opinionBy Ujudud Shariff
Boosting of agriculture to achieve selfreliance in food production thereby secure national food security remains very central to the 7-Point Agenda of the Yar'adua administration.
The need to provide food security for the country has been the objective of the past administrations since independence with varying successes and determination.
We will therefore never get tired of raising an alarm and drawing the attention of the federal government and indeed other tiers of government to this critical issue. A nation that relies on other countries for its feeding is doomed to perpetual manipulation and blackmail.
While it is true we have been relying on annual periodic rainfall to sustain our food production since time immemorial, over the last few decades it was realized that we have to also adopt irrigation in order to sustain our agriculture, It was virtually this realization by the Federal Government that led to the setting up of a number of river basins irrigation projects throughout the country in the middle 1970s.
Our focus today is primarily on the Kano River Project under the jurisdiction of the Hadejia-Jama'are River Basin Development Authority. This is because it is about the oldest irrigation scheme in the country that is suffering from all the negative elements of insensibilities, bureaucratic delays, planlessness and if you are very passionate about it, you can call it irresponsibility of some government officials.
This is the sad story of an irrigation project that began as far back as 1969 with the construction of Bagauda Dam by former Governor of Kano State, late Alhaji Audu Bako. This started the Kadawa Irrigation Project Scheme, the precursor to the Kano Irrigation Project. The government quickly followed Bagauda Dam with a much bigger dam, the Tiga Dam between 1970 and 1973 with the primary purpose of boosting agricultural production through irrigation to enhance self-reliance in food production.
The initial target of the irrigation project was to cover 100,000 hectors for the benefits of millions of families. But the first phase of this project estimated to cover an area of 22,000 hectors was commenced between 1971 and 1975. However, only 6000 hectors were covered within this period under Audu Bako Administration. But in 1975, the Murtala/Obasanjo regime established the Hadejia-Jama'are River Basin Development Authority to superintendent irrigation activities in the areas and boost food production in its areas of coverage. But unfortunately, only 4000 hectas were covered under their Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) programme up to 1979.
The period between 1979 and 1983 witnessed the Shehu Shagari Administration and its Green Revolution programme that sought to reinvigorate agricultural production in the country. Despite all the pomp and pageantry that went with the noble programme, not much was achieved in increasing the coverage of the Kano River Project. In fact, only 4000 additional hectors was actually covered. The project was surprisingly terminated in 1984 and went into limbo for nearly 20 years until the return of President Obasanjo to the State House in Abuja.
During the 8 years of Obasanjo administration and partly due to the lobbying of Governor Rabi'u Musa Kwankwaso and the intervention of Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, the project was resuscitated and contract was awarded for the 7000 hectors to complete the first phase. But unfortunately, for over 32 years, we were only able to cover about 17 thousands out of the 22,000 hectors for the first phase. In other words, we are only able to cover 17,000 out of the 100,000 hectors for the whole project!
The Kano River Project Phase 1 lies between latitudes 11.45' and 12.05 North and longitude 8.45' and 9.05' East. It is located at a vast area over 25Km south of Kano city and it is essentially most of the irrigable land both sides of the Kano-Zaria highway and on both sides also of the Karfi-Rano highway. It is a scheme to provide irrigation facilities for about 22,000 hectors of land utilizing the Tiga Dam Reservoir.
From the above, it is clear how unserious we have been as a nation in developing our agriculture and fighting poverty in this country. This only from Kano River Project and you can imagine what has happen from other similar irrigation projects in the remaining river basin authorities.
The story we are sure cannot be different from the Hadejia-Jama'are River Basin Development Authority. As the north is greatly endowed with agricultural land, rivers and dams, the time is now ripe more than ever to go back to the land to cultivate our foods and provide for the agro-related industries. With the world economic crisis resulting in the serious fall in oil prices and its attendant loss of revenue to states and local government councils, we must turn our attention to the development of agriculture.
We are glad with the recent declaration by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources to provide about 240 Billion Naira intervention Fund and the similar declaration by the Central Bank to provide funds for agricultural activities, the northern governors must wake up from their slumber. We are tied of speeches and promises to reinvigorate agriculture by the governors.
The time for action and look inwards is now and generate revenues to take care of our numerous problems in now. We can no longer depend on oil revenues for our sustenance considering all the insults from Niger Delta and the dwindling oil revenues. Only agriculture can provide employment to our millions of youth parading the streets searching for jobs.
Only agriculture can be able to eradicate poverty in the north as well as salvage our women and children. The Northern Governors Forum should do more to lobby the Federal Government to inject more funds to prepare more land for irrigation activities. We are pleased with the visit by Governor Ibrahim Shekarau to the Kano River Irrigation Project sites to see things for himself.
It is now time for drastic action to at least complete the 100,000 hectors project. Let him mobilize Kano people to visit Abuja and invite President Umaru Yar'adua to rescue our state. In fact, to my mind, let the completion of this project by the president be even the only project he will do for Kano State during his entire presidency. The River Basin Development Authorities must be reactivated and reorganized to stand on their feet. There must be strong synergy with the federal and states ministries of agriculture to mobilize the farmers and youth.
Northern politicians and leaders must be alive to their responsibilities in salvaging the north through agriculture. The Northern Senators, elected representatives, Ministers and Governors must work in unison and work hard to utilize most effectively the shifting of power back to the region.
Two years have virtually gone in to the Yar'adua presidency. It is incredible that up to now the 70 Billion naira intervention fund to revive the textile industry is yet to be released! The release of this money will contribute greatly not only in reviving our comatose textile industries in Kaduna and Kano but also significantly revive cotton production in the entire north.