Dahiru Buba Biri is the Commissioner of Agriculture, Gombe State. He said the state has perfected plans for triple rice production before the recent flood washed away farmlands in the state. Excerpts:
Sir, can you give us an idea of how rice farming is going on in Gombe State?
Rice farming is an activity that has been upheld and is very important in the agricultural development of Gombe State. We have two major dams around where rice production is going on. And in fact, under the present arrangement of the Federal Government in collaboration with the state government, we are expanding the irrigated areas, and we also support massively the production of rice along our riversides, our dams when water overflows them. The residual moisture that remained behind is used by our farmers to plant a lot of rice. So, rice farming is an important part of our agricultural programme.
Your production level of rice has not been pronounced, what is the extent of rice production in the state?
Since we have been doing rice farming in Gombe State, production has not been more than between 0.9 to maximum of 1.5 tons per hectare. Now, with the present arrangement, we want to push the production to anything between 3 to 4 or even 5 tons per hectare. This is the programme we are pursuing not just to increase the area under cultivation, but also to double and triple the production per hectare before the flood obstructed us.
To what extent has the recent flood across the country affected farmlands in Gombe State?
In most of our areas by the riversides particularly in 3 or 4 local governments like Yamaltu/Deba, Nafada, Funakaye, Dukku and many others, most of the farms around the riversides have been flooded. Many of our farmers lost their crops.
How many hectares of farmland were affected by flood in Gombe State?
We are still counting our losses. We have over 12,000 hectares of farmlands affected.
How has the GES programme been in the state?
GES programme has been very successful. From the beginning, it started very, very poorly. People were not responding. The GSM was not working very well. So, we sat down with the stakeholders, the cellular companies, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the state Ministry of Agriculture. We sat down and devised ways and means of quickly identifying the farmers and giving them fertilizers.
We also came back to the cellular companies to provide us with enough scratch cards which they did. And it was successful, particularly for those who bought fertilizers and seeds to keep for next year.
What programme does the state government have for the youths; to get the youth involved in agriculture?
We have a lot of programmes for the youths. Apart from the training the government is giving to the youth generally in various areas, we have three programmes on agriculture. We have the poultry part of agriculture where we have activated our poultry production unit in which we are now taking a number of youths, training them and giving them capital to start business on their own.
We also have a programme in which we are going to engage our youths in agriculture. Government has already made plans to provided money in the 2013 budget so that we will involve our youths in training, capacity building, provision of inputs and provision of land for them to own their farms and become professional farmers.
Apart from the Federal Government's flood relief package, what other plan does Gombe State government have to allay the fears of farmers against such a catastrophe next year?
You cannot say there cannot be flood because this is a natural phenomenon. You cannot stop it. And the flooding that took place, the Federal Government does not have the capacity to stop it. However, it has the capacity to bring palliative measures and alternative measures. Now we have three categories of affected areas. We have areas that were flooded and at the end of the flood, water will just dry up and the people will have their crops lost, and they may not have even the opportunity to irrigate. These need assistance in terms of food. There are areas where the flood affected the crop, the water has dried up, but they have good underground water that we can now provide borehole and pumps for them to do irrigation farming.
The third aspect are those that are around the river basins, around the river areas and around the dams that have been flooded. Now with the water is drawing back, the residual moisture from the draw back water, the people are planting. And they will continue to plant. And they can have even two crops.