By Emmanuel Uffot
Solidaridad, an international civil society organisation that has been working assiduously to train and inculcate sustainable best management practices ( SMPs) to oil palm farmers in particular and others through it’s Programme in four choiced states of Akwa Ibom, Kogi, Cross River and Enugu recently held a one day sensitisation workshop in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital to highlight the scorecard of it’s five- year programe on National Initiatives for Sustainable and Climate- Smart Oil Palm Smallholders ( NISCOPS).
At the workshop in Uyo held at the Conference Hall of Ministry of Agriculture , the agency resource person Priscillia highlighted the areas the organisation had in the course of NISCOPS Programme in the has impacted positively on oil palm farmers and other stakeholders in agricultural industry.
One of the areas she noted was capacity building of Akwa Ibom State stakeholders on the need to refrain from deforestation which is a catalyst for climate change.
Similarly, Solidaridad revealed that it has trained palm nursery developers in the state in the past four years which has served as a veritable platform to promote Oil Palm plantation in the state.
Other positive impact of the NISCOPS Programme in the state according to Priscillia were, embarking on technology upgrading of antinasal mills, empowerment of some local government areas in the state notably the six pilot ones captured in the phase one being, Uyo, Etim Ekpo, Ibesikpo Asutan, Okobo, Nsit Atai and Ikot Ekpene to start Oil palm nurseries. Solidaridad also mentioned another of it’s scorecard as raising awareness on forest protection and biodiversity conception, initiating a resolute campaign for women and youths to be given more access to land for oil palm plantation and production and related Inputs.
The Solidaridad resource person further told the participants that in the course of it’s programe in the state in the past five years, the agency had distributed substantial upgraded oil palm nurseries to local government areas to boost the planting of upgraded oil palm farming.
Beyond the positive impact of it’s activities in the state has implanted, Solidaridad also reel out their findings regarding practices that are Inimical to the growth of oil palm business.
Their findings which had form one of the focal point of it’s earlier workshops last year showed that whereas women play 80 percent input in the value chain of oil palm business, yet they do not own the land. This reason according to findings is primarily due to the prevailing agelong customary policies against women and girl child on land ownership.
Also, they discovered that majority of women are mere farm hands, not owners of the farm. They also constitute the greater number of those that work in the oil mills and only depend on palm kennels as their wages for processing the palm oil.
Again, Solidaridad said it also noted findings in the area of unsustainable land use plan and farming practices in the state. These include, forest clearance through cutting and falling of trees for the purpose of cultivation for oil palm farming. This the organisation explained is an unsustainable practice that could lead to emission of green house gases which contributes to climate change.
Another unsustainable practice Solidaridad said it discovered in the course of their activities is burning of bush cleared for farming. This which is noted as an inherent agelong practice among farmers in the state, has the disadvantage of degrading the land of nutrients that aid in making the land fertile.
Other findings according to Solidaridad was wrong application of fertilizers on bare soil which depletes the nutrients of the soil like burning leads to emission of green house gases contributing to global warming and climate change.
Priscillia, the Solidaridad resource person also disclosed that they discovered that, it was a common practice in Akwa Ibom State taking the six local governments as case studies for farmers to spread fertilizer either on the tilled soil before planting or directly around the sprouted oil palm nursery. Contrary to this, she explained that the best practice is to spread it few feet around the plant and not very close to it.
Another significant findings of Solidaridad was that the average age grade of 73 percent of oil palm farmers is 53 years and most of them belong to farmers association. Also, 82 percent of farms are gotten through inheritance, 90 percent of farmers depend on the use of hand tools, 91 percent depend on rainfall as their irrigation tool and oil millers depend on firewood as fuel till date without recourse to other modern source of energy.
Again, Solidaridad noted government influence as an aspect Inimical to the growth of modern farm practice and their empowerment go farmers.
It said government and political office holders inhibits the growth of the business. This their findings revealed play out in the role of local government chairmen and top government functionaries who often hijacked the nurseries distributed for farmers and MSPs in their local governments and divert them to their cronies and relations.
The agency said they also found out that there exist a viable rice mill in Ikono and Ini whose product which are of good quality can sustain Akwa Ibom and environs, yet they are not adequately marketed because of lack of will by the government.
In the same vein, cassava is notably planted in large quantities across the state, yet traders of this commodity rely on those brought from Ogoja in Cross River State and Benin in Edo State for sale in Akwa Ibom State.
Similarly, Solidaridad said it noted that whereas Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun, Oruk Anam and environs are seen as haven for oil palm, yet there are dearth of oil mills in the areas to process the produce so as to make it sufficient for the people and export.
Significantly, the workshop primarily targeted at the MSPs ( Multi Stakeholders Platform) being stakeholders in the oil palm sector which had top functionaries in the state Ministry of Agriculture led by the Permanent Secretary Mrs Mary Ukoette also suggested solutions to some of the teething problems inhibiting the growth of oil palm business in the state. One of the major issues that the workshop looked at was the lack of access of women and youths to land ownership due to inherent customs and how to curb political influence.
On the hindered access of women to land ownership, the participants suggested that there should be a sensitisation in the villages through the village heads, clan heads, family heads and male children on the need to equally bequeath inherited land to women and girl children.
On government and political influence which was identified as a major challenge to the smooth distribution of nurseries to intended stakeholders, it was suggested that the MSPs constitute a monitoring team among them and also create more farmer’s associations to checkmate political influence inhibiting the good initiatives of Solidaridad.
It was also suggested that Solidaridad should on their own make a strong case to the local government authorities on the imperative of ensuring that the fertilizers, oil palm nurseries and other farming support inputs distributed to the farmers, gets to them.
On her part, Priscillia, the Solidaridad resource person enjoined the participants to serve as ambassadors to their community and preach the gospel of Best Management Practice on oil palm farming. She revealed that the phase one of NISCOPS which began in 2019 with Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Kogi and Cross River States in focus will end this year 2023 and second phase scheduled to commence in 2024.
It could be recalled that prior to the workshop which we gathered took place simultaneously in the four states on the same agenda, the organisation ( Solidaridad) had earlier gone into a partnership with the School of Agriculture of the Akwa Ibom State University to promote sustainable best management practices among the students.
Under the agreement, Solidaridad embarked on the training of the students on the rudiments of best management practice for oil palm farmers in this modern era.
The Memorandum of Understanding ( MOU) entered with the school by Solidaridad also include the setting up of an oil palm nursery in the school whereby farmers would come and procure good oil palm seedlings.
The MOU which is another major scorecard of the agency activities in the state under their NISCOPS Programme has been highly commended by the Dean Faculty of Agriculture, Professor Edna Akpan who said the entire University and the School of Agriculture was delighted and proud to be chosen as the first in the country by Solidaridad to train their student’s in that capacity.
The recent MSPs workshop, came on the heel of that event in the school.