Nigeria’s farm irrigation capacity of less five per cent of the arable farmland is too insignificant for a country of over 200 million people, and climate change has made nonsense of reliance on rain-fed agricultural system that is practised, despite natural water bodies that could be developed into irrigation dams.
In the last two months, drought (dry spell) has stunted crops even in the rain forest ecologies, affirming the calls of Nigerians for massive investments in dams and other farm infrastructure that could really bring a revolution in dry season farming.
Presenting his one-year scorecards as a minister of Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Mr Suleiman Adamu said for optimal utilisation of River Basin Development Agency’s land and irrigation facilities and to support diversification of the economy, guarantee food security and job creation for Nigerians, the ministry is expanding hectares for irrigation at Ejule-Ojebe (50 ha); sector 1 of Gari irrigation project (248ha); Bakalori irrigation scheme (4,825ha); Kano River irrigation scheme (1,600ha); Hadejia Valley irrigation scheme (2,250ha); rehabilitation of Duku-Lade irrigation project (800h).
Adamu disclosed that additional 2,000 hectares of land had been leased out to commercial farmers, bringing the total to 55,000 hectares from 2016 till date.
However, an advocate of irrigation facilities and Regional Coordinator, Africa Rice Centre, IITA, Ibadan, Dr Francis Nwilene, said the Federal Government should devote more resources to the construction of farm irrigation facilities and dams as the number of dams available is unacceptable when the government claims to have a green alternative policy to diversify the economy.
Rice production, Nwilene said, is hampered because the country depends too much on rain-fed agriculture, a system that has been disrupted and aggravated by global warming and erratic rainfall patterns.
He argued that irrigation dams of the Federal Government should be spread across the country, not limited to the northern zones alone, for rice production could be done two or three times yearly with adequate irrigation facilities in other zones. He urged southern governors to complement the ministry’s work through partnership to develop and expand river basins facilities for maximum food production.
A rice processor and lease operator at a basin facility in Kogi State, Mr Afiz Oladejo, said because rice is a water-loving crop, inability of the country to invest massively in irrigation facilities accounts for high cost of paddies and finished rice, making the price uncompetitive. He too urged the government to shift attention from rain-fed farming and build up irrigation facilities to really make Nigeria rice-sufficient.
On this, the minister said River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) remain the most strategically placed Federal Government agencies to facilitate national food security and support employment opportunities.
“Therefore, the RBDAs are being constantly revitalised to deliver their mandate. To this end, the Songhai Model, an integrated agricultural practice introduced to boost production and achieve integrated rural development, commenced in 2015 and has been replicated in five RBDAs.
“To date, 253 farmlands have been leased to the private sector for commercial farming, out of which 181 are fully utilised. Also, the process of partial commercialisation of four pilot RBDAs namely: Ogun-Osun, Niger-Delta, Upper Niger and Sokoto-Rima is underway,” a statement from the minister said.
Similarly, the ministry explained that the Programme for the Integrated Development and Climate Change Adaptation in the Niger Basin (PIDACC/NB), a multi-sectoral programme involving ministries of Agriculture and Environment, has the overall objective of contributing to improving the resilience of the Niger River’s ecosystems and populations through sustainable management of natural resources.
This programme, with a lifespan of six-years (2019-2024), he said, would be implemented in four geo-political zones, namely North East, North West, North Central and the South East located in the catchment areas of the Sokoto-Rima RBDA, Upper Niger RBDA, Upper Benue RBDA and Anambra-Imo RBDA, with an estimated population of 40,760,996 inhabitants.
Direct beneficiaries of this programme, as the minister explained, would “include smallholder farmers and vulnerable groups (women and young people).”
Currently, the water ministry collaborates with the Central Bank of Nigeria to utilise up to one million hectares of RBDA land in expanding the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, according to a statement made available by the Director of Information, Mrs Offie Kenechukwu.
“Ministry champions women empowerment through their participation in irrigated agriculture. Programmes geared towards this have been completed in Bokwairi, Borno State and is 90 per cent complete in Adare, Sokoto State,” the statement said.