Ayade's cotton revolution set to put Cross/River in league of global producers

Director General, Cross River State Due Process and Price Intelligence Unit, Barr. Alphonsus Ogar Eba, (1st right), Cross River Cotton Project Facilitator, High chief Gabriel Umoden (1st left) with members of Chinese Textile Group and cotton farmers while inspecting the cotton farm in Woda Community in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State.

By Dare Olatokunbo

For the people of Woda, a sleepy community in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State, they could not have it any better than a bounteous gift of a cotton farm. Tucked away in the armpit of the northern part of the state with no access road and no electricity but with abjection as a defining narrative of their everyday existence, the euphoria that now greets the citing of a two thousand hectares of cotton farm in their domain could not be any more strident.

Though, endowed with a vast and fertile arable land, the community members could not stop wondering why past
administrations never saw the need to utilize such act of kindness from God and nature to transform and make meaning out of their hitherto miserable lives.

Completely excised from modernity, a drive through the community on this day to inspect what will arguably be the largest cotton farm on the continent painted a graphic picture of a community not far removed from the state of nature.

Grinding poverty, thatched houses and lack of government presence stood out in bold relief. In fact, for the people of Woda community, essence holds no meaning than existence.

But on this day, there appeared a shimmering light on the horizon with the decision of the Governor Ben Ayade-led administration to cite a ten thousand-hectare cotton farm in Woda.

Indeed, as part of the backward integration policy of the governor, having established the biggest automated garment factory in Africa, his decision to complement this bold and howling initiative with the setting up of a cotton farm is no doubt a determination woven through to its precision.

Already, cultivation on the already acquired two out of ten thousand hectares of land has begun, with an expected roll out of 30 tons of cotton by November this year, with a spinoff effect on capacity building, employment generation and ultimately, urbanization of the community.

When in full swing, a whopping 10,000 direct jobs for the teeming army of unemployed youths is guaranteed, ensuring unwittingly, that Woda is firmly on the world map.

With this project, a motorable pathway has been hewed from a track that once served as the only outlet into the semi city centre from their farms to ease the movement of people and farm produce to nearby markets.

The citing of this project in Woda, besides the urgent need to industrialize the state and ramp up its economy, is a clear demonstration of Governor Ayade's commitment to creating jobs and ensuring that "no child goes to bed hungry during my tenure as governor of Cross River State."

On this day, it was neither the sight nor sound of the governor's presence that elicited the endless chant of his moniker, but the euphoria that for the first time in the life of the community, government presence was beginning to creep into Woda and a new dawn is unfolding for the once forgotten people.

As is usual with eureka feeling, the old,  the young, men and women, children, in sheer excitement of what was unraveling before their eyes,  chorused: "Ayade, na you we know", "Ayade, no one like you," "With Ayade, Woda has come alive", "Carry go Ayade, no vacancy," "Ayade is God sent", "He is a miracle worker." Not done with praises, they streamed out in a long convoy of motorcycles to receive the Chinese investors and a team from Arewa Cotton led by the Managing Director, Anibe Achimugu.

Addressing the youths, he said: "We will start by allocating parcels of land to you, the community farmers, train you and hope that you can now pass the knowledge to others.”

Continuing, he said: “As you can see, community members are already working with us in terms of the casual labour that we need. Also, we are collating the small holders’ farmers as outgrowers."

Assuring the community of the vast opportunities thrown up with the establishment of the cotton farm, Achimugu hinted that "the entire cotton value chain has the capacity to generate 10,000 jobs and a lot of that vistas of opportunity will come from Cross River State."

According to him, "this is clearly in line with Governor Ayade’s backward integration policy and the only way to ensure that the Calabar Garment Factory operates at optimum capacity."

Maintaining that the farm is in line with the world best practices in agriculture as the team is led by an old staff of Institute of Agricultural Research, the MD affirmed that they were attracted by the automated garment factory in the state, the complete value chain and the quick cash flow generation as well as the receptive nature of the people to investors.

Also on tour of the farm, Nigeria Project Manager of a Chinese firm, Ruyi Science and Technology Group, Wu Xingtao, while speaking on behalf of his team, assured that they found in Cross River State government a serious partner to do business with, accommodating and determined to develop the state garment factory with required raw materials, hence the need for the partnership.

Xingtao revealed: "We have plans to build textile factory in Nigeria. That means we need plenty cotton. We want to get plenty cotton from Nigeria and not to import. So we are partnering with Cross River State government to make our textile factory easy."

Affirming the Chinese firm's doggedness to deliver, Facilitator/Director of the cotton farm project, High Chief Gabriel Umodem, disclosed that "we saw their projection in Australia and Pakistan and that is what we want to repeat here. All of them don't have the market that we have as the Nigerian market is too much. If you add that to the AGOA initiative, it means they come from China, produce in Nigeria and ship to America, so, Woda is going to be on the world map in terms of expansion.

"We promise that before the Carnival, a trailer load of a minimum of 30 tons of raw cotton will arrive the Calabar Garment Factory from our 2,000 hectares farm in Woda, Yala to show the world. Our technical partners are proposing a textile industrial park in Calabar that will produce 300 million meters capacity of fabrics per annum and the idea is that, they are overloaded back home, so, the Nigerian quota from their factory will come from Cross River."

He also assured that "we are not just doing cotton, we will gin, weave and intend to take over the garment factory and run it internationally."

Speaking on behalf of the youths and on the community’s support for the project, a community leader and former National Assembly member, Christopher Inyila Eriba, said: "If we have land to offer, that will be our little contribution towards the agricultural revolution. At a time like this, in order to cope with economic recession with a lot of young graduates who need skill acquisition, it is expected that going into this kind of venture will give us that leverage and training."

Eriba added that "the community leaders, women and youths are happy, ready and in support of this project that will tremendously touch our lives. We pray that government should accomplish this laudable program."

Appreciating the seriousness and commitment of Governor Ayade to the cotton value chain, Head, CRS Project monitoring office of Nigeria Incentive Based Risk Sharing System, Mr. Uduzeli Progress, said that his group is ready to throw its weight be Woda cotton farm based on the type of model suitable for the program.

According to him, "We have two models. One is called “Farm Smart”where you open a farm with large hectares of land, bring youths together, open a farm for them and monitor them. We also have the “Anchors Borrowers Program” of the CBN. In this case, we partner with CBN to access loans and give to farmers. So, we are thinking of which model that will suit this program."

Initially conceived as a programme targeted at widows and the underprivileged women in the state, with the provision of 3000 jobs, the Calabar Garment Factory is assuming a wider scope than earlier conceptualized with the birthing of a ten thousand hectare-cotton farm in Woda, ten thousand job opportunities as well as the proposed establishment of textile industrial park in the state by a consortium of Chinese firm
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