“HARNESSING AGRO BASED JOBS THROUGH HUMAN POPULATION GROWTH. (1)

With Rev Canon Chinemerem Uche

Yes, it is true that there is a lot of growing concern about the negative impact of climate change and increase in human population. This, if well harnessed, can be utilized to create jobs and in turn also help stop the negative effect of climate change.

As human populations increase, it affects the size of arable land and subsequent effect on food security. The South East Nigeria, for instance, is witnessing an increase in human population, hence the clearing of arable land which in the time past served as food basket of the host communities. For instance in Owaelu Uratta, where I come from, almost all the farm lands have become residential areas. In the time past, this community practiced the shifting cultivation method of farming. The community had about five farmland divisions which were farmed alternatively once in five years. The community hardly bought garri, maize, melon and vegetables because she produced 80% of her food need and also sold some in the open market. This scenario was about 24 years ago. Now there is nothing like shifting cultivation again and the few farmlands left are being overused and made infertile. The increase in population as a result of influx of tenants has led to the massive clearing of farmlands and their subsequent use for developing housing estates. This situation is not new to other communities like Egbu, Avu, Irete and Nekede, all within the Owerri Capital territory.

The implication of this is that the South East will in future depend more heavily on the North for her food supply. Already the Ohaji-Egbema and Okigwe belt can no longer meet up with the demand for staple food produce like garri and yam. Standing along Okigwe road through Orji in Owerri North, you will notice several lorry loads of yam, potatoes, oranges and okro coming from the north into Owerri Municipality. These crops were hitherto produced in the South East and were enough for her population. Even if we have to rely on some communities in Imo State for food production, it will prove difficult because the population explosion and lack of Government will and policy to tackle human settlement will scuttle it. Currently there is no modern law protecting farm lands and farm settlements.

The government seems to be overwhelmed by the constant revenue from the federation account, courtesy of petrol-dollar. This could be a probable reason why she looks the other way while AK47 wielding Fulani herdsmen prowl and damage the few farmlands left in the area. If the sectarian/Boko Haram crisis persists in the North, the South East might be faced with similar grim situation that greeted it during the Biafra Civil War. The terrorists might not have their way here, but they can do a lot of indirect damage through their activities that discourage food production in the North.

Those who aim to occupy political offices do not do so with the aim of stimulating the economy of Imo State. True governance is not really the erection of monuments like roundabouts, squares and fancy near useless pedestrian bridges. True governance is about creating the proper stimulus and infrastructure that that will help bring about private sector participation in driving the economy. There is need to designate special agric basins for Imo State. These basins should be protected by law. The basin authorities should be empowered to create roads into the farm settlements and other cluster areas that will process agric produce for onward movement to the consumers. The faculties of Agriculture of various institutions in Imo state should be linked to these basins for extrapolation of research findings in agriculture.

We largely depend on cattle for our protein needs. A visit to the slaughter houses in Owerri will reveal the number of cattle slaughtered on a daily basis in Owerii. This too, to a great extent explains the influx of cattle from the North. The desert encroachment as a result of climate change is also contributory this. In every problem lies an opportunity. I believe that the proliferation of hotels and eateries in Imo State reflects the lack of what to do with money. Just as the move of our able bodied men into tricycle and motor cycle business reflects our poverty of business ideas. Since it is becoming a reality that the Fulani herdsmen are relying on the grassland in the East to feed her cattle, wealthy people looking for what to do with their money can set up cattle ranches. There are some cattle species that thrive well in the South East. Europe and other Asian tigers are no longer using our type of primitive system of cattle rearing. They have been able to develop dairies and ranches. These dairies and ranches situated not so much on vast expanse of land have created multiple effects in terms of job creation and export of their produce to African countries like Nigeria. The setting up of ranches (note: not Fulani herdsmen outpost or grazing land) can further create jobs for our youths who will now go into the business of making and supplying hay to ranches.

It is well visible to us that as the human population around Imo state increases, flooding has also increased. For instance, there is a depression between the Madonna Schools and Federal Government Girls College Owerri. Flood water from adjoining areas gather there and subsequently push into a relatively large expanse of undeveloped plot in that area. This undeveloped plot has over the years served as a receptor for the flood. Recently it has been cleared and there is a building project going on there. The question that rage in my mind now is where will the flood go, now that her home is no more? Residents in this area should expect more flood.

The prevalence of flood can be turned into an economic opportunity. The Federal Government intends to ban fish importation in the future. Research and observation that were carried out in my 9 years of fish farming shows that Owerri Capital Territory, most especially, the belt from Lake Nwaebere down to Ohaji-Egbema can be used for fish farming through the low cost earthen pond system. Many burrow pits constructed in Owerri have suddenly turned to become man-made lakes. These lakes can be converted to fish farms. Such lakes are around Works layout Owerri, Trans-Eghu Federal Housing, New Owerri, Umuguma, Orogwe and Porthhacourt Road axis.”