By Raymond Benson, Abia LIFE-ND KMCO.

History is replete with strange occurrences that threaten population through destruction of agricultural products and value chains.

Such incidents were either regional or global caused by a factor or another. In the case of Niger Delta, the oil exploration has been argued to have increased the hunger index of the regional population.

Recently, the world was threatened by COVID 19, This novel virus has profoundly overtaken the world and disrupted fundamental activities which survive the population through agriculture and its value chains. It has surreptitiously culminated to global emergency that has posed a threat to food security, especially within rural communities. Despite the efforts of WHO, the virus has remained malignant, reportedly developing more stubborn variants.

However, before outbreak of the virus Pandemic, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, had muted and approved a programme of food sufficiency and employment generation for the rural women and youth in the nine Niger Delta States through agribusinesses.

PHOTO: IFAD Mission team.

CONCEPT OF LIFE-ND
The concept of Livelihood Improvement and Family Enterprise, Niger Delta, (LIFE ‐ ND), was generated by IFAD, Federal Government and Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), with an approved loan of US$60m in November 2016, and with a Strategic Framework to arrest the perceived poverty and unemployment prevailing against the rural people of the Niger Delta states. The nine Niger Delta states are, Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ondo. Others include, Imo, Rivers and Akwa Ibom.

However, the cardinal beneficiaries of IFAD loan are Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo and Ondo. The choice was influenced by poverty rate, community development, small holder agriculture and political support by the six above‐mentioned states. Akwa Ibom, Imo and Rivers are to be funded by NDDC.

ABIA STATE GOVERNOR’S RESPONSE
By its design, the loan was not targeted for a rollicking party. The benefiting states must, before participating in the largesse, show a certain percentage of financial commitment which the Governor, Dr. Victor Chibuike Okezie Ikpeazu promptly responded to by paying the counterpart fund as required by the FGN and IFAD.

PHOTO: Dr Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, Executive Governor of Abia state.

At the commencement of the project in February, 2020, many communities were sceptical in believing in the project’s genuineness, tagging it as another political rendezvous, a bait to curry votes from the rural people.

If the communities were foot-dragging, the lacuna created by COVID 19 intensified their doubts.

In Abia State, rather than get deterred, the Pandemic through the dogged instrumentality of the State Project Coordinator, Uchenna Rowland Onyeizu,Ph.D, was a spur to recover lost ground.

The staffers, most of whom are tested mandarins who have Spartan spirit of conquerors, had the right mentality of not only succeeding, but to also prove the doubting Thomases wrong. In achieving this, many challenges were surmounted.

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According to the National Project Coordinator, Engineer Sanni Abiodun,

PHOTO: Engineer Sanni Abiodun,, National Project Coordinator, LIFE-ND


” When projects are designed, they’re designed in paper, but during implementation, you start experiencing realities, start to identify booby traps and challenges, both positive and negative that you need to contend with”.

To the writer, that’s a note of a veteran: apt, fitting and precise.

Despite the daunting challenges, on May 24, 2021, the process of empowering more than 250 benefiting youths, including women‐ headed households began.

It was all of funfair as the beneficiaries waved and kissed their Working Capital cheques in confirmation of reality, not dreary dream. That also was the same ” Hallelujah” in all six IFAD sponsored states, marking the beginning of raising potential millionaires through agribusiness enterprises within the hunger ravaged rural communities in the Niger Delta region.

The process is on‐going. Abia LIFE-ND has begun venturing into new communities in the selected Local Government Areas of the State targeting 4,250 potential millionaires within the possible life span of the project.

PHOTO: Dr Uchenna Rowland Onyeizu, State Project Coordinator

To think that the project is not succeeding is as good as not complimenting a mother of triplets.

If not for any other thing, the rural sceptics daily visit the office complex to lobby for inclusion after witnessing the empowerment of widows, physically challenged persons, women-headed households, unemployed males and females, which is core objective of the project.

In Ohanze, Obingwa Local Government Area, a physically challenged incubatee, Mr. Anthony Chinazum Emmanuel, a poultry apprentice, was among the beneficiaries of the Working Capital.

PHOTO: Mr. Anthony Chinazum Emmanuel(Abia LIFE-ND Incubatee)

Mr. Emmanuel who had his apprenticeship in East Goshen Farm Ohanze could not hold back his emotion as he expressed gratitude to LIFE-ND project initiative.

” Am grateful to LIFE-ND. I had no hope before this time. I don’t know how my mother will feel today. LIFE-ND and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia State Governor) have restored hope to my mother and me”, he said as he struggled to withhold tears.

Mrs. Emmanuel, Hope Nkeiruka of Isiala Ukwu Mbato, Obingwa Local government Area, a woman‐headed household, (WHH), had her apprenticeship in Integrated Cassava Processing enterprise. Mrs. Emmanuel, a graduate of Industrial Chemistry whose husband is bedridden as a result of road accident in 2020 was hysterical in thanking LIFE-ND.

PHOTO: Mrs. Emmanuel Hope Nkeiruka and colleagues happily displaying their cheque.

“Ah, I feel satisfied, a fulfilled person. I’ve seen my way to greatness. I’ll continue to take care of my husband. I never knew cassava has multi-facet value chains: flour, odorless fufu, starch, garry and others. My eyes have opened (to many opportunities). I sincerely thank LIFE-ND for this project. Who should’ve remembered me?”, she questioned.

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For Ifeanyi Godwin, a topnotch of Niger Delta agitators, it was a relief both from the creeks and risks of daily inconveniencing NDDC executives at their gate entrances. Ifeanyi said,

PHOTO: Ifeanyi Godwin, former agitator.

” I joined the agitators to inconvenience the “big men” in NDDC; daily blocking entrances to their facilities to draw attention to our unemployment status or asking them to “settle” us, at least, for money to be in our pockets to oil our lives”.

Mr. Godwin who belonged to “Men-on-Ground” group, out of five other groups that had the same preoccupation, had his apprenticeship at Nganga Poultry Farm in Ihie Iyi, Ugwunagbo LGA. He has since abandoned the streets for first cycle mentorship in Nganga Poultry Farm and has begun to live a good life. Ifeanyi is thinking of being an incubator someday.

COLLABORATION
On February 9,2021, the National Project Coordinator, Engineer Sanni Abiodun and Abia State LIFE-ND Project Coordinator, Uchenna Rowland Onyeizu Ph.D, made a landmark project success. The duo paid courtesy visit to Executive Secretary of National Agricultural Land Development Authority, (NALDA), Chief Paul Ikonne in Abuja soliciting for collaboration/partnership.

Engr. Abiodun, amongst other things, requested the partnership with the NALDA boss to tackle poverty, food insecurity and unemployment in Niger Delta, targeting 36,000 hectares of land within the region.

Chief Ikonne who had a similar agenda quickly endorsed this request, promising to direct his Coordinators in the region to partner with LIFE-ND.

For the records, NALDA, a major farming hub in Nigeria, has interest in animal husbandry/fisheries, etc, with wide outreach to all communities and also boasts of 30,000 service providers across the country.

Another major quest for partnership was to Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, NIRSAL.

Abia LIFE-ND Coordinator, Uchenna Onyeizu Ph.D, who led his team to NIRSAL office, Umuahia requested for partnership.

PHOTO: In collaboration with Engineer Sanni Abiodun,, National Project Coordinator, and Team

The NIRSAL boss whose office has statutory membership in the State Steering Committee, endorsed the request, suggesting areas of collaboration.

NUTRITION MAINSTREAMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The Project has created awareness through radio jingles, flyers and posters. It has also started implementation and addressing issues of hidden hunger and dietary balance in their feeding system.

The same awareness and implementation have reached advance level in climate change, planting trees and making the locals avoid unnecessary cutting down of trees and bush burning.

CONCLUSION
It’s heart warming that in June, 2021, the first IFAD Field Mission Visit confirmed the activities so far as a success. Abia LIFE-ND has begun the process of choosing more incubators and incubatees, targeting 4,250 of unemployed youths and indigent women in the State.

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