Katsina State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Alhaji Musa Adamu Funtua in this interview with MUAZU ELAZEH speaks on efforts to boost food production in the state.
Katsina State is an agrarian state with farming constituting the mainstay of its economy; how has the state government fared in repositioning agriculture in the state?
Indeed, it is an established fact that Katsina State is an agrarian state with the majority of our people engaged in farming of both food crops and animal husbandry. We are blessed with arable land. Government sees farming as a major venture and has continued to provide all the necessary incentives to boost farming and, in so doing, alleviate poverty while enhancing sustainable food security.
Among the first things this administration did was to partner with relevant agricultural research institutes to identify the potentialities available in the state and, importantly, harness them effectively and efficiently. The state government constituted a high-powered agriculture committee which has drafted a blueprint for the implementation on this all-important sector.
In line with this blueprint, government has expended enormous resources in supporting farming through the provision of farm inputs and agro-allied services. To support mechanization, government purchased and distributed more than 400 tractors to farmers' cooperative societies at a subsidized rate and on a loan basis with an ample time moratorium as a source of motivation.
These tractors have since been distributed to beneficiaries, and the reports available to us indicate success in their usage. Additionally too, government has accorded top most priority to the provision of bull for animal traction because we realized that the tractors are not enough. In this wise, forty people in each of the 34 local government areas will be given a set of animal traction each.
Government has equally sustained its commitments in providing improved seeds, fertilizers and other farm inputs to farmers. In the last couple of years, over N6 billion has been spent in the procurement of fertilizers as part of measures aimed at ensuring availability of fertilizers to the farmers in line with the state government's policy of boosting agriculture so as to engender food security and self sufficiency. We normally have fertilizers in stock and last year alone, we had over 23,000 metric tonnes and government has put in place measures to ensure transparency in the distribution process.
Importantly, we have strengthened extension services so as to sensitize our farmers on modern farming techniques. The extension services under the state owned agricultural and rural development authority has been reaching out to farmers at the grassroots. We have mobilized the extension workers to liaise with farmers and find out what really their concerns and challenges are. This has helped us to organize parleys with the farmers and relevant stakeholders all in a bid to reposition farming in the state.
Additionally too, we have been engaged in transfer of technology through partnership with research institutes and other key stakeholders within and outside the country. We have strengthened the over twenty seven farm centres scattered across the state. All these are part of measures to boost farming in the state as government is convinced that farming can and should be an all year round ventures. To support this, government has provided the needed environment to encourage dry season farming.
In the area of irrigation farming, the state government is partnering with federal government in boosting effective usage of Jibia irrigation sites just as we have been supporting farmers in all the irrigation sites across the state. To boost irrigation farming, government has concluded plans to construct wash bowls and tube wells just as we have procured engines and relevant facilities to be distributed to farmers. We hope to construct at least 40 tube wells in each irrigation sites. Approval has been given and, as I speak, work on the tube wells has commenced.
Without doubt, the commitment to transform agriculture in Katsina State has been demonstrated in the profound, visionary and time-tested policies of the Governor Shema-led administration. Indeed, the agricultural reforms have begun to manifest in the lives of the rural farmers who, now more than ever before, are having easy access to fertilizers and other farm inputs necessary to encourage smooth revolution in the sector.
Everywhere one turns in the agricultural sector, there is a positive story to tell just as there is vast advantages to tap from the government's unalloyed commitment to repositioning agriculture. It is necessary to stress the need for all and sundry to key-into government's laudable agricultural policies so as to make the task of repositioning agriculture a success.
Sometime last year, the state government signed a partnership agreement with Songhai Farms from Porto-Novo in Benin Republic; what is happening to the Katsina -Songhai Initiative?
You know, the Songhai Farm has been successful in Benin Republic and so the state government decided to key into it. The agreement which covers diverse areas of food crop and animal production is to serve as veritable source of employment generation to teeming youths in the state and would run for four years.
Essentially, the Songhai initiative is to provide training on modern techniques of both production and processing of cash crops and indeed other crops including maize, sorghum, millet, beans, cassava, rice, wheat and a host of others for which Katsina has comparative advantage in their production. The Songhai Farm initiative is an advanced farming technique that covers all areas of farming with the full utilisation of waste materials from the products for further agricultural purposes.
It is believed that the initiative will help over 50,000 farming youths to earn a lawful living and to engage themselves in agriculture-related activities all year round. We intend to establish three pilot farms at Zobe, Sabke and Mairuwa dams located at the three senatorial zones of the state.
Right now, a visitor to the Dutsima site near Zobe Dam will not believe that he is in Katsina State. Work has since commenced at the Mairuwa site as well. So the Songhai partnership is work in progress as everything is moving on as planned.
The initiative will pay attention mainly to honey production, honey processing, honey packaging, fisheries production, fishery management, poultry and livestock production, animal husbandry, crops and cereals production among many others.
Perhaps it is important to recall that 60 youths selected from the state's three senatorial districts are undergoing six months intensive training on modern techniques on food and cash crop production, aquaculture and animal husbandry at the Songhai Regional centre in Porto-Novo, as part of the Katsina State government's Songhai partnership initiatives. This category of youths will in turn train other interested youths from different local government areas of the state at three centres to be established by the state government in the three senatorial districts of the state.
What are the state government's new plans for the agric sector in 2013?
We will consolidate on what we have been doing, because we believe in continuity. Essentially, our plans will be to assess what we have done and see how best we can improve on areas that need improvement. But, basically, it will be a continuity geared towards ensuring effective service delivery to the mass of our farmers so as to make Katsina a stronger force to reckon with in the area of food security. We had a target and we surpassed it. The challenge is how to maintain it and we are equal to the task.
As a stakeholder in the agric sector, what is your assessment of the federal government's agricultural transformation agenda?
Well, it is on course and we here in Katsina have keyed into it because we believe in it. Katsina State is the home of agricultural transformation because we have virtually all the federal government's packages and programmes on agriculture. The federal government introduced growth enhancement programme where fertilizers and other inputs like improved seedlings are given directly to farmers. This is a beautiful scheme just as most of the items in the agricultural transformation agenda are. However, in some areas, there is success while in others, there are problems.
Is Nigeria anywhere near achieving sustainable food security?
I think we are on our way to achieving just that provided the need incentives will continually be put in place and the people will support government's efforts in that regard. Having said that, let me say that in Katsina, we already have food security. We have more than we can consume and so the problem is access to market for the farmers; that is why the state government is buying the surplus from farmers.
As I speak, we have earmarked over three million naira to purchase foodstuffs from farmers for storage at the state's reserves. We had bumper harvest and the farmers' problem is access to marker, so government is coming in to buy the food. Most of our stores are 70 percent filled.