With a total land area of 34,600 square kilometers and an annual rainfall of 1,500mm, Kwara State is richly endowed in agricultural terms, naturally producing large quantities of arable crops. But the agricultural potential of the state has remained largely unrealised over the decades – at least before the advent of the Bukola Saraki administration. Owing to inadequate funding, infrastructure impediment and weak linkages between agriculture and industrial development, the industry had grown weak. It was no surprise, then, that Dr. Bukola Saraki declared agriculture to be one of the administration’s top priorities.
In his famous speech, ‘My Vision of a New Nigeria Farmer’, he expounded on that:
My vision of a new Nigeria farmer is built on my vision of a new Nigeria agriculture. I have outlined some of the strategic actions we need to take to achieve the new Nigeria agriculture. I have a dream of the new Nigeria farmer. And I believe that with all the initiatives and interventions I have outlined, that dream will someday soon become a reality. I dream of a day when farming would no longer be regarded as a means of survival but as a business in its own right with all the potentials and possibilities that come with any other business.
I dream of a day when graduates of Accounting or Banking and Finance would prefer to own and run their own farms rather than seek banking jobs; a day when young men and women who hold degrees in Engineering or any other degree for that matter, would opt for a career in farming, not because they have no options but because they regard farming as a more lucrative enterprise. I dream of a young man or woman in jeans and t-shirt walking into a bank with his laptop. And on his computer he is able to make a cash-flow analysis and other business arguments to persuade a bank to give him credits based on demonstrated profitability of his farming venture. And I dream of a day when bankers would be milling around farms, seeking business and competing for farmers’ bank accounts.
I dream of a Nigeria farmer that is capable of taking advantage of technologies and products of research to multiply his yield; when from one hectare, he would harvest ten tonnes of maize and 40 tonnes of cassava. I dream of a Nigeria tomato farmer who would not be satisfied with his job until he is able to process and package tomato puree and deliver it directly to the supermarkets. I dream of a new Nigeria farmer with a minimum of 50 hectares of land, who applies 100kg of fertilizer at the right time, instead of 7kg when it is too late.
I dream of a day when the children of the rich will take to farming and the children of the poor will not seek to escape from the farm, a day when farms would be run by the 5th and 6th generations of family owners, a day when not 70% but only a fraction of our population would be involved in agriculture and would use this to feed the rest of the country and export.
The Nigeria farmer of my dream is one who is familiar with products of agricultural research and innovation, and he is able to use it to expand his productivity and profitability. He can farm all year round because has the benefit of irrigation. He is able to integrate forward through value-added activities like processing, packaging and so on. He can stand proudly anywhere in the world and say, I am a new Nigeria farmer. That is the farmer of my dream.
The achievements of the administration in the agriculture sector bear testimony to his commitment. In less than 100 days of its existence, the administration launched the BACK TO FARM programme, which aimed to provide gainful employment to unemployed youths in the state. Under the programme, an Agricultural Land development scheme was set up to cultivate maize, cassava, rice and soya beans on 20 hectares of land in each of 50 locations selected in the 16 LGAs, using the existing vehicles of the state’s farmers council and the ministry of agriculture to supervise them. Similar to this but more elaborate was the integrated Youth Farm Settlement at Malete which was to provide employment for the youths and participation in the National Fadama Development Project (NFDP) aimed at reducing poverty in the Fadama resource areas.
In collaboration with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, the state has tried to build up cassava yield and also develop processing capacity. This has been aided by the Cassava Resource and Technology Transfer Centre (CRTTC) in Ilorin, where the state has set up a large cassava processing factory for the production of high-quality cassava flour and cassava chips. Elsewhere, in the other senatorial districts, there is the capacity to produce three tonnes per day of dried product.
The administration has also made available substantial funds to tackle the problem of inadequate funding and poor infrastructure. Some 22 new tractors and 22 sets of Baldan implements were purchased to help with the cultivation of 711.14 hectares of land for the production of cassava, maize, rice and soya beans, as well as land cult subsidiSed ivation and the resurrection of the Duku Lake irrigation scheme which had been neglected by previous administrations. Under the cocoa regeneration and rehabilitation programme, the administration has handed out N1.8 million as a counterpart fund to that of the National Cocoa Development Committee (NCDC) for the preservation of 250,000 cocoa seedlings.
The government also established a cashew processing industry in Ogbondoroko in Asa LGA in partnership with a private company. “Our plan was simply to process the cashew nuts ourselves and export them directly from Ilorin to Atlanta” Dr Bukola Saraki said.
So the state now boasts the OLAM Cashew Processing Factory, revived with funds from Singapore, a country whose own efficiency sets global benchmarks. The plant has over 1,500 workers on its payroll, all of whom are provided with free accommodation and a subsidised transport system. At full capacity, the factory is capable of processing 13,000 metric tons of cashew nuts every year and the state is now seeking more investors in this sector. Currently managed by an Indian company, it is now exporting processed cashew nuts to Europe.
Milk production at Shonga diary farmsSo far, the administration’s record in rediscovering agriculture is impressive enough, but perhaps the boldest step taken by the Bukola Saraki administration towards accelerated industrial development was the initiative to invite a group of displaced farmers from Zimbabwe to assess the potential of developing commercial farming in the state. The idea was met with great enthusiasm by a number of Zimbabwean farmers and has since led to the development of the pilot scheme Shonga Farms, involving thirteen farmers who have now relocated and settled in the Shonga area. Each farmer was given 1000 hectares of land with a long commercial farming lease. In view of the huge capital outlay required to fund an agricultural project of this magnitude, Shonga Farms Holding Limited was incorporated as a special purpose vehicle to facilitate the funding and working capital needed to mobilize the public- private partnership. The project was centred on three different farming activities: dairy, poultry and mixed.
In 2008, the administration achieved the world’s largest single movement of cattle when it successfully imported all the cattle required for dairy production into the country without losing one animal. Consequently, the dairy plant started operations, with installed capacity for 50,000 litres of milk per day, the largest plant of this kind in Nigeria.
Also in 2008 the first shipment of milk and yoghurt rolled out of the dairy farm and was distributed to open markets across the country, thereby establishing the key connection between commerce and agriculture, which exactly what the project was supposed to achieve. The Shonga factory now delivers 2,000 litres of fresh milk per day and, at the same time, has generated over 4,000 jobs in addition to achieving food security for the state. The project is also fully equipped for large-scale crop and livestock production, as well as dairy, with a capacity for producing 12 million broiler chickens per year, as well as the potential of 50,000 litres of milk per day, which would potentially generate $21 million for the state.
Kwara was also the first and only state to conduct a comprehensive farmers’ census. During the census, images of farms were captured using a Global Positioning System (GPS) to determine farm capacity and the type of support that each required. Through this, it was established that the 102,969 farms are supported by 524,837 family labour and 466,426 hired labour. This brings the total of people directly involved in farming in Kwara to 1,094,232, about 42% of the population, which is significantly less than the assumed figure of 70%.
Gathering this data was important to ensure the fair and even distribution of farm inputs, including herbicides, fertilizers, tractors, etc, which would otherwise have been diverted or wasted. Similarly it has helped to generate data necessary for policy formulation, planning, execution and evaluation. Individual farms have increased from an average of 2 hectares per farmer in 2003 to 5 hectares in 2009, leading to a corresponding increase of cultivated land from 11% to 27%.
The Census exercise has received international acknowledgement and commendation by the International Soil Fertility and Development Centre (IFDC), who have recommended a similar exercise for the entire nation.
The Outgrowers Scheme for Rice Farmers was another Public Private Partnership (PPP) where farmers were trained and supplied with all necessary production inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and machinery. Through this scheme, rice production has increased dramatically from 18,710 tonnes in 2003 to 400,431 tonnes in 2009 and, as a result, Kwara has moved from the 22nd to the second largest producer of rice in Nigeria since 2005, with two further rice mills under construction. The scheme is being expanded to cover more crops including soybeans and maize, for which the state has a comparative advantage.
As a result of the success rate, especially in agro-allied ventures, Kwara has shown the world its potential as a benchmark for the agro-based economy, and has been rated as such by the foremost international agency, Fitch Ratings.