Jos — Plateau State, shorn of tin mining that made it tick, seeks to boost farming through the model named Agricultural Services Training Centre (ASTC)
Tin mining presented fascinating economic opportunities in Jos to residents of other parts of Nigeria and many flocked in. Jos, indeed, possessed a global appeal because tin mining was controlled by expatriates, particularly during the colonial rule up to 1972 when the industry was nationalised.
Incidentally, from the late 1970s, tin mining fortunes began to dwindle. Nigeria produced an average of 10,000 tons of tin annually around that decade. The figure dropped to 3,000 tons in the 1980s and fell to just about 500 tons by the 1980s.
As the tin mining business lost its allure over time, people of Jos and its environs had to find alternative means of livelihood, with the famed good weather and climatic conditions of the area offering agriculture as a viable alternative. But farming has been an unpopular alternative and has largely been practised at subsistence level mainly by people who cannot find the much taunted but hardly available white-collar jobs.
This has prompted the Plateau State government into activities which the government feels can uplift the profile of farming and attract more people into it.
"Farming is a business and we are treating it as such in Plateau State," Governor Jonah Jang said at a recent function. He was speaking about a model of agricultural revival that his government is implementing across the state.
He elaborated on his concept of farming: "Farming is a profession and a prestigious source of livelihood if we treat it right. We should regard it as a business and not a vocation of last resort if we are to move it forward and we should move it forward because it will pay handsomely."
Speaking of natural features which make farming attractive in the state, the governor said, "We have weather and climatic conditions that suit nearly all crops and plants, temperate and tropical. Nothing that grows in Europe that will not grow here on the Plateau."
Reflecting on the tin mining which made Jos famous, Jang said, "If the federal government is not willing to do any mining on the Plateau again, let us look at the weather and the land for agriculture that we are blessed with, and make farming the base of our state economy."
Agricultural Services and Training Centre (ASTC) model
The launch pad for Jang's experiment to reform farming practices has been Agricultural Services and Training Centre (ASTC), a public liability development company established by the Plateau State government in collaboration with SEC Agriculture, a company of Israeli origin which says it is equipped with the most innovative technology known to Israel.
The centre aims at making agriculture viable and attractive as much for the small-scale farmers as for the big ones. The idea, really, is to make big farmers from the small ones, to revolutionise agriculture to a highly mechanised one with high yields and more market value for farmers across the state.
Jang, while inaugurating the board of the centre in February this year said agricultural achievements in Israel which he admired can be achieved in Plateau State.
The governor who regards the ASTC as the focal development platform aimed at such achievement, said at the event that what works in Israel can work in Plateau.
Naming a former Secretary to the Plateau State Government, John Gobak as chairman of the board of ASTC which has an Israeli Agricultural Science product of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Noam Herz as the General Manager, Jang said the centre will be run in trust for the Plateau people to attain eventual self-sustenance.
ASTC is located in three centres, one for each of the three Senatorial zones of the state. They are the Kassa/Vom centre for the Plateau northern Senatorial zone, the Mangu centre for the central zone, and the Shendam centre for the southern zone.
The Kassa/VOM centre of ASTC serves the six local government areas of Plateau North Senatorial Zone. They are Barkin-Ladi, Bassa, Jos East, Jos North, Jos South, and Riyom. The centre is equipped to provide agro-mechanical services, training, dairy technology, and produce marketing. It also has demonstration plots providing learning-through-seeing experience to farmers. The centre also renders input-related services on fertilisers, seedlings and herbicides.
ASTC Mangu, situated within the Central Senatorial Zone was commissioned to provide agricultural services for the farmers in the zone's five LGAs: Bokkos, Kanam, Kanke, Mangu, and Pankshin. The centre has modern agricultural teaching facilities including a laboratory and greenhouses (protected enclosures in which plants are nurtured) for effective knowledge dissemination.
The Shendam ASTC, structured much the same way as the other two centres, serves the six LGAs in the Plateau South Senatorial District: Langtang North, Langtang South, Mikang, Qua'an Pan, Shendam, and Wase.
Part of the plans for ASTC is for the zonal centres to take their services closer to the people by opening sub-stations in each of the LGAs under them.
How ASTCc came
The state government signed in 2008 a partnership agreement with SEC Equipment & Communications Limited through its subsidiary, SEC Agriculture, for the establishment of ASTC.
ASTC, comprising the initial three comprehensive modern farm centres, is aimed at increasing agricultural productivity by providing diverse field services and technical training to staff and farmers.
Apart from technically empowering farmers and making them more economically buoyant, the centres are mandated to provide required farm needs; including tractors, seedlings, herbicides, soil testing implements, harvesters, dry and cold storage facilities, as well as working to expand marketing frontiers for farmers to profitably sell their produce.
In addition to the three zonal centres of ASTC and the expected local government sub-stations, part of the blueprint of the ASTC is to include a dairy and milk processing plant, an irrigated crop field, a vegetable farm, and an irrigated vegetable field, with each of the three senatorial zones of the state benefiting.
The diary farm component, Milky Way Farm, is already a functioning enterprise in Butura, near Bokkos, headquarters of the Bokkos. The farm has been processing milk products that are yet to reach the open market because formalities to register the products with National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) are yet to be concluded, according to ASTC Head of Corporate Affairs, Steve Dachomo.
A six-hectare vegetable farm project is located in Vom while a 300-hectare field crops project for animal feed is in Bokkos and a 30-hectare open field project is in Yelwa, near Shendam.
The four distinct enterprises, otherwise called Commercial Agric Projects (CAPS) are expected to be run on commercial basis to generate income for ASTC when they become fully functional.
What is ASTC's future?
Many promising agricultural programmes were established and they even thrived in Plateau State over the decades, but they soon became just fond memories. Those that people frequently talk of with much nostalgia include Panyam Fish Farm, Kuru Livestock Complex, Longkat Rice Cultivation Project, and Barc Farms.
The Panyam Fish Farm which had a capacity of over 2,000 tons of fish per annum was set up as a model and it attracted fishery students from within and outside the country for practical trainings not available anywhere else in the country.
The poultry section of the Kuru Livestock Complex had a capacity for 12,000 birds while the hatchery was built with capacity to hold two million day-old chicks per annum; with the feed mill producing 2,000 tons of feeds per annum.
Rice fields in Longkat in southern Plateau's Langtang District, Sabon Gida, and Kadarko fields in the Wase Emirate, also in the southern flank of Plateau State, constituted the Longkat Rice Cultivation Project, a project that was popular with the people but which has also since collapsed.
What sort of future does ASTC have?
The Jang administration wishes to make it a bright one. Jang said while receiving participants of Senior Executive Course 34 of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in April this year that the centres had been registered as limited liability companies and that he will give loans to farmers next year to buy shares and own the centres so that the administrations that will follow his will not abandon the projects.