From Olanrewaju Lawal, Ilorin
Most of Africa’s farming system record a boom during the raining season when dry season continues to be the resting period in most of the countries across the continent. The introduction of irrigation system has been a major strategy to improve on the food production and output of agriculture in the country.
To make these agenda fruitful, Federal Government, through Lover River Niger Basin Authority (LRNBA) has embarked on N3.2 billion irrigation system in Tada-Shonga, Edu local government area of Kwara state.
An investigation by our correspondent in the Tada-Shonga town showed that the land area covers 500 hectres of land which is located beside River Niger. The area, according to residents and farmers, do experience annual flooding whereby farmers always lose most of their farm produces to flood. Therefore, the need for dry season farming becomes an alternative farming, in order to avoid food shortages and unemployment among young farmers.
While addressing farmers on the site, the Chairman, Board of Directors, Lower Niger River Basin Authority, Hon David Idoko, along with other members of the Board, informed the teeming young farmers who converged on the site that the agenda of Federal Government was to ensure that before the importation of rice was banned, the area must be a haven of rice that could sufficiently feed the nation as well as excess for exportation.
He said that the project, which started four years ago with a budget of about N3.2billion, is expected to stop the annual flooding on River Niger, which results in loss of farm produces by farmers and the expected all-seasons farming.
Commenting on the delay, Idoko said, “We are going to the board room, call the Bill of Quantities Surveyor, value the money and job done so far, so that we can ascertain the level of work he has done. We are assuring you that if he has not done well, we are not going to spare him”.
According to the laid-down objectives of the project, it is billed to produce 53,000 metric tonnes of rice annually; production of 60,000 tonnes of sugar-cane annually; protection of the River Niger valley; encourage industries in the areas of storage, processes and marketing of rice, and above all, to provide employment for over 20,000 farmers through all seasons in rice production.
The project, which is being handed by CPN Limited Construction, is expected to construct a 32km flood-protection embankment, 39 km of main access roads and primary roads, 10km of main drainage pump station, construction of four main pumping, development of 3,200 hectare of irrigation developing and the construction of 200km of irrigation canals
with control structure.
However, since the project has started four years ago, only one third of the project has been under construction. Already, 2,250 farmers are said to be on ground while farmers from Niger, Kogi, Kebbi and other northern states are expected to join their colleagues immediately the project is expanded.
The Secretary, Rice Farmers Association, Aliyu Kawu, while speaking with the Board members, expressed concern over the problems the farmers are facing annually on the site. He disclosed that they could not get sufficient fertilisers for their cultivation adding that although they have all registered they could not get the product.
Kawu also said that the farmers are under threat by Fulani herdsmen, who according to them also use their cows to graze on their farmlands when there was nobody around. The farmers’ spokesman, who appealed to Federal Government to take action on time, said if the government didn’t provide reserved areas for the Fulani herdsmen, what happened in Nasarawa and other states, where farmers and Fulani cattle-rearers reportedly clashed, could also happen in the area.
He added that the canal built on the site is not adequate, stressing that the contractor should be sufficiently motivated to hasten the project, so that more farmers could start cultivation.
In his reaction, Hon Idoko said the Federal Government is looking for 500 hectres, adding that government is trying to convene a Stakeholders’ Summit which will hold on the farm, stressing that all the activities will be witnessed by the farmers. He said the project has
been on for four years and that the contractor is being paid. He however lamented that they would not be happy if the Federal Government is paying but the project is not
yielding any positive outcome.
He promised that government would provide jobs for farmers so that they will not become idle and engage in fight with the Fulani cattle-rearers.
Idoko commended the Lower River Niger Basin Authority for their judicious utilisation of the funds, stressing that the only thing left is how to satisfy farmers on ground.
Speaking on the poor completion of the project, Idoko said the Board of Directors will investigate what happened, in order to ascertain whether it was the fault of contractor, or whether the funds appropriated was not judiciously utilised.
While inspecting the Phase 1 and 2 of Oke-Oyi Irrigation project, the committee also assured about 350 farmers on the farmlands that the Federal Government would continue to support Nigerian farmers to provide food for the nation and jobs for the teeming youths.
The representative of Tada-Shonga village, Imam Yusuf Tada appealed to the Federal Government to make the area a haven of agriculture and the food basket of the nation. The Islamic cleric, who expressed the excitement of the village over the localisation of the irrigation farming system in the area, stressed that the youth of the village would be fully engaged if the project is fully completed.