By Francis Onyeukwu
For Mrs Ifeoma Okoye, joining the agriculture programme of the International Fund for Agricultural Development-Value Chain Development Agency (IFAD-VCDP) has remained a life changing decision she made.
Okoye, a teacher and mother of four from Anam, Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra has been a teacher before she joined IFAD-VCDP in 2017.
Two years later, she was sponsored by the international agency for training as a rice seed producer at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan.
The training opened Okoye’s eyes to the rich possibilities which rice farming has for those who embrace it as a sustainable business venture.
“The training afforded me the opportunity to know that using high yielding rice variety like faro-44 could turn a rice farmer to a millionaire at a very short period of time”, she said.
Okoye said that apart from improved yield, the variety is pest-resistant among other advantages which could make farming a rewarding business.
Besides the inherit gains in Faro-44, she said the Ibadan training made her understood that for a better harvest, a farmer does not require the seed harvested to replant in the upcoming season rather, he/she should go for new improved seeds.
“This is the secret behind the record breaking results of farmers in Anambra and other constituent states of IFAD-VCDP in Nigeria“, she said.
IFAD-VCDP is taking place in the following eight states: Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Niger, Nasarawa, Ogun, Kogi, Benue, and Taraba.
“Before the advent of the programme in 2015, rice farmers in Anambra were harvesting between two to three tons per hectare, but today with good agronomic practices, (GAP) they get between seven and eight tons per hectare”, she said.
Apart from the Ibadan training, Okoye said she equally received training in rice recipe which enables her add value to rice after processing, even as she was also trained on record keeping, among others.
Okoye said such endeavour could help in achieving food security, creating employment opportunities, with ultimate impact on wealth creation and crime rate.
Mrs. Uju Okafor is a member of Destiny Women Corporative Aguoke Ugbenu, Awka North Local Government Area. She shares the same thought as Okoye on the gains associated with rice farming.
Okafor had also received the training as seed producer at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan having joined IFAD-VCDP in 2015.
“I am doing both rice production and adding values to rice via recipe making of doughnut, buns, chin-chin, rice cake, juice, flour, milk“, she said.
According to her, the many trainings received under IFAD-VCDP has enhanced her skill and made her being sought after by many to impact knowledge on rice business activities.
Apart from the business aspect of it, the family eats healthy and balanced diet which has helped improve their well-being, enhanced energy levels, better weight management, reduced chronic diseases risks, and supported optimal bodily functions.
Eating right and well, good personal hygiene has contributed to stronger immunity, better mental health, and increased longevity of the family and thus enabling productivity.
Though, the programme had impacted on the beneficiaries, a lot more were still expected to further sustain the gains already made in the area.
Also, the Programme has helped them to register their businesses with Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria SMEDAN with a view to accessing loans and grants, and other entrepreneurial support.
Mr Fidelis Onyia, an international relations graduate-turned rice farmer from Igbakwu, Ayamelum Local Government Area, is another example in the success story of IFAD-VCDP.
Onyia had been into rice farming before being enrolled in IFAD-VCDP in 2017. But his farming could be best described as subsistence.
In 2018 he was trained on rice seed production at IITA, Ibadan, and supported with starter pack which includes 50 kilogram bag of faro 44 foundation seed.
He began by producing and supplies rice seed to farmers in Ayamelum, Anambra East and West Local Government Areas before expanding to other areas.
“Today, I engage in Electronic Value Chain Agricultural Marketing System EvAMIS Platform which opens the window for my produce to be sold via the internet, among other channels.
“This has given me the exposure to buyers outside the state. Last month, I supplied rice to buyers in Lagos and Rivers states via the EVAMIS.
“IFAD-VCDP has transformed me to a consultant in rice production, processing and marketing, people come from far and near on learning route in the sector from me.
“Because of the new atmosphere under which we operate, today I can say that rice farming is very profitable, this has made me create jobs for more than 300”, Onyia said.
Giving the reasons behind the media tour to select farms in Anambra, Mr Henry Anagboso the state IFAD-VCDP, Knowledge Management and Communication Officer, said it was meant to ascertain the impact of the programme on the beneficiaries and communities.
He said data collated would enable the Programme make informed decisions on the way forward.
Mr Emmanuel Agwuncha, the State Programme Coordinator, IFAD-VCDP Anambra said, at inception of the programme, the farmers could barely boost of three tons per hectare of rice.
“We felt the first step was to build their capacity on good agronomic practices, and supporting them with farm inputs such as; certified rice seed, cassava cuttings of improved varieties, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.
“These gave rise to their high yield which transformed farming to an interesting venture for those in the line of production”, he said.
Agwuncha also said that the processors received de-stoners, garri fryers, flash-dryers, cassava graters, rubber-rollers for milling, rice polisher, rice grader and stem par-boiler.
He explained that the Programme preaches gender equality under its Gender Action Learning System GALS.
“This initiative is aimed at effectively helping farmers` households to achieving a lot, understand their roles in the family and assist each other in attaining their dreams.
“We equally introduced nutrition sensitive agriculture to address the issue of malnutrition.
“We supported beneficiaries with economic trees, seedlings for the establishment of home garden orange fresh sweet potato, banana, plantain, orange, pumpkin, scent leaf, bitter leaf and noiler birds to mainstream nutrition”, he said.
Agwuncha said the programme has also engendered financial inclusion mainstreaming.
“The programme successfully linked over 5000 beneficiaries, including producers, processors, and marketers, to financial institutions leading to signing of Memoranda of Understanding (MoU).
“This collaboration enabled beneficiaries to access a variety of financial inclusion products, such as savings, deposits, withdrawals, credit, and loans, among others’’, he said.
Furthermore, the program played a pivotal role in raising awareness among farmers about the risks inherent in the agricultural sector. It successfully linked farmers with insurance companies to enhance their understanding of and preparedness for these risks.
“In pursuit of inclusivity, the programme initially empowered 40 women and youths with Point of Sale (POS) machines across the 8 Local Government Areas.
“This initiative facilitated account openings and savings mobilization among the beneficiaries’’, he said.
The accounts by the beneficiaries of IFAD-VCDP in Anambra indicate that the programme no doubt has produced new era of commercial rice farmers and who are contributing their quota towards achieving Nigeria’s food security targets.