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Taraba’s plan to end rice importation, hunger

Most people don’t think “food” when the subject is Taraba. They easily associate Taraba with tourism, abundant solid mineral like gold, limestone and others. Taraba…

Most people don’t think “food” when the subject is Taraba. They easily associate Taraba with tourism, abundant solid mineral like gold, limestone and others. Taraba is also becoming famous for its peaceful ambience and friendly atmosphere- a fact that is bringing in investors in their droves. Today, investors in the hospitality industry, entertainment, construction, real estate and others are increasingly looking towards Taraba for fresh frontiers to explore. And the opportunities are enormous.

But Taraba is also about food (and plenty of it too!). With the right climate and very fertile soil profile, the state is a wonder when it comes to food and livestock production. I don’t know if folks have forgotten that the best tea on the continent is found on the Mambilla. Now Mambilla means only tourism and electricity to many country men and women. They are right only in part because, yes, very soon, the Mambilla hydro-electric power project would be helping to solve the light (or darkness) challenge of our country. And as far as tourism is concerned, Mambilla is a much bigger thing than “obudu” (geographically, Obudu is actually the tail end of the amazing Mambilla). This fact was not lost on the minister of culture and tourism, Chief Edem Duke, when he was the top guest at last year’ s World Tourism Day at Gembu. At the event he noted that Mambilla is easily the next name is global tourism. With a weather that resembles that of Europe, a scenery that reminds one of the Swiss Alps and a very friendly population on this Plateau, the minister was dead right.

However, beyond tourism and power, the Mambilla is also home to long fields of one of the best tea species in the world. The highland tea is arguable Africa’s best. The Danbaba administration is doing everything it can to bring back the now near comatose Highland Tea company back to its feet. Again, still on its many wonders, on the Mambilla plains is the largest body of herd on the continent. The imagery of a million cows just basking in the sunshine and feeding fat on available lush fields is a very poignant one.

It is the same for fish and other aquatic resources. Taraba has the longest stretch of the Benue River. Little wonder therefore that the state holds the record for the biggest catch of fish in the nation’s history of fishing. The annual Nwonyo fishing festival is one of its kinds on the continent. Records don’t lie.

So, for many watchers, it didn’t come as a major surprise therefore when Taraba State was chosen as the site for the biggest rice plantation on the continent. As I pen this now, the groundwork for the take of this rice plantation has been completed. In a recent grand event at Abuja, Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai and the Kenya based America farmers signed a MoU that will jumpstart the project. In attendance at that event were stakeholders in the nation’ s agricultural profile like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the minister of agriculture and the Senate Chairman on agriculture, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha. Others were the United State’s ambassador to Nigeria among other dignitaries.

It is one of the boldest moves so far to end the nation’s reliance on rice from the outside. Earlier in the year, President Obasanjo, agriculture minister and the American investors from Kenya were in Jalingo to “see things for themselves”. Obasanjo, in his usual jovial manners, had commended Governor Suntai for the warm welcome accorded the visitors. “When the governor told me he could fly a plane, I was a bit scared to have him fly me”, Obasanjo jocularly noted.

The team eventually flew over the Gassol expanse that will become the rice farm. Taking over an entire stretch of almost endless land, the rich Gassol soil will, in the next months, see increased activities in Africa’s biggest rice farm. Already, many trainees have been flown to Kenya for the needed trainings.

The implications of the farm for Taraba and the rest of the nation are enormous. For Taraba, the jobs we would generate is already exciting many job seekers. There are also implications for scholarship, research, new ideas, markets and agro-tourism ventures. Of course, a new social order would also emerge from the interaction between the farmers and the host community.

And with the fanatical zeal with which Suntai is addressing road networks in the state, the farmers won’t have any difficulties accessing markets. The airport in Jalingo would also soon open up for business. This will provide the needed link between investors and the state. The airport will also assist the rice farm in more ways than one. But Taraba is not only the beneficiary.

On the national scale, the nation will cut its reliance on foreign rice by a good margin. This also has its many implications for the general economy and overall development of the nation. President Goodluck Jonathan is also very excited about the prospects. One of the anchors of his government’s transformation agenda is food sufficiency. It is heartbreaking that Nigeria with its vast land, vast arable land, has not been able to break the gridlocks of dependency on food stuff from abroad. But with this, the nation has a fighting chance to save up millions and reduce the capital flight that goes into importation- funds that could be channeled into other developmental efforts. It looks as if the good times are about to roll for all and sundry.

Bello is the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Taraba State

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