At a time most of his colleagues prefer to retire to the Senate at the expiration of their stint in their respective state government houses, Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson says he wants to go into full time farming. When Vanguard encountered the governor on his farm overlooking the alluring River Forcados, a tributary of the River Niger, he was clad in a T-Shirt, a face cap, and shorts and could be mistaken for any of the locals in his fast growing Toru-Orua community. He spoke on his dream to take to full time farming at the expiration of his tenure at the Creek Haven, the seat of power in his predominantly riverine state. By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
When did you start this farm?
I started this farm a long time ago, I haven’t really had time to prepare it and I am getting ready to do so. I have started and when I finish I will be into full time farming.
Having said that, I want to also underscore the importance of investing in agriculture by the government on the one hand and on the second hand by everybody participating in the agricultural economy, first to be able to provide what we eat and secondly to be able to create jobs and create wealth for everyone of us. Dickson That is the lesson of this farm. No matter how highly placed one should be in a position to add to the investment in agriculture and sometimes it doesn’t take too much. You can all go to your communities, one hectare, two hectares and plant something.
Luckily our country is well endowed that in every part of our country, we can at least plant one crop or the other and people are essentially farmers and we now have farmers and fishermen. Next time you come we will take a boat ride; you will see the River Forcados and our ancestors lived there farming and fishing for centuries. So for me agriculture is very paramount if we are serious about creating sustainable economy, creating job, encouraging people to employ themselves and create employment and also by so doing ensure food sufficiency for ourselves.
In this farm, I plant almost everything. For the past two, three years we have been harvesting a lot of banana, plantain, cucumber, pineapples. There is everything here and you have joined me to harvest sugar cane. So, this is to encourage you to tell the story of Agriculture. I have always been into farming; I always farm here in my village. I have a farm in Yenagoa since 2000, 2001. Seriake Dickson Farm has been in existence since 2002 or 2003. I went to the House of Representatives in 2007, by 2008 I started to prepare a farm around Abuja in Nasarrawa State, 100 hectare farm which is properly secured and a lot of cattle and other crops are planted. Now most of my cattle have been brought to my farm in Yenagoa in Yenegwe.
This is my story of farming and everybody should take farming seriously. What influenced your taking to farming? It started in this community, I farm with my parents. As a matter of fact, part of this area is owned by my family, my father brought me here and set up my first farm around where my house now stands. This was my first farm in 1984, 1985 and it was a plantain plantation. My father had a large banana plantation around this same area and when I decided to build a house, a proper compound, I told my father.
I rejected my father’s offer to take his land which I have given to the university, I told him I wanted to build near the river, I started acquiring this place when I was in House of Representatives and it kept expanding until the way it is.
How many hectares of land is this farm?
The farm here is about 25, 30 hectares. It is not too big but I intend to make full use of it. You can see the large fish pond under construction, there will be poultry here, and you can see the pigs there. There will be a piggery here and a ranch for cattle. In Yenagoa, at Yenegwe I have about 30 hectares too, I have always had that from my early 20s. My farm in Abuja, Guantofa, is about 100 hectares. But many see farming as unattractive That’s the mindset we have to change, part of what I intend to do is to apply for, have already started talking with some banks to help me raise a facility based on the security of my titles to enable me make up all these investments as I get ready to leave office.
I intend to stay here in my community with my family in Yenagoa so that I can put in and make most of these investments to create jobs and also yield profit. Farming is very profitable, we cannot now meet our need from piggery, we cannot meet our needs from eggs in this state and even other poultry products, everything we import, and everything is brought into Bayelsa. So farming is a good thing to go into.
Those who have gone into it have no regrets and I have asked the bank to study my proposal and in no distant time I will have the loan based on the security of my entitlement because they are satisfied with the business plan. My fish farm is very big, large and among the largest fish farms in the state with thousands fish, and fingerling. We are constructing the preservation systems, we want to be able to preserve them for long to sell and package because they are thousands of big fishes of all kinds in my ponds.
The ponds are like lakes, they are actually lakes. Well as you know as an Ijaw man, our first is plantain, we have planted a lot of plantain. In my family in Yenagoa we use to sell every market day. We have banana, mango, pineapples, oranges and so on and so forth but my main focus is aquaculture, poultry, piggery, cattle.
I am a herdsman, an Ijaw herdsman, who does cattle rearing in a confined environment, ranching and that is what we recommend for everybody.
You once said it was your desire to return to school after leaving office, do you still…
(Cuts in) Yes, that’s my intention, I can’t be doing only farming, age is still on my side and I have a lot of passion, writing is one, teaching is one am likely to be back to school, I will like to involve in teaching, carrying out research on studies about my experiences, deep experiences in governance, in underdeveloped and trying environment how we can talk about democratisation and peace building, consensus building and all the things that have been able to achieve here. Most likely I will be in classroom but farming is also a passion I have and it is a business that I encourage everyone to go to into.
Government appeared to be the only industry which most Bayelsans depend on Well that is the tragedy of an under developed deprived environment like Bayelsa where everybody thinks that survival must come from government, they don’t know that first of all, they have to take responsibility for their lives first and their future but happily we have made a lot of investment in that area to make their involvement even easier, look at the aquaculture village in Yenagoa and the several others that we are doing outside Yenagoa. Right now we have capacity of 1500 to 2000 young fishermen that should be under training and they are also making some money in the process.
If you go to Ebedebiri where the government poultry that we have established is, about 35,000 bird capacity is there, completed for young people. There is currently a programme to see how young people can go there and learn. Although, I have said that the University of Africa should take it over, there is another fish farm, two big modern fish farms, one is coming up in Agalabiri constructed by the Israelis another close to Yenagoa around Famgbe area but they have some community challenges because they don’t know the benefits.
So I hope we will solve the community problems. But in agriculture, our biggest investment is the cassava starch processing factory, which is the largest not just in Nigeria but also the largest cassava processing factory in Africa. It is built by the Dutch and they are rounding up and they will be here to run it up for two years. There is a lot of money in it. There is already a buy-back agreement for the starch that will be produced. That factory will serve as a rounding point for encouraging small scale farmers to go into agriculture particularly to produce starch.
We need all the starch that is produced in Bayelsa and in the entire South-South to service that factory. It will be commissioned in the next two, three months, they have already finished installation and they are just putting finishing touches to it. So that will make it possible for a lot of people to take loans and then all the starch that is produced in the South South will be needed here for them to be able to provide different kinds of starch, industrial, commercial and so on and so forth for local use and also for export.
There is enough space for foreign companies for the starch so that investment is also there but in the end agriculture is in the hands of everybody like I am demonstrating. We have directed all appointees, cabinet commissioners and others to set up farm and they are doing very well.
You are not known to do alcohol or smoke where do you derive your energy from doing so many things at the same time?
Well, I have never smoked, I don’t like taking alcohol, I don’t recommend that but there are other things that I do and at the end our strength comes from God. I live a simple life dedicated to the service of our people. I am a man of faith, who also believes that God has a hand in what we do and what we accomplish and how we live our life.