By Bassey Inyang Correspondent, Calabar
Monday November 12, 2012 was no doubt a historic day for Cross River State as it stepped out boldly in an attempt to regain its leadership position in the agricultural sector of the nation’s economy with the inauguration of a 50,000 hectare modern oil palm plantations with the capacity to employ over 20,000 people.
This feat was achieved in collaboration with Wilmar International Limited, a firm from Singapore that has taken over the management and running of Calaro, Ibiae and Biase oil palm plantation jointly owned by Wilmar International Limited and PZ Cussons.
At the inauguration ceremony in Mbarakom, Akamkpa Local Government Area, the state governor, Liyel Imoke, said that the investment would not only transform the communities but also improve the production of oil palm and bring the state to its position as the greatest oil palm producer in the country.
Imoke disclosed that the state intends to create an agricultural cluster unmatched by any other state in Nigeria and said its partnership with the private sector is its first resolve in a unique way and is rooted in a concept to bring economic growth and commercial agriculture.
The governor stated that there has been a global demand for oil palm for both domestic and international consumption and Nigeria being a major player, is a net importer to meet local consumption, adding that Malaysia attributes its success in that regards to the commitment which its government has shown in planting and processing.
Imoke, therefore, reasoned that Federal Government should partner states in that direction while Wilmar has taken major steps to consolidate its position in Cross River with plans not only to plant but also establish an oil palm refinery.
The governor said that the state has established an outdoor scheme for local farmers to have access to financial assistance and agricultural inputs with the view of achieving long-term sustainability, and he called on the Federal Government to provide affordable funds and inputs for the success of the sector.
He said that government intends to reposition agriculture as a sector of choice to attract youth involvement by providing access to credit to encourage their entry into the industry.
Imoke stated that the state is committed to the partnership as the plantations when fully operational would be run, supervised and managed by Cross Riverians with only two expatriates, adding that it is not just a creation of wealth but transfer of skills as well as new opportunities for new businesses to grow.
In his remarks, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Akin Adesina said the venture which is under the economic agenda of Federal Government, is intended to change the fortune of agriculture and make it a worthwhile venture.
The Minister who was represented by the team leader, Oil Palm Value Chain, Dr. Dickson Okolo, said Federal Government has put in place many conducive facilities both as funds and inputs to ensure value chain is achieved while striving to ensure increase in the production of vegetable oil to satisfy local demands, export as well as create jobs.
Adesina stated that his office made available N36 million to cover 250 hectares to wipe out deficit, provided 4 million nuts to nursery estates for planting next year and that Cross River is getting 166,123,000 seedlings at N25 million to raise seedlings as well as support for the replacement of several wild grove plants in pilot areas.