The Miracle of 22 Non-native Crops Growing in Akwa Ibom State



By Uduak Umo
-          How AKEES Challenged the Impossible
-          The Mathematics of Making 33M with 17M on 10 Hectares
Our fathers grew melon on our soil; we called it ‘ikon’ and another specie called ‘ndise’ in Ibibio. They grew wild cucumber called ‘ukpok’- the shell became palm wine cups when dried and the entrails used as sponge, dried. But for decades since “Oil and Gas” we have believed that high value vegetables CANNOT grow on Akwa Ibom soil. And then came AKEES.

In his determination to achieve his agenda of Job Creation in Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Emmanuel established the Akwa Ibom Enterprise and Employment Scheme, AKEES, led by his SSA on Technical Matters and Due Process, Elder Ufot Ebong.
Courtesy of this initiative, up to 22 crops that, previously, had been tested by several individual farmers and considered impossible to grow on Akwa Ibom soil; these vegetables are yielding everything from fruits to roots, to leaves, to revenue, to jobs.
It was the Open Governance Tour Day 2 on Tuesday, media professionals and researchers joined the Honourable Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh on a first hand assessment of several farms implemented by AKEES in the State.
Before the tour could go through half the number, the media practitioners were physically exhausted.  There were many expressions of amazement from them, at the sight of the crops, the large swathes of greenery, the excited and passionate workers, the business models explained to them and simple technologies employed.
Would you believe that Onions can grow in commercial quantity in Akwa Ibom?  Today, Radish, carrot, lettuce, water melon, Tomato (3 species useful for making the paste), egg fruit, cabbage, cucumber, 4 types of pepper [red, green, Yellow, Cameroun pepper], Okra, garden egg and 8 other economic vegetables previously brought in at great cost from Northern Nigeria and foreign countries; are not only growing in Akwa Ibom, but will soon be exported to other states and countries.
The crops do not have to be scientifically improved, the fertilizer used is purely organic, bush burning is prohibited and yet the crops can grow all-year-round irrespective of seasons. Such is the effect of the model used by AKEES. 

Comparing Akwa Ibom Soils with Others
Mr. Langwa Brezhnev is an Agric development consultant, a Cameroonian and the Managing Director of Benny Fruits and Vegetables Nigeria Limited; working in partnership with AKEES and the farms being cultivated. He provides most of the expertise and trainings. This is what he had to say on the tour;
“Initially, the people here did not believe that these things can grow here. I came here to grow tomatoes, but AKEES pushed us to demonstrate the cultivation of 21 other crops. Surprisingly, most of them are doing well here, better than in Cameroun.
When you move around Akwa Ibom, surprisingly you see grass growing. And the people say these vegetables can’t grow here. But this was so mysterious that grass can grow here but vegetables can’t. So, our achievement, working with AKEES, has been demystifying this mystery.
There is no magic. It is just formulas. It is simple; Akwa Ibom has very good soil, even though most could be acidic. But what we do here is to understand the manner for managing the soils. There is what to add to what you have and you can get massive harvest.
The soils are good; the people are able. So, if they are pushed, like AKEES is doing, with some training, they will be able in one or two years to mass produce these things you are seeing today”

How Does AKEES Work This Miracle?
Firstly, AKEES has emphasized the place of technical knowledge. Individual farmers have tried to plant these crops even at subsistence level, but all have failed. And this was because of shortage of adequate relevant knowledge. Secondly, the AKEES business model eliminates the difficulties of accessing capital for costly essentials like seedlings, expertise, facilities, land and access to market.
Is AKEES doling out cash to Akwa Ibom people? No! At least, that is what our pool of eagerly expectant gimme-gimme brothers have to say. Instead of a cash dispenser, they have seen a scheme of ideas and enterprise in AKEES.
“Government is there to drive. The people do not get money directly from Government; because in AKEES, you don’t need money. Our young people who were unemployed formed themselves into a company called Farm Base. They just come to us for ideas. Here, we talk to a man to bring his seedlings and convince him to plant on our soil. He sees the backing of Government and agrees to their proposal.  Today, it is a business to them.” Elder Ebong explained.
This is the business model used: AKEES provides Government backing, driving partnerships between different stakeholders in each project. So, the seeds are provided by one party; the land by another party; the mechanical facilities by another; labour, mostly, from the host community; technical expertise by another. And they all share the proceeds.
The model involves the land owner, the input provider, the seedling owner and the farm workers. 10% of the net profit goes to the farm workers to eliminate any possible incident of slave labour.
Starting with just one demonstration farm, and having proven the possibility of growing these 22 crops on Akwa Ibom soil, all-year-round, land owners in the state have now offered  721 hectares of unfarmed land scattered all over the state to AKEES for cultivating these crops.

Allied Industries
This Agriculture programme coordinated by AKEES is a huge web of partnerships. The Hatchery at Mbiaya Uruan is supplying manure in bags to these farms. Jobs are created for an increasing number of Akwa Ibom people. Not only are they being employed, they are receiving training in the technical knowledge that previously was foreign; Market researchers are engaged. But also, life is being injected into allied industries.
An example:
Comrade Uyo James Michael from Nto Etim village in Obot Akara, is a youth leader. On a regular political visit, he stumbled on a basket of fleshly tomatoes, freshly harvested from a demonstration farm in Uyo. But the baskets had to be bought from Northerners.
A question was asked: “Will we buy tomatoes from the North, and also buy the baskets from there?”  Motivated by Elder Ebong, Michael returned home and mobilized young people in his community to start making baskets.
Using palm tree fronds, over 20 youths in his village make up to 25 baskets weekly. These baskets are supplied to marketers of the crops.

An appetizing Investment Math
So far, the programme has planted 1,716,000 stands of Onions. Assuming losses are recorded, and they harvest 1,700,000 stands of Onions, in 3 months from planting; since onions is sold at 6 big bulbs for N100; the total value for those 1.7 million stands will be 28,000,000 naira, calculated at worst case.
For tomatoes, each plant can yield 60 fruits, for up to 5 times before the plant dies and the soil is re-cultivated. Farmers stand to make 6 million Naira per hectare, every 70 days after the first harvest. If you plant 10 hectares, you stand to make N60,000,000 every quarter of the year.
Investors are guaranteed 60% of net profit, by the AKEES Agric. business model.
For farms that are up to 10 hectares in size, The cost of technical input, labour, tilling, watering for cultivating tomato is N17,000,000. The cost of purchasing seedling is also approximately N17,000,000. At worst case, the total revenue is N60,000,000.
If an investor brings this a start-up capital of N17,000,000 to be spent on a recurrent basis on input. By the AKEES module, the seedling supplier will be paid at harvest. As the investor takes out his capital along, N26,000,000 will be left as net profit. The investor takes 60% of this amount, and N10,000,000 is left to be shared by the land owner, workers and any remote stakeholders.

A waiting market
Already, Akwa Ibom State alone consumes 2800 tonnes of tomatoes monthly, according to a market survey by AKEES.  At between N540,000 and N300,000 per tonne, it implies that Akwa Ibom spends N1.5 Billion naira on just Tomatoes. For 1 year, at worst case, and taking seasonal changes into account, Akwa Ibomites spend an aggregate of N15.5 Billion minimum, yearly, on Tomatoes alone. This is a little fraction of what other states spend on the same crop.
Recently, during harvest at a particular farm, Elder Ebong was joined by the head of markets in Rivers State, Chief Maxwell Nwela, who, on reading about the scheme online, decided to visit Akwa Ibom to see things first-hand.
Port Harcourt is a major supplier of vegetables to Akwa Ibom and other South-South states. According to Chief Nwela, these vegetables have to be brought from Kano, Plateau and other Norhtern states and they are faced with multiple taxation.
He offered to buy 3000 baskets of 20kg each (making it 60 tonnes) weekly from Akwa Ibom, once the state can supply to such commercial quantity. The Chief named what he saw ‘AKEES tomatoes’, saying that it was better than what their traders struggle to bring down from Northern states. He suggested that he will name a whole section of their markets for sales of this ‘breed‘ only.

Preservation
“The Market as at now is so under-saturated that at every harvest, there are up to 5 or 6 off-takers breathing down our necks” The SSA said.
Added to the offer from Port Harcourt, there is far more demand than there is supply. This eliminates need for preservation for the moment. However, the writer is made aware of about 2 members of Farm Base group who have applied to participate in the Bank of Industry special training for Nigerian youths on the technology and techniques of Tomato preservation.
It is important to note that, in addition to the 721 hectares offered for the programme by the people, schools in Akwa Ibom have also begun to offer their farm lands for cultivation. Missionary schools, tertiary institutions, public secondary schools in the state have heard of the programme, believed in it and presented their farm lands in order to get extra revenue for themselves.
Elder Ufot said in conclusion;
“These things are a source of wealth and employment for our people. The ultimate aim is to be self-sufficient, so that we do not import these things again. And we are laying a foundation for exports; we have been observing global best practices of land use, crop cultivation, and responsible environment management, to ensure these products are acceptable in any market in the world”.
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Update:
There is opportunity for those who desire to invest in this project and make their returns. To cultivate Pepper on 1 hectare for example; you need 1.7 million naira ($5700). The total yield, in maximum 4 months when the plants begin to fruit, is at least 44000kg every 2.5 weeks till the plants die. At N500 ($1.5) per kg, that brings a gross of #22,000,000 ($73,333) EVERY TWO WEEKS.
After refunding your 1.7 million naira loan, profit comes down to #20,290,000 ($67,633). 10% of profit goes to labour, 30% goes to cultivator and seed provider, 30% goes to land owner, 30% goes back to you the investor.
That is #6,087,000 ($20,290) EVERY 2.5 WEEKS goes to you till the plants die in another Maximum 9 months.
For connection directly with the cultivators, please contact Uduak Umo at the Jabborro PR office on 08027675065.

Uduak Umo is a Chartered PR Strategist and Public Interest Researcher. Reach him via twitter @UdyUmo, email jabborro@gmail.com and Facebook.com/uduak.umo
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