Delta’s YAGEP Rice: The policies, activities, and youth energy propelling the rice value-chain initiative

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By Mercy Azuka, Asaba

Delta State, still searching for prosperity after oil and gas, seems to have found a gold mine in the rice value chain, and has launched the YAGEP Rice from its vast farms, BD Sunday can authoritatively report. 

In Delta State, this scheme is not just about rice production. It is much to do with youths embracing the value chain of a staple food found in most Nigerian homes, and to become great entrepreneurs in the quest for job creation. By this, they would be in the forefront in contributing to their own prosperity and economic wellbeing as well as that of Delta State.

The rice value-chain initiative embarked upon by the state, under the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP), involves instructional and field-based training, farm-enterprise incubation, and establishing the youths through the entire process of rice production, processing, packaging, branding, and marketing.

YAGEP is one of the programmes under the Job Creation Scheme of the incumbent administration led by Ifeanyi Okowa in the state. The programme is part of the administration’s efforts in creating gainful employment for youths; also to diversify and boost the economy of the oil-rich state.

This has resulted today in a product that is known as YAGEP Rice. The rice which is in 10kg packs was recently presented to the state governor, a development the professor and Chief Job Creation Officer, Eric Eboh, described as a milestone.

The YAGEP is a job creation programme embarked on rice value chain initiative last year; since then, a total of 170 hectares of rice have been cultivated while 48 beneficiaries have been trained and mentored on rice production and value chain this year alone.

The harvests from the cultivation seem to lend credence to the fact that the state’s soil is fertile enough to produce rice as claimed by Gov Okowa in 2017. Eboh said while presenting the 10kg packs of rice in company of the YAGEP beneficiaries, otherwise called YAGEPreneurs, and some top officials. “Today, we are happy to officially present a milestone product from His Excellency’s job creation programme – YAGEP Rice in 10-kg packs”, the professor exclaimed.

He also thanked the governor for providing the resources, leadership, and enabling environment for the accomplishment of the milestone.

In a statement made available to BDSunday, Eboh explained, “YAGEP was established to create decent and gainful youth employment through the agricultural value chain, boost agricultural productivity as well as diversify the economy of the state. The programme is one of the implementation strategies for the realization of the governor’s vision for job creation and shared economic prosperity under the SMART Agenda.

“Based on ‘comparative advantage’ considerations, social, and economic impacts in Delta State, YAGEP identified priority agricultural commodities for the creation of youth employment and transformation of the agricultural value chains. These include rice, aquaculture, poultry, cassava and vegetables. Under the YAGEP, a total of 757 previously unemployed youths have been trained, established, and mentored in agricultural enterprises over the three successive years/cycles of implementation (2015 to 2018).”

According to him, the design of YAGEP integrates agricultural training (instructional and fieldwork), personal effectiveness training, enterprise incubation, agricultural entrepreneurship training, farm enterprise establishment in clusters, and mentorship.

“Specifically, the development of farm enterprise clusters, owned and managed by the youths, is transforming the state’s agricultural landscape, boosting agricultural outputs, and posting a demonstration effect on agricultural modernization. Presently, there are a total of 25 YAGEP farm enterprise clusters with varying combinations of enterprises including poultry, piggery, fishery, rice, and tomato production. The cluster model of youth agricultural employment has restored previously idle agricultural resources to economic use and boosted agricultural productivity and wealth generation in the state”, he explained.

He disclosed that the initiative started in 2017 with the cultivation of 74 hectares at Ugili-Amai, Ndokwa West Local Government Area. Subsequently in 2018, the initiative involved the cultivation of 42 hectares of rice at Deghele, Sapele LGA and 54 hectares at Mbiri, Ika North East LGA, said Eboh.

He averred that during the 2018 production year, the process involved 48 youth trainees working under close tutorials, facilitation and guidance of the Office of the Chief Job Creation Officer through knowledgeable and experienced resource persons from within and outside the state.

Eboh said that the programme activities include soil tests and site selection, land preparation (clearing, ploughing, and harrowing), seed treatment and planting, soil treatment, weeds prevention and control, fertilizer application, prevention and control of pests and diseases, and birds scaring. Other operations, he mentioned, include harvesting (cutting and packing), threshing, drying, winnowing, washing/parboiling, milling, de-stoning, and packaging or bagging.

He said that cultivation, harvesting, threshing, drying, parboiling, milling, de-stoning, and bagging operations were carried out with participation of the YAGEPreneurs.

He disclosed that all the inputs, technologies, and materials used in the rice production and processing and packaging operations were provided by the Office of the Chief Job Creation Officer.

While the state is encouraging and supporting farmers, it also wants Deltans to go beyond rice production to explore the rice value chain, according to inner members of the Okowa administration.

Experts say there ready made market for rice produced in the state. “Today, there is a huge supply deficit in Nigeria. That’s why no matter what the government does, the demand is increasing everyday. The supply gap is increasing. Therefore, if you have good rice, you don’t look for market; we have enough market. Even in Asaba the state capital, we have enough market,” he asserted.

Eboh said beneficiaries of the scheme would not have challenge in marketing the rice because of the way the product would be promoted and marketed; a good product that would be sold anywhere in the world.

Shimite Bello, Executive Secretary of the state’s Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agencies (DEMSMA), has thus continued to urge Deltans to go into and operate within the agricultural value chain, saying that is where large chunk of the agencies money goes, especially in purchase of processing machine.

Observers say she is very much concerned about this because, according to her, “There are some places in agriculture that people are not touching in the state and I just want them to explore the value chain not just production and processing.”

As the YAGEPreneurs are trained and established in their choice enterprise, including rice production, processing,  packaging, branding and marketing, hopes seem to be very high that with time, Delta State would no longer depend on rice coming from outside to feed its teeming population, but would rather become an exorting state, just as it has been doing in crude oil.

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