Kebbi — A long time has passed since the cultivation of onions was introduced in the country, and onions are known for their high economic and medicinal value. A town called Aliero in Kebbi State has remained the major producer of the cash crop, not only in Nigeria and in the Northern region, where it is believed to be largely produced, but it favourably competes with other West African nations where onions are grown, for example Benin Republic, Ghana, Burkina Faso and many others.
Apart from the traditional rainy season farming, about 70 percent of the people of Aliero engage in massive onion production (farming) during the dry season, thereby producing well over 80 percent of onions consumed within and outside the country.
The name Aliero is derived from the name of the Fulani founder of the town, who was known as Aliero. Presently it is the headquarters of Aliero Local Government situated along the major trunk "A" road that links Sokoto and the western part of the country. One of the sterling qualities to note here is that the people of Aliero promote unity, understanding and peac-eful co-existence amongst Nigerians, especially people from the eastern and southern part, who usually come to Aliero to make a bulk purchase of the product, for onward exportation to their respective areas where they dispose of them.
However, the Sarkin Albasa of Aliero, Alhaji Uba Bakwalo Aliero explained to Daily Trust how onions are produced right from the time of the preparation of seedlings, nursery, planting and harvest. "To begin with the whole procedure, I will start by explaining to you how we procure the seedlings first."
You see at the end of every harvest, we reserve the matured ones against next year, which we now provide with a little moisture for it to germinate internally. That takes well over a seven month duration, upon which an off shoot of seedlings would be produced. Sometimes a ball of onions could reproduce about 30-40 seedlings. Then we carefully separate them from the mother, and take to the already prepared nursery beddings where it spends at least 40 days under extensive care. Then we transplant it to the farm plots with a row spacing of 30-40 centimetres, and it should be noted that before the final transplanting of the seedlings, there should be a uniform broadcast of either compound manure that consists of animal residues and garbage's, or application of Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) in the prepared plots.
Alhaji Bakwalo added that the transplanting should be done during the very early morning hours, or in the late evening, depending on the weather. If it was not planted during the rainy season, then there should be a constant supply of irrigation water so as to ensure rapid growth.
"So as I was saying, after a period of 30 days since planting, the bud now produces flowering tentacles on its top, a sign that tells a farmer that his onion has reached matu-rity stage. Also it is a period that needs a steady supply of water alongside with weeding, fertilizer, pesticides and insecticide applications." When asked on the type of diseases, or pests that parasite on the crop, Sarkin Albasa said "We have different diseases as well as insects that are harmful to the crop of every onion farmer. Although we were able to overcome them, for some there seems nothing we can do. First of all we have diseases which we locally call Zazzalau that deals with the onion crop. Kambirau deals with the leaves. We have Kirki-rtau which is most dangerous and attacks the tuber, and Lutau is another disease that afflicts so much damage to the stem. However, the first two earlier mentioned emer-ged during the rainy season onion farming, while the other two attack the crop in the period of the dry season operation.
What they have been doing to this effect, Alhaji Abdullahi said, "you know whatever you are doing for several years definitely you would learn a lot of things. So now based on experience, we have come up with a remedy of spraying Gamalin A. Aldrex T. and other very strong chemicals which fight the virus.
On the number of days it takes before harvesting, he explained "you see it all depends on the suitability of the soil. Some soils are highly productive while some are not, but in the case of Aliero and its environs where onions are grown, I will confidently tell you that it took only 75 - 80 days, while in the neighbouring Gulumbe and Kardi areas in Ambursa Local Government, it takes a duration of 110-120 days before they harvest. So you can see the difference depends on the nature of the soil. Here in Aliero area. Our soil is sandy, while that of Gulumbe is a little loamy, and you know there are two types of onions. We have the red and white. So here we produce the red one which is more market-able because of its pungency, and the white one usually comes from Sokoto and some parts of Zaria and Bauchi.
A visit to some of the farms by Daily Trust has showed that farmers were seen busy either preparing their plots or transplanting the seedlings, while those that planted earlier were weeding and watering the plants, as every onion farmer needs to have an open dug well and a pumping machine, which they use in the absence of rain water. A farmer at the site told Daily Trust that he spent well over One hundred thousand naira (100,000.00) on his four acre onion farm. "I will give you a conservative estimate. I spent sixty thousand naira (N60,000) on this my long distance well. I bought a second hand pumping machine. I procured more seedlings, bought fertilisers and compound manure. So you can see how hectic this job is, but nevertheless at the end of the season we expect to recover all our expenses" said Malam Abdullahi Ubanmanya of Jigga village.
According to him he is expecting nothing less than 100 bags this year, as all the necessary inputs needed have been put in place, and "I have procured enough fertiliser, manure and chemicals. So what remains now is watering of the crop and close supervision" he said. While giving a recipe for shifting cultivation, he said if a farmer cultivates a farm for 10 years, there is need for him to allow it to rest for at least three years within which he could till again. By so doing it would be more productive and give a high yield. You see this farm (indicating his farm) I am cultivating it for the second time, and last year I made up to 30 bags in just a small portion of it," he declared.
However, Sarkin Albasa explained that by December everywhere in the area is at the peak of harvest, so the current price of N10,000 per bag (Jute bag) will certainly drop to be sold at N2,000-3000 Naira, due to its availability. Infact we spent about six years making transactions with people coming to buy onions. During the period under review a number of 30 trucks were loaded on a daily basis for delivery to different parts of the country." People come from Abia/Enugu, Port-Harcourt, Ondo, Ogun, Osun, Kaduna, and even from the neighbouring Benin and Ghana Republics to come here and make purchases from us. .
Alhaji Bakwado further told Daily Trust that some of their predicaments are lack of storage facilities, pumping machines, fertilizers and chemicals. He however commended the leadership of Governor Muhammadu Adamu Aliero, who he said, being a son of the soil, has contributed immensely to development of not only onion production, but the agricultural sector in general. "I want to re-appeal to the Governor to go ahead and provide an onion dehydration plant in Aliero, as his administration has earlier planned to execute, so as to boost onion farming" Bakwalo said.
When contacted Governor Adamu Aliero who spoke through his Special Assistant on media and publicity, Alhaji Abdullahi Idris Zuru, as regards assistance needed by onion farmers in the state, opined that the administration is fully committed to the industrialisation of the state, particularly the establishment of agro-allied industries with the abundant human and material resources.
Already, all the necessary farm inputs for both raining and dry season farming, such as tractors, fertilisers, work-bulls, seeds and seedlings have been procured for distribution to the farming families on loan. In the same vein, soft financial loans are being negotiated from some agricultural banks by the Farmers Associations with the State Government as a guarantor.
Similarly, a number of investors have signified their interest to invest in the processing and preservation of the abundant Sugarcane and Onion in the area. Discussions between the government and the would-be investors have reached an advanced stage for the actualisation of the proposed factories.
It is envisaged that by the time modalities for the establishment of the factories are finalised, which will be soon, farmers in the State particularly those engaged in Onion, Sugarcane and other farm produce, needed as raw materials, will have become large producers with the capacity to produce enough raw materials for the factories.
As at now, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, are working out modalities for sensitising the people of the State on the advantages of taking part in Governor Aliero's Industrial Revolution in the State.