07 Dec A COMMUNIQUÉ ISSUED AT THE END OF THE 3RD EDITION OF THE URHOBO ECONOMIC AND INVESTMENT SUMMIT HELD ON THE 22ND OF NOVEMBER, 2020 VIA ZOOM
The stark reality of dwindling crude oil revenues in Nigeria underscores the need to urgently diversify the economy and make it more sustainable than its present state. This has necessitated a significant shift in focus among government and private interests on the most efficient ways to explore the many untapped gains inherent in the agricultural sector. It was in apparent recognition of this dire need that the Urhobo Economic and Investment Group organised the third edition of its annual summit with the theme, “Harnessing agricultural potentials for growth and development in Urhobo Land”.
The summit, which held via zoom, attracted many Urhobo sons and daughters at home and in the diasporas who had fruitful deliberations on how the huge agricultural potentials and its allied investment opportunities in Urhoboland can be strapped up for the socio-economic benefits of the Urhobo nation.
Some of the participants included the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, His Excellency, Barr. Ovie Omo-Agege; members of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ben Igbakpa and Hon. Francis Waive; Chief of Staff to the Governor of Delta State, Olorogun David Edevbie, members of the academia, traditional rulers, technocrats, captains of industry, development and finance experts, agricultural researchers, farmers, and students, among many others.
The summit began with a brief remark by its convener, Mr Kingsley Ubiebi who noted that the principal objective of the Urhobo Economic and Investment Group is to serve as an interventionist body and a think-tank that complements the efforts of other groups to achieve an economically prosperous Urhobo Nation where peace and security flourishes, stating that the theme of the summit was carefully chosen to address the harsh effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the dwindling oil prices that have negatively impacted on the Urhoboland, Delta State and Nigeria at large.
In a keynote address, a professor of Animal Science and Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Delta State University, Anwai, Lawrence Bratte, noted that Urhoboland supports a wide range of crop and livestock farming activities given its vast expanse of arable land that is blessed with a humid climate, average temperature of 27oC and annual rainfall of 2200-2500 millimeters. Prof. Bratte said farming has remained the major occupation of the Urhobos since the cradle of civilisation, noting that the Urhobo ethnic nationality has the capacity to compete favourably with others in the production of crops, such as cassava, yam and oil palm, as well as rearing of animals such as cattle and pig.
However, the varsity don asserted that agricultural activities across Urhoboland have failed to leverage modern technologies to expand from the current subsistence level to a commercial scale; hence, farming activities in the region are still largely rain fed, deploy crude implements and methods, engage no soil improvement practices, lack huge capital bases and rely on a disorganised markets.
He, therefore, concluded that unless these multiples challenges are effectively tackled, the dream of shoring up the economy of the people may remain a mirage.
Following the keynote address, the first panelist, Olorogun Nero Ughwujabo, who is an Urban Expert with Future Cities and former Special Adviser to former UK Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, explained that modern technologies have radically changed the methods of agricultural activities around the world, noting that the Urhobo nation has come of age to fully embrace innovations in the agrarian sector. In his paper entitled, “Deploying new technologies in Agroprocessing in Urhoboland”, Olorogun Ughwujabo explained that the fourth industrial revolution, tagged “Agriculture 4.0”, provides ample opportunities for the Urhobo nation to create sustainable jobs and generate income, contribute immensely to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and manufacturing industry, engender socio-economic development, and get fully integrated into the larger global markets.
The second panelist, Mr Ede Augustine Oghoro, a Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Secretary to the Government, Delta State, observed that infrastructure is essential to the launching of agricultural revolution in Urhoboland, but noted that the trend of successful agribusiness has been on the decline in the past years. He said governments have provided some significant institutional infrastructures, such as the Anchor Borrower’s Programme, the Accelerated Agricultural Programme and the Delta State Government’s five-star cassava programmes; thus, there is the need for Urhobo farmers to take full advantages of the expanded credit facilities and other institutional arrangements, transport links, irrigations and renewable energy systems to promote agribusiness in Urhoboland.
In his presentation, a Director at the Niger Delta Development Commission, Engr. Dr. Emmanuel Audu-Ohwavborua, who spoke on “empowering Urhobo communities through agriculture”, traced the genesis of decline in agribusiness in Urhoboland to the oil boom era, stressing the urgent need for the Urhobo nation to draw a parallax from other climes that have made significant progress and development in the spheres of agriculture.
Furthermore, the fourth panelist, Mr Obaro Marvel Osah, the South-east Regional Manager (SME Group), Bank of Industry, who elucidated on “Financing agriculture in post COVID-19 era in Urhoboland”, posited that lack of funding is not the major challenge to agriculture in Urhoboland given that there several agricultural credit facilities provided by the federal government; however, poor knowledge of how such funds can be accessed remains a spanner in the wheel of Urhobo farmers. He said the Urhobos must seek out the necessary information to navigate the seemingly unfriendly agrarian terrain, and refrain from the culture of ignoring the genuineness of government agricultural support programmes and policies at their peril.
In a talk on Urhobo Agripreneurs in a digital economy, the fifth panelist and moderator of the summit, Ms Helen Ese Emore, who is a Business Development Expert and Agribusiness Specialist, stressed the need for the Urhobos to leverage wider trading exchange windows that will place them among the major participants in the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.
In his goodwill message, Senator Omo-Agege said Urhoboland has the natural resources needed to sustain a strong agrarian economy, and there are many untapped potentials in the agricultural sector that could be harnessed to create job opportunities, support rural development, and secure sustainable food production for the Urhobo ethnic nationality. He advocated the need for farmers to fully engage in “complementarities between cropping and livestock farming in mutually reinforcing and sustainable ways”, noting that recent concerns over alternative initiatives to open grazing have expanded opportunities for livestock and animal husbandry.
On his part, Hon. Igbakpa, who represents Ethiope East/Ethiope West constituency in the House of Representatives, stressed the need for Urhobos to be adequately prepared to tap into future opportunities that may emanate from the proposed African Continental Trade Zone, while Hon. Waive, who represents Ughelli federal Constituency, said there was need for reorientation of Urhobo farmers to make them more receptive to government programmes aimed at promoting agricultural activities.
Also, Olorogun Edevbie said the theme of the summit was apt and a wakeup call to fully harness the potentials of agriculture for a brighter socio-economic growth of the Urhobo nation.
Highlight and conclusion
At the end of the deliberations, participants at the summit recommend as follows:
1. There is need for all Urhobo communities to practice modern agriculture which has the capacity to feed the entire Urhobo nation, create jobs and enormous wealth as well as improve the overall standard of living in Urhoboland.
2. The Urhobo nation is abundantly blessed with a vast arable land that supports large scale crop and livestock farming; hence, there must be spirited efforts to migrate Urhobo farmers from the limit of subsistence farming to the extent of large scale commercial agriculture.
3. Urhobo elites should shun the tendency of staying put to their assumed comfort zone, and diversify their economic efforts towards agriculture which holds enormous and socio-economic prosperity.
4. Urhobo farmers have immense competitive advantages in the production of certain crops, like cassava, yam and oil palm as well as livestock farming, such as piggery, poultry and cattle. Therefore, farmers should be encouraged to immediately commence large scale crop and livestock farming to take back the markets that have been seemingly lost to farmers in the Northern part of Nigeria.
5. There should be campaign for the establishment of agriculturally oriented cottage industry in every Urhobo community to deepen the culture and value of farming, and create jobs for the teeming young population.
6. There is need to establish farm clusters and agrarian settlements with full processing mills and market linkages to encourage agribusiness in Urhoboland and facilitate profit making among Urhobo farmers.
7. Technology has radically changed agricultural methods around the world; therefore, Urhobo farmers should build the requisite agritech know-how, collaborate among themselves in the establishment of group and communal farms, and create market linkages with other Urhobos at home and in the diasporas.
8. Given the crucial place of infrastructure in actuating agricultural revolution, there is need for the Urhobo nation to optimize agricultural productivity in the region by bridging the gap between research institutions, government and farmers.
9. Proper information occupies a prime place in the sustainability of agricultural revolution; therefore, stakeholders should create a platform for the collection and timely distribution of relevant information to farmers to shore up their capacity to leverage ongoing opportunities and optimize their agribusinesses.
10. Urhobo farmers should refrain from continuously doubting the genuineness of government agricultural support schemes and intensify efforts to benefit from existing and new government interventions, such as the Anchor borrowers Programme and the Youth Farm Lab, among others.
11. As the African intercontinental Free trade Agreement sets to fully take effect, Urhobo farmers should immediately organise themselves into groups, leverage their areas of strength in crops and livestock production, and take full advantages of the numerous opportunities inherent in the emerging market.
The programme came to an end with the formal launch of the Urhobo Dictionary Application by Dr (Mrs) Cecilia Ibru, the President of Michael and Cecilia Ibru University, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, Nigeria.