In this era of Economic crunch, the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari has advocated for diversification of the nation’s economy from oil and to tap some unutilised sectors. Prominence is now being given to Agriculture with emphasis on Rice and Wheat production. The Kano state commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Nasiru Yusuf Gawuma spoke with some Agriculture Correspondents in Kano on how the state has fared especially since the emergence of this regime. TOM OKPE was there.
****** How did you start with Agriculture and you are doing so well?
Let me start by saying the first issue we had was middle-men, during the inauguration of the Executive Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, in his speech he made mention of two fundamental issues that borders on the development of Agriculture particularly in the state, because it is our area of jurisdiction. The issue of middlemen, he said he will do away with them because most of the policies and interventions given to farmers if you use middlemen will not go to the farmers. He made sure that he deals directly with the farmers and that was what we are doing. We deal directly with the farmers; sit down with them, to tell us directly what is there problems and the government telling them what they can be able to do. We don’t do propaganda by telling the farmers we will do these and would not do it. We told the farmers we are unique and this is what we can do. We are into direct communications with them. He also mentioned the issue of fertilizer; this is a component that will solve 50 percent of the farmer’s problems not only in Kano but in the country at large.
We have a fertilizer blending company, KASCON. It was established in the 1980s by Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, the then executive governor of the state. That place suffered neglect, abandoned after his tenure and was turned into a refuse dumping site. At the emergence of this administration, it was reawakened and true to his words, the first action was to pump a lot of funds into the company to the tune of 500 Million Naira for the first instance to revive the place, making sure that the place works independently of any interference so that it can run and service itself and be able to produce affordable and qualitative fertilizer in abundance at all times. With that N500million I can boast to say; yesterday (last week) we received a new line of production, which is not only first in Nigeria or West Africa, but the only one like it is in South Africa, in the whole of Africa. That line was procured out of the profit of that company. To show you that Company can work, government companies can work, whoever said government companies cannot work has been disproved in this aspect.
The Fertilizers are available, availability is one very important issue, we spoke about subsidy of the product; on our coming in 2015, His Excellency the governor told me that the issue of subsidy is not possible but a scam, because the fertilizers will be round-tripped and sometimes when people get it cheap, they try to sell what they have and try to sell quickly for more turn over and they will not go to the farm and the same fertilizer will be brought back to be resold. So you find out the five loads of fertilizer or the 10 trips can be distributed for a value of 100 trailers. His Excellency said this is not possible and then we looked at the angle of saying if I need 10 bags of fertilizer and you give me two bags subsidy, I will have to go and look for the balance of 8 bags which will be bought at exorbitant price because it is not being controlled. You will find out that those two bags will not do anything and I will end up spending so much which means, I have not been subsidized as a farmer.
So, the best thing is to get the best quality fertilizer at an affordable price and that was what Kano State government did. What we did was first, get the fertilizer and we fixed the price. His Excellency asked KASCO management what it takes to produce, the cost implication of producing a bag of fertilizer, it came up to N4750.00 and he said ok, let us make a little out of it so that it can be affordable to the farmers. We produced and sold it at N5500.00. That was in 2016. We made it available; Kano State has KASCO stores all around the 44 local governments of the state. Those stores, we make sure we take the fertilizers there to the farmers so that they will not have the burden of coming from the village to the city for purchase and incur more cost. I think along the road you came through you have seen some KASCO stores. In Karfi, Gwarmai, Konadangora, we have them and they are all stocked with fertilizer which are sold for N5500.00.
****How do you ensure quality?
Before now, some of the farmers that we told that fertilizers are going to be really available and at affordable price in 2016 could not believe it, they said no, it is not possible, but they kept coming and we kept telling them. We cannot blame them because that was what happened before. We keep enlightening them and were able to convince them and when they went to those places and are able to get the fertilizer, they were happy; most of them are thinking of the quality. There is no way that as government, we are going to compromise the quality of our fertilizer because every time we finish, we have our own laboratory and apart from that we send it to our Institute of Agriculture Research in ABU, Zaria for them to do the quality control test and we have all these results, so there is no way we can compromise the quality of our fertilizer. We also use the soil marking system produced by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and rural development. They brought the soil marking system of all the 36 states of the Federation to identify that this soil in Kano requires 20-10-10 or 20-5-10. In 2016, we produced 20-5-10 not 20-10-10 for Kano then, but because the requirement of the soil of Kano and all the farmers that used our fertilizer 20-5-10 in Kano were very happy. There was an increase in production that year and that is what science means, to quantify or the reluctance of all the components that are required and you use the adequate method, inputs and timing which is what we did.
******What is the influence of the Federal Government in all of these?
When the Federal Government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari decided to bring rest to the issue of fertilizer in the country that was what happened. There was a joint agreement with the state governors, Federal Government and the Moroccan government and that was when the special intervention committee was set up on the issue of fertilizer where the governor of Jigawa State is the chairman. The Federal Government decided to bring in a million tons or to produce a million tons of fertilizer this year so that all the states will be able to give their farmers the ability and affordable fertilizer. The committee called the blending companies in the country and when they met, they all brought their cost, how they produced and all that. The model of Kano State was picked because we gave the lowest amount which was also affordable to farmers and that was what is being done today. The fertilizer is being sold at N5,500 and printed on the bags. All the companies, six were chosen to blend them up to one Million tons. Kano KASCO is the only government company that is producing the product among the blending companies now.
We are blending 200,000 metric tons of fertilizer as that was what was given to us. It is also a business to Kano State because we are being paid for that.
****** Is the fertilizer company in collaboration with the Federal Government?
No, it is purely owned by Kano State, we are being commissioned by the Federal Government to do the blending as a company, there are other blending companies, I think six in the country, we are among them. That is the aspect of fertilizer which is readily available. When you ask the farmers if they have access to fertilizer they will tell you yes, and when you ask them can you afford them, they will equally tell you yes.
*******What about price tag on the sales of rice and wheat between the farmers and the middlemen, farmers complain of selling below cost price.
I was coming to the issue of wheat, I want us to finish with fertilizer; the issue of wheat, what Kano State has done on the key aspect is that, when we came, we sat down and analysed this aspect critically and that is the aspect of extension services. This is one fundamental aspect in agriculture; the little techniques that you can give to farmers can change their production level that you cannot think of. Kano State has been known for its extensive extension services in agriculture. When we came in, His Excellency decided to employ 749 youths that have graduated in all forms of agriculture and we also partnered with different donor organisations like SASAKAWA, the Green Sand, IITA , they all came in because of what Kano State has done. They assist us in training these youths in extension services who go back to the rural areas to help the farmers in modern farming techniques. When you come to the aspect of interventions or the issue of some particular crops that the Federal Government wants to boost production like rice, wheat and tomatoes, Kano State makes it a priority in making sure that quality seeds are available as they are the key when it comes to planting. Quality seeds at affordable price are being bought for the farmers. For the first instances, after the launch of the wheat production or the planting season in Kebbi State by President Muhammadu Buhari, our governor launched the same program with the Honorable Minister for Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh in Kano where the farmers are given interest free loans of N100Billion to procure seeds and distribute to famers to be paid back after production with seeds so that we can encourage them.
We used our experts with the encouragement and help of one of the major partner in terms of wheat production, the Lake Chad Research Institute. These farmers were able to grow their wheat and pay the state government with seed. Before doing that, the state gave a guarantee for the famers to procure the cleaning sorting and grading machine which are in our ware houses. They do that for value addition to the wheat. There are task forces for wheat production in the country which the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the governors of Kebbi and Kano states, the national president for wheat farmers are part of the key stake holders who determine the issue of price which is very important. Back in the 1980s, the farmers were being encouraged to go and produce wheat which they did and nobody came to buy and they lost. Since then, lots of farmers were discouraged, but the emergence of this administration under the leadership of President Buhari, the farmers agreed to go back to farm with encouragement of some governors like my governor. Today, Kano State is number one state in wheat production in the country.
In 2016, we cultivated over 10,000 hectares, but this year because of the intervention and the programs of wheat with the contribution of government, we cultivated over 30,000 hectars and that is because after production, we pay the state with the seeds and the state government encourage more farmers to come and when they come, what we do is to give them those seeds again as loan and this time around we have to add more money because more people have embraced the issue. More farmers have come into it. There is also an addition of N50 million this year too that we gave to farmers for the procurement as that is one of the main challenges of wheat production in Nigeria. This challenge is well known even by the minister who has discussed severally about this with my governor and the governor of Kebbi State on how we are going to encourage the issue of our production of quality seeds for wheat. These are some of the things we did in Kano that has encouraged so much production in wheat and rice.
On the tomato aspect, Kano State by the coming of the incumbent governor has facilitated the beginning of production of Dangote tomato Production Company. The company has been there for a very long time because of so many reasons, they couldn’t start. Dangote and the state government facilitated an innovative platform on tomato production in the state which is a committee comprising of various stake holders on tomato and they started production. Along the line, there was problem of Tuta-Absoluta which is a pest that brought about a lot of lost in tomato not only in Kano but all over the country, precisely, Katsina, Jigawa, Kaduna and Kano too. The state government in its own effort of supporting the farmers approved the procurement of seeds, pesticides and other inputs worth N252Million to the tomato farmers. We are working on the issue of pricing of Dangote Tomato Factory. Pricing is something that is very important to the farmers. There are two seasons in the live circle of the tomatoes, when they are abandoned and they become cheap and when they are scarce and become expensive. We have to align the price whereby the farmers will be happy and Dangote will be happy. That is what we are working on now, government is fully a part of it and I think the chairman of TOGA is also right here with us. The tomato growers association in Nigeria (TOGA) Kano Chapter and it is part of the commitment of the state in dealing with the farmers in getting to know what we are going to do to our farmers.
We have done so many things; the Minister has come, launched the distribution of 5000 water pumps for irrigation purposes. In Kano we have the best irrigation facilities in the country. We are utilizing that and the governor is on ground to see that we do not have any problem in that regard. We have almost completed the drilling of 1000 tube wells across the 44 local government areas in the state and so many other things that we have done to encourage farmers to embrace agriculture in the state.
******How effective are the trained youths in the entire process?
Yes, this is another area where His Excellency is giving more attention and priority to deal with lives particularly in the aspect of production. We engaged 250 Fulani youths and sent them to Turkey where they went to learn skills and artificial dissemination. They are back now; most of them gainfully employed by consultants and some have gone to other states. A certain girl among them is doing very well to the extent that she is training some other youths under that aspect. We have put this up in some other local government areas where we are doing the TOT, Train the Trainer on artificial dissemination so that they can be able to help other youths in learning that aspect of lives production. We have also retrained them on the aspect of commercial agric development project and have graduated and will be empowered with equipments and some funding where they can be on their own.
******With the efforts of the state government in agriculture, do you think you will turn the tide on rice and wheat pyramid from ground-nut of yester years?
I think you are right; recently, we have embarked on mobilisation on the production of Wheat. We have given them one of our largest stores where they can be able to put in their wheat because of the challenges of cost. We are doing a program with them, ware housing program where we want to assist the farmers. The first thing after production, the farmer needs to sell, pay his debt, and pay school fees. You find out that the millers are not sometimes doing very well to the farmers. All those processors you find out will give them any kind of price because they know the farmer is pressed. The state is going to embark on that special program whereby we collect the wheat; whatever you give us, we give you 40percent that will be in conjunction with the state farmers association of Nigeria (WEFA). When we collect your wheat, if it is N100, we give you N40 and will keep it in the ware house, not only keeping it, it will be cleaned, graded and be bagged. We have added value to it and you have gotten N40. You may go to do whatever you want to do until when the issue of pricing is settled between the Millers and the Task Force and that is what we are advocating now. We want to send this as a message as the Minister of Agriculture has mandated all agencies to look at this because we have a considerable audience with the farmers. All we are doing is to encourage the farmers to go back to farm.
We don’t want to do something that will now dampen their sales and going bad, that is the issue of pricing; we should be very realistic and be honest in what we do. If we process this Wheat, how much do we sell the product to people, how much money do we make? So, why don’t we buy the wheat at a very reasonable price from the farmer and the government? We as government, state and Federal have sat down and see how much it will cost a farmer to cultivate a hectare of land and know how much it will produce, how much tonnage of Wheat is the minimum we can produce. So, we know how much he has spent and how much he is expecting to make. There is no way a farmer will go to farm to produce and then we will allow him to lose. If he loses today from a loan he has been given, how does he pay? We will be shouting that the farmer cannot pay loan, we should not do that. We should try to see that the pricing through our experts, our demonstration farms know how much it costs us to plant, from procurement of seeds to planting, application of pesticides to harvest. We have quantified that per hectare so it is not difficult for us to know. The Task Force can easily send the minimum price of a ton of wheat so that nobody can buy less than that amount. That is how we can encourage the farmers in their own way; the more we do that, the more we get more techniques. We are doing four tons per hectare, we will be able to reach a bundle of eight tons and by the time we reach eight tons per hectare, definitely the price will reduce. If this is the minimum we can get then there must be a minimum price for the farmers.
I am calling on all the stake holders involved to look at this factor because this is one area that is disturbing the farmers and then this is where the state government has agreed to come in. This is what Kano State has joined together to see how we can solve the problems of our farmers so that at least the issue of pricing will be dealt with.