From AKIN ALOFETEKUN, Minna
Chief Audu Ogbe, one-time national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is a politician and and a farmer but definitely not a prophet. However, his recent doomsday prediction in Minna, Niger State, would make one think he is modern day Jeremiah. For two years, precisely between 2007 and 2009, the Yar’adua/Jonathan administration was mouthing it at the rooftops that by the year 2020, Nigeria will be numbered among the 20 most developed countries of the world.
Ogbe, in Minna, however, saw it differently and he was not being political. His concern was Nigeria’s neglect of agriculture and her over reliance on oil. The occasion was the Niger State Rice Value Chain Stakeholders Forum held at the Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre in Minna, Niger State, where government officials, farmers (small and large scale) and egg-heads in agriculture from research institutes and ministries gathered to brainstorm on how to get the nation prepared for the 2015 ban on importation of rice.
To Ogbe, Nigeria stands no chance of attaining the feat being dreamt of if it continues to rely on oil as the mainstay of the economy. “By 2015, many African countries will discover oil and by 2020, our oil production will begin to dwindle. What I am trying to say is that by the time many countries in the continent discover oil in commercial quantity, demand for our oil will go down. This is the reason we should not wait before we diversify our economy,” Ogbe said.
He disclosed that just one state in India had no fewer than 250 sugar cane factories, providing job opportunities for people and boosting the economy but lamented that Nigeria only paid lip service to agriculture and the need to diversify the economy. The former PDP chairman, therefore, described efforts being put in place by the Niger State Governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, to prepare the state for the proposed ban on rice importation as not only timely but commendable.
Niger State governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu in his address said the target of the state government is that by the end of 2013, paddy rice production in Niger state would grow to 689,000 metric tons representing a 30 per cent increase on the present average production level of about 530,000 metric tons per annum. “By the end of the third phase, NSRIC project would have propelled the rice production level of the state to over one million metric tons per annum. “The total investment required to implement the NSRIC Project is 34.5 billio’n naira over a three-year period.
The project entails development of 100,000 hectares of rice farmilar in upland and lowland regions of the State including associated enterprises in the rice value chain to be implemented in three phases” Aliyu therefore enjoined wealthy individuals and corporate organizations to invest in agriculture and its value chain. ”For us in Niger State, we have since recognized that agriculture holds the key to our present and our future. No less than 70 per cent of our citizens live in the rural areas where about 80 per cent are engaged in one form of agriculture related activity or another; developing our’ agriculture is therefore about developing our rural ‘areas, employment generation, poverty reduction and improving the wellbeing of a large proportion of our population, a position supported by data the recently released by the national Planning Commission where Niger State recorded the least poverty rate in Nigeria in 2011.
“We must demonstrate that we are the leading rice producing State in Nigeria that is why Government is doing so much in this commitment. He said government has initiated a pilot phase at Doko-Nambe axis; where over 3,000 farmers have been enumerated for participation in the project, adding that his administration had also procured and dedicated 25 tractors to the pilot area of the Niger State Rice Investment Consortium Project.
According to Aliyu, government had also given full impetus to dry-season rice cultivation by supporting 10,000 farmers cultivating 10,000 hectares of rice fields across the State with 50 per cent subsidy on 30,000 50kg bags of fertilizers and 10,000.50kg bags of rice seeds valued at N132. miliion. “Agriculture should principally be commercial undertaking; it is the largest employer of labour ‘and our youths should also be made to realize that agriculture is profitable. Govemment has created the enabling environment to support agricultural sector of the State and we are prepared to do more”
The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in the state, Alhaji Muhammad Kwotu Abdullahi in his welcome address disclosed that the state is positioning itself for the proposed ban on the importation of rice by 2015. “Considering, the abundant land and water bodies Niger State is endowed with, coupled with the fact that it is the leading rice producing State in Nigeria, the present administration under the able leadership of the Chief Servant Dr Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu approved the establishment of Niger State Rice Investment Consortium (NSRIC) Project aimed at increasing rice production in the State along the rice value chain. “The NSRIC Project will be of immense benefit to the people of Niger State especially the rice farmers, processors and marketers.
The unemployed youth will gain employment in agricultural enterprises, improve the socio-economic status of our farmers and contribute to the reduction of the foreign reserve expenditure on importation of rice. “In our efforts to reinvigorate and transform the Extension Services delivery in the State, Extension agents under the state Taiba graduate scheme were recruited with a view to reducing the existing wide gap ratio of Extension Agent to farmers which is presently put at 1:1800 instead of 1:1000.
Adequate capacity building programmes will be evolved to train and retrain the Extension Agents. Holistic approach will be adopted to enable us attain the targeted production along the value chain of the crops the State has comparative advantage. Furthermore, on farm Adaptive Research and small plot Adoption Techniques trials and demonstrations will be intensified in the state in collaboration with relevant research institutes within and outside the state with a view to adopting recommended practices for enhanced production”