us now find a way for our workers to supplement their salaries.”

The steps taken by Benue and Imo above are all part of the diversification talks that have taken the central stage of economic discourse since the coming of the incumbent administration. True, everyone recognises the important space agriculture occupies in the being much-talked about economic diversification agenda, but a state and the nation at large can only reap the benefit of economic diversification by going about it the right way.

As far as one can see, the steps taken by these governors largely play to the gallery, rather than seeking to achieve crucial goals. In what way would chasing everyone to the farm yield results in the quest to boost the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?  Obviously, the governors are still living in the past as far as these decisions are concerned. They are calling on their civil servants to return to the farmlands behind their houses and till the ground, whereas the key issues that would enhance agricultural growth are left untouched.

In 2012, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan announced a federal budget that contained palliatives and incentives for importation of agricultural machinery into the country. None of the state governments was able to take advantage of that to import the needed machines that would aid agricultural production and practice in the states and today the states are wallowing in debts once the season of financial bliss is over. Had any of the states taken advantage of Federal Government’s policies in the past to make real inroads in its areas of comparative advantage, many of them should be in position to pay living wages today.

Rather than jump into the bandwagon and tell the people what they want to hear. The time is now for the governors to do the right thing as far as the search for agricultural revolution is concerned. You want to wonder whether before they declare work free days, the governors have secured farm lands for the teeming civil servants being pushed out of work on the work-free days. You also want to wonder whether the governments have address the problem of food storage, which is a perennial problem faced by fruit farmers in Benue and other parts of the country.

If all the governors are asking the civil servants to embark on is just subsistence farming, how would that help the states pay salaries and enhance the economy?

It has to be said that without embarking on machine-powered agriculture, this country cannot get out of its challenges of food imports and food security. Indeed, the major issues afflicting our agriculture sector are easy to identify; unavailability of land, lack of reliable credit schemes; failure to mechanise and the failure of the powers that be to restructure the value chain.

Governments would do well by securing farmlands that would be distributed among willing and not forced farmers, help the farmers procure machines and then enhance the storage system.

Our governors must know that multitudes won’t feed the nation. If only three percent of Americans are involved in Agric, and can readily feed the world, why do we need all Nigerian civil servants on the farms? Rather than merely dramatising economic diversification, only careful planning and execution of the much needed agricultural revolution will bring the desired results.