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‘How we irrigate 39 kilometres farmland with gravity’

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Aremu

Managing Director of the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (covering Kwara and Kogi states), Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr Adeniyi Saheed Aremu, spoke with Head of Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA, on limited but result-oriented efforts of the authority to get youths and agribusiness individuals to contribute to food production using the water and irrigation resources emplaced by the Ministry of Water Resources.

What are your programmes to contribute to food sufficiency efforts of the country?
We have several projects and programmes that are fashioned towards the economic development and growth plan of the country. The basin authority basically redevelops both surface and ground water for different purposes. Our area of operation is the whole of Kwara State, and two-third of Kogi State. We have five area offices, with three in Kwara. There is one in Ilorin, one at Shonga and Ibarun. We have two in Kogi (Ejiba and Lokoja).

The area offices have project offices in which we have several agricultural projects. In terms of food security, especially in the production of staples, since we have land and water resources, we develop them for several uses. So, we construct dams, ponders and some other retaining structures that can hold water so that you can encourage both rain-fed agriculture and dry season farming. We also have irrigation facilities in our area offices. In Ejiba, we have over 7,000 hectares, out of which we lease some to the Kogi State government.

Are these facilities actually providing dry season irrigation services?
Yes, they are functional. At Ejiba, we have a very big dam that can provide water by gravity, whereby you don’t need any electricity or a mechanical device to pump water. With the structure, we have the water at the upland and in the lowland, we have the farmland. So, it can flow up to 39 kilometers and they are all utilised.

What are being produced on the farmland?
Farmers cultivate rice, maize and vegetables mostly. In fact, any time you go to Ejiba, you will find vegetables. There was a time we went to Sokoto to bring farmers and when those farmers got to Ejiba, they settled down for farming. We have several fish ponds that are operated by individuals and corporative societies, one of which is a cooperative of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

In Kwara, where are your projects? And are they functional and contributing to dry season farming?
We have in Shonga, and there is a multi-million naira dike that is being constructed along the Niger River because of past flood experiences. There, we have about 2,000 to 3,000 hectares that belong to the authority. What we do is that when we move to a site, we acquire the land, and we develop them for agricultural purposes. In Shonga, we have 3,200 hectares and they are all fully utilised, but we have problems of flood, but now we are trying to build a multi-million naira embankment to protect the farm. So, during the dry season, we can pour from the Niger River, and then during the raining season, we can protect our farmland.

Do you lease the farmland to farmers, or how does a farmer participate?
We lease the farmland to them per season. Some of the farms have irrigation facilities, which include pumping machines. We have at Oke-Oyi, in Ilorin and at Malete, Kaiama, among others, and they are all functional. What we are trying to do is to create as many dams as possible so that we can impound water that can be useful. After impounding the water, we get the adjoining farmland from the community and then give them farm inputs.

Is there any particular programme meant for youths and graduates of agriculture who are interested in agriculture?
We have a graduate youth empowerment scheme, which was introduced some years back by the Minister of Water Resources, Sulaiman Adamu. It is aimed at empowering youths and we started it about four years ago. We took the first set of graduates and youths that were active in some specialties. Last year, we also took youths from the University of Ilorin, and we trained them on different aspects of agriculture.

Usually, after training them, we incorporate them into our scheme by giving them farmland and providing them with necessary inputs.

What is the scope of the training?
It covers all forms of agriculture: animal husbandry, aquaculture, and poultry. Last year, we had amazing students and paid them N10,000 per month, just to encourage them and those students didn’t take the money from us, instead they decided to invest it in having their own farms and at the end of the training, when they were about to leave, they had to sell all their products.

After the training, do all of them or what percentage of them does take up agriculture?
Yes, they will still function with what we have taught them directly or indirectly. The law allows you to engage in part-time agriculture.

So, are you collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Bank of Agriculture or the Bank of Industry to increase youth participation in food businesses?
Last year, we had this collaboration with the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), and we fashioned out a programme known as one man, one hectare. So, for our farmers, the highest each could get was one hectare.

We did the preparation for them and all other things; the seedlings, insecticides and other inputs were provided by NIRSAL. NIRSAL also acted as the off taker. The difference between the output and the input was given to the farmer.

This shows that the farmers will not invest in anything else other than their labour and care for the farm.

What are the criteria for participating in such a programme?
It is open to all farmers. They want us to have at least 100 hectares for a colony of farmers. But here we even have more than that. Several associations are coming, including those of journalists and teachers. Civil servants come to key into this. We usually have more than what we bargain for. So, this year, the programme will be expanded.

What are you doing to upscale farmland irrigation?
Like the Ejiba scheme, where there is flow by gravity, we want to utilise the 39 kilometres we have there. That water can irrigate throughout the year. So, that can irrigate as many fields as possible.

We want to branch out other canals from the main ones to have as many as possible. We also plan to remove debris from the dams for more water to be captured and we are constructing more dams. For this year, we have four new dams.

Where are they located?
They are in our catchment area. We have two in Kogi and three in Kwara. We have two that have been completed and almost ready to be put to use.

So now what is your advice for youths who are only interested in white collar jobs?
We have so many government programmess aimed at boosting agriculture, especially fish farming. The amount of investment we have in Ejiba is over N500 million, on aquaculture alone and there are spaces for youths.

Will you tell us about the rice mill?
The Kogi State government invited some investors and they built a very big rice mill at Ejiba. Also, the authority has one and we invited an individual to operate it as public private partnership business. He is using our own farmland to source the rice from the local farmers.

What is the production capacity?
The capacity of PPP rice mill is two tonnes per day. Other things we do are that: we are buying young cattle to train in breeding; we are also looking forward to increasing our poultry farm capacity, of which we have already renovated and stocked pens with about 3,000 chicks.

Are you partnering with the private operators on the poultry business?
No. We are into direct production.

It is believed that businesses managed by the government cannot run very well. What do you think?
No. This one is running properly because it is a venture on its own, under the Agriculture Department of the authority.


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