By Anselm Okolo
It has been a telling story, but returning Sokoto state on the path of economic prosperity through agriculture had always been a cardinal ambition of Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal from the first day of his assumption of office as governor of the state.
“You will all agree with me that the mainstay of our state’s economic activities lies in agriculture” he told a team of journalists on a fact finding tour of the state recently. “It is the business of every town and every home” he noted while pointing out that “Allah SWT has bestowed us with mass arable land for variety of crops for both domestic use and commercial purposes”.
What he did not envisage, he told the team, was that to achieve his ambition he would have to virtually re-start from point zero.
First, he had to deal with the issue of poor data on the sector and the capacities and inadequacies of key players engaged in real agriculture.
A Technical Committee on a research driven Framework for Agricultural Development in the state was appointed. The committee was chaired by His Excellency, the Former Deputy Governor, Chiso Abdullahi Dattijo to recommend mechanisms to revive agriculture as a reliable business in the State.
Prior to the findings of this committee, which now serve as a baseline for all agricultural considerations and decisions in the state, there was no data to tell who is producing what and where and at what capacity.
Conducted in two phases, the state wide farmers’ enumeration culminated in what is today the Sokoto State Agricultural Database, SSAD. The first phase captured over 65,000 Fadama farmers covering over 125,000 hectares across the state. The second phase captured another 70,000 farmers across over 130,000 hectares. Information collected includes pictures, coordinates of the farmland and what crops is/are farmed on the farmland.
Governor Tambuwal confesses “It has helped us to take appropriate decisions as to what support and assistance the individual farmer will need to be productive”.
Information from the baseline study has helped improve results from intervention in agriculture especially in CBN Anchor Borrowers Scheme in the state. Relying on it, the state was able to accredit uptakers who now provide all what a farmer needs from plantation to harvest serving as a safeguard and guarantee for end benefit, a reason the state is today first among equals in rice and other farm produce production.
It has further helped in other ways. Potentially irrigable Fadama land in the state is now known, also known are all individual farmer’s data, farmers groups and clusters. The knowledge has eased planning and investment promotion. Governor Tambuwal says “these data have helped us in our support to farmers and helping them get best returns on their yields through our uptakers groups and the state grains board”.
As a result, procurement of certified seedlings and distribution free to farmers in the state since 2016 have been targeted to individuals or groups engaged in actual farming. So far 981,000 kg of certified rice seed Faro 44 valued at over N285 million was procured and distributed to targeted farmers since 2016 while 6,000 bags of 100 kg of wheat seed (Attila gan) valued over N161 million was similarly procured and distributed free to farmers.
As production was booming, accredited uptakers like Forse, Popular Farm, Labana, AA Rice Mill and Flour Mills Nigeria Limited through the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of CBN were waiting on the sides to buy up the produce from the farmers thus guaranteeing good returns on their efforts.
On the side of the CBN programme, the state has also promoted a private sector driven Out-Grower Programme similar to CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) called the Dangote Rice Out-grower Scheme Programme at Goronyo in the state. 500 hectares of land has already been committed to the programme on a pilot basis. Over 1000 farmers are currently engaged in dry season rice farming.
To ensure that farmers do not suffer unnecessary losses due to the disruptive activities of birds, the state government under the programme has spent heavily on the purchase of protective nets for distribution free to farmers and farmers’ clusters in the state.
Indeed, the Rice Out – Grower scheme will be replicated soon in Silame and Kware under the 2nd phase of the programme.
The state has similarly made giant strides in the area of procurement of farming inputs for farmers. It has procured 15,000 units of 2” and 3” water pumps to support dry season farming of which about N450 million has so far been spent. The pumps were resold to farmers and farmers clusters at a rebated rate of N10,000 per unit. This has tangentially increased yields of the farmers per hectare by nearly 30 percent.
Within the same period 300 trucks of assorted fertilizers were procured at the cost of N617 million and sold to farmers at a subsidized rate of N2,200 per bag for 2016 wet season farming. Also, under 2017/18 wet and dry season farming, the state government procured another 15,000 metric tons of fertilizer at the cost of N1,650,000,000.00 including cost of transportation under the Federal Government Presidential Fertilizer Initiative and sold to farmers at subsidized rate of N4,000.00 per bag.
In an unprecedented demonstration of support to farmers in the 2017/2018 wet and dry seasons farming, the state government procured 25,000mt of NPK fertilizer from Messrs Ponglomerape Limited at the cost of N6,800 per bag amounting to N3.4 Billion. The sale of this fertilizer was flagged-off at Sabon Birni by Governor Tambuwal at the subsidized rate of N4,000 per bag. Total Government’s subsidy to farmers under the intervention alone was N1.4 billion.
The State is also collaborating with the fertilizer firm OCP to make subsidized fertiliser available to Sokoto farmers even during this COVID 19 period. According to Tambuwal: “The palliatives will go a long way in boosting the agriculture sector of the state and country as farmers will be able to plant in time and harvest rich yields for national food security.”
Governor Tambuwal however believes that actual production of Fertilizer in Sokoto will save huge foreign exchange for Nigeria and boost the economy of the State. To this end, he visited MOROCCO and sealed a deal to tap into Sokoto State’s massive phosphate reserves, in producing phosphorus-containing fertilizer. The Sokoto phosphate reserve is estimated at about 10 million tonnes and is very suitable for fertilizer production. The establishment of the plant is at an advanced stage through a strategic partnership with the Moroccan government-owned firm. As a concrete expression of the state’s readiness to partner with OCP Morocco, Governor Tambuwal has allocated 10 hectares of land at Kalambaina Industrial Layout, for the Phosphate Blending Plant, with a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) issued to OCP Morocco.
The government has also purchased assorted seeds (carrot, watermelon, onion, pepper, garlic, cabbage etc) at over N11 million distributed free to farmers to improve farming and revenue to farmers as well as availability of vegetables for citizens of the state.
In the area of land preparation Governor Tambuwal is confident that “with what we have been able to do in the last five years, farmers in the state will readily testify that they have never had it so good”.
The reconstruction of Kware Irrigation Scheme under the ATA-SP II
intervention has been completed. Its completion was facilitated with the payment of the State Government’s counterpart contribution of N91 million to the project.
The state government similarly paid its counterpart funding of N1.2 Billion to Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) for rehabilitation of Wurno Dam and for the control of erosion /flood that affects over 4,000 farmers within the area.
The real deal for farmers in the state will be the start of the state government’s collaboration with Zenith Bank that will usher farming credits worth over N3 billion across value chains.
According to the current commissioner of Agriculture, Mohammed Adzika Tureta, “arrangements are at advance stage for the start of this credit scheme, I can assure you that farmers, their yield and revenue will skyrocket with this intervention”. This will be an addition to an earlier approval of the release of N1,312,914,435 under the ABP to 3 banks namely UBA, Access Bank, and Unity Bank for the payment of 5% Equity and 30% Credit Risk Cover for dry season farming covering all farmers in the state.
Anselm Okolo is a journalist based in Abuja and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org