A cooperative farming society, the Nigerian Farmers Group, NFG-CS, has begun a project that will enable urban dwelling Nigerians own and run farms.
The project has taken off with a plan to cultivate 5,000 tonnes of maize by the end of this farming season in Nasarawa State.
PREMIUM TIMES visited the farm located at Gaate village, a rural settlement along Keffi-Akwanga road in Kokona Local Government Area of the state where the group said it has acquired a five-year lease of a 1000 hectare of land.
At the time of the visit, tractors and a handful of local people were working on the farm.
“We met with the village leaders and the king,” said Redson Tedheke, coordinator of the group.
“We discussed with them and we paid for a five- year lease of 1000 hectares. At the end of the lease, we intend to increase it by another five years. We don’t want to buy off the land, we want to take it as a lease because we believe that over time, we will allow them to manage the process as we go to other places to open up new frontiers”, Mr. Tedheke told this newspaper.
According to him, anyone interested can acquire a land on lease through the programme and have it cultivated without having to go to the field.
“We give out land on lease at N50,000 per hectare over a period of a year and the expectation is that we are going to plant twice in a year. Once you make up your mind on how many hectares you want, then start making arrangement for farm management.
“You can be in your office and be a farmer. You don’t have to come here and do the farm work. You only pay N25,000 and that takes care of the cultivation and harvesting of your maize for a farming season.
“We employ the community people to do the farming and provide security for us. Just from this axis, we have over a 100 people employed. What we are doing is to provide them job, then you provide some support for us to pay them.”
Mr. Tedheke said that the group was planning to establish farms under the programme across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria.
He said that the group had also established a farm in Adamawa State with the support of the state government and that its plans were underway to begin cultivation of ginger in Kaduna State.
An elder in the community, Adamu Ashefa, said the scheme would not generate any conflict between the locals and the cooperative group because the members of the community are involved in it.
“They gave us a sense of belonging by employing our youth to work in the farm and do menial jobs. Together we can attack this monster called hunger,” he said.
Aminu Mohammed, one of the locals working in the farm, expressed delight.
“We will take care of this farm. We are happy about this and we are calling on the government to put more hands in it. We are getting jobs through this. About 60 people have been employed.”
Owen White, a member of the group, said he had acquired 200 hectares at the site.
“I am farmer. I have 200 hectares of land here. Farming is the only way forward. If you can feed yourself and your people, then the problem is solved. Nigerians need to come over to agriculture, the era of oil is over,” Mr. White said.
Mr. Tedheke said the NFG-CS keyed into President Muhammadu Buhari’s “Farm to Feed Nigeria’’ programme and was formed by men and women across Nigeria interested in farming wherever they might be, in response to the administration’s drive to boost agriculture.
According to him, the group was being assisted by Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, under the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing in Agricultural Lending, NIRSAL.
But he also decried the slow response of the government to the needs of cooperative farmers.
“This initiative is driven by the desire of President Buhari specifically to see that the country can take care of its need in terms of agriculture through the ‘Feed Yourself’ initiative and we are tapping into that. All the work we are doing here are done by members of the cooperative, not from government sponsorship.”
Mr. Tedheke also spoke on the history of the program.
“We have been active for close to a year now, but we became more active during this farming season; so, you can say over a couple of months ago. It is very difficult to this on our own so when this NIRSAL, a CBN arm of agriculture lending programme, came up, we welcomed it.
“We love the fact that you can have a land and develop it then the central bank will come and support you through NIRSAL. But just like other programmes of government, they are very slow.
“Yes, the intent and the desire to assist us is there but it is low. Where they have failed, we have taken the mantle of leadership by making the move and we are forcing the government unto the table.
“If Nigeria is producing 300,000 tonnes of maize a year and a group of Nigerians is adding 30,000 tonnes to that each year, that means we are producing about 5 to 10 per cent of what we need. If they want to support us, now is the best time because it will no longer be useful after the farming season,” he said.
The CBN approved the disbursement of about N75 billion as loan to farmers in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) under the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing in Agricultural Lending, NIRSAL.
The loan guarantee scheme is a public-private sector initiative set up to transform the country’s agricultural sector. It was initiated by the apex bank, the Bankers’ Committee and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to guarantee 75 per cent loans provided by Deposit Money Banks (DPB) to farmers as part of efforts to transform the country’s agricultural sector.
Mr. Tedheke noted that the cooperative has approached the agriculture ministry. He said the minister, Audu Ogbeh, promised them two tractors and one bulldozer, which they are yet to receive.
He further called on states governments to support mechanised farming to boost food production across the country.
“For the nation to attain self-sustenance in food production, the state governments must key into the agricultural revolution of the Federal Government by supporting mechanised farming.
“If we really want to feed ourselves as a nation and stop importation of food, mechanised farming must be initiated and supported across the country.
“A country of over 170 million people cannot guarantee food security in this 21st century with hoe and cutlass farming.
“It is not enough to say people, especially the youths should go to farm without making the sector attractive with the requisite technical sophistication.
“The state governments are closer to the rural areas where there are a lot of arable lands lying fallow, therefore they should provide the necessary platforms for massive mechanised farming,” he urged.
In the 1960s, before it turned to oil, Nigeria was a major agricultural producer. Between 1962 and 1968, export crops were the country’s main foreign exchange earners. The country was number one globally in palm oil exports, well ahead of Malaysia and Indonesia, and exported 47 per cent of all groundnuts, putting it ahead of the U.S. and Argentina.
But its status as an agricultural powerhouse has declined steeply.
Nigeria currently imports various quantities and varieties of foods to feed its teeming population despite her huge agricultural potential.
With over 84 million hectares of arable land, of which only 40 per cent is cultivated; a population of over 170 million people, making it Africa’s largest market; 230 billion cubic meters of water; and abundant and reliable rainfall in over two thirds of its territory, the country has some of the richest natural resources for agricultural production in the world.
Indeed, Nigeria was once a major player in the global agricultural market, as the world’s largest producer of groundnuts and palm oil in the 1960s, and the second largest exporter of cocoa.
While Nigeria once provided 18 per cent of the global production of cocoa, second in the world in the 1960s, that figure is now down to eight per cent. And while the country produces 65 per cent of tomatoes in West Africa, it is now the largest importer of tomato paste.
Not only is the country depending largely on food importation, it is also finding it difficult to cover its huge food imports bills, owing to downswings in revenues from oil that the country depends on, which led the country into an economic recession.