I visited Katsina over the holidays and took the opportunity to attend the launching of the Rice Anchor Borrowers Programme in Jibia sponsored by the Central Bank and the Bank of Agriculture. The project is aimed at developing the rice value chain by supplying credit for improved seeds, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. The State Government is also guaranteeing minimum prices for the purchase of the rice harvest. Agricultural extension services will be offered to the farmers and mini rice mills are currently being procured for the project. Other crops that would be receiving support in the State are cotton, sorghum, maize, tomatoes and wheat. Katsina State is currently capturing the bio data of all farmers and the surface area of their farms to facilitate easy access to agricultural support programmes and the information would also be linked to BVN bank data so that genuine farmers alone benefit from the programmes.
The Governor, Aminu Bello Masari is engaged in what they call a restoration project aimed at restoring the State to its former glory. I spoke to Manir Yakubu, the Deputy Governor, who also doubles as the Commissioner for Agriculture. He reminisced about a long history of missed opportunities. Katsina State, he explained has over 80 surface water bodies, three of which are large and had been constructed by the Federal Government. Both Zobe and Jibia dams have 140 million cubic litres of water each while Sabke dam has 37 million cubic litres of water. The State Governments, under the far sighted Abba Kyari and Balarabe Musa Administrations in the 1970s and 1980s had constructed over 70 small earth dams and all these surface water sources were supposed to have been used to promote dry season irrigation-based farming that would have lifted the majority of the population out of poverty and boosted food supply in the country. Many of the dams had already been serviced with irrigation channels but the whole ambition of an agricultural revolution was abandoned by subsequent administrations and the water left to waste. The agricultural restoration agenda of the Masari Administration is set to revive these projects and make Katsina State a leader in food production.
Central to Nigeria’s tragedy of persistent underdevelopment has been the tradition of ignoring investments made by previous administration to add value to what exists. Each administration is interested in developing new projects so that they give contracts from which they benefit personally. The Deputy Governor argued that when Governor Shema came into office, the previous Government of Yar’Adua had already executed a massive road development programme. Rather than engage in projects that would directly benefit the people however, the Shema Administration engaged in binge road development projects and contracts and totally neglected education, health and agriculture that would have been of more direct benefit to the people.
There are four elements of the Katsina agricultural restoration project I find innovative and worthy of note. The first is that of addressing the long tradition of land grab Nigeria has suffered from. Over the decades, our successive rulers have taken or bought huge tracks of choice land all over the country to set up mega farms. They never became the large-scale absentee farmers they had promised to become. They are not farming most of the land they acquired. Katsina State is seeking to recover part of the land to allocate to young farmers who would actually farm it. The second is a project to establish a large organic fertiliser plant associated with a sugar cane project that would provide molasses for the production of organic fertiliser. The idea is to start the process of moving away from chemical fertilisers that ultimately destroy the quality of soils. The third is the expanded production of leguminous crops such as cowpeas and groundnuts associated with advocacy aimed at locally consuming them to improve nutritional standards. Finally, there is a project for the development of greenhouse vegetable production aimed at the export market. These initiatives show smart thinking in relation to promoting better nutrition, soils and incomes. I sincerely hope that they succeed.
At the federal level, the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, has been very focused on creating an enabling environment for agricultural development. The policy regime aims at promoting food security; import substitution for our massive imports of wheat, rice and fish; job creation for our youth; and enhancing economic diversification. The new policy regime, tagged the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) Policy is founded on the following guiding principles. Running agriculture as a business by focusing the policy instruments on a government-enabled, private sector-led engagement as the main growth driver of the sector. Secondly, designing Nigeria’s agriculture policies as key to long-term economic growth and security by focusing policy instruments to ensure that the commercialization of agriculture includes technologies, financial services, inputs supply chains, and market linkages that directly engage rural poor farmers because rural economic growth will play a critical role in the country’s successful job creation, economic diversity, improved security and sustainable economic growth. Maybe the most important principle is seeing food as a human right by focusing the policy instruments for agricultural development on the social responsibility of government with respect to food security, social security and equity in the Nigerian society; and compelling the government to recognize, protect freedom of the people from hunger and malnutrition. The value chain approach, which focuses the policy instruments for enterprise development across successive stages of the commodity value chains for the development of crop, livestock and fisheries thereby creating much more wealth in agricultural production is fundamental in getting young people to return to agriculture after fleeing from the sector for its notorious lack of progress for farmers. For domestic consumption, the Federal Government has prioritized rice, wheat, maize, soya beans and tomatoes for 2016 – 2018. For export crops, the initial focus will be on cocoa, cassava, oil palm, sesame and gum Arabic. In 2018 onwards, the export focus will add on bananas, avocado, mango, fish and cashew nuts. The plans are good and the hope is that this time round, they would be implemented.
My key concern is the slow move towards genetically modified (GMO) crops that has recently been authorized by the Federal Government. The most direct path towards destroying our ecology and mortgaging our independence in food production is falling prey to the Monsanto lobby that has become very strong in Nigeria. Monsanto is putting a lot of money and resources to tempt our leaders and institutions into GMOs so that they can enslave us. By pointing out the path of organic fertilisers and the promotion of local nutritious foods in Katsina, the idea is to lead us towards a more healthy future for our agriculture and food security. Insecurity in Nigeria has created a massive nutrition crisis in Nigeria, as more farmers are unable to safely access their farms. The result is hunger and malnutrition. Very many of our children are wasting and suffering from stunted growth. The right of all Nigerians to nutritious food must remain a national priority.