…Set to become hub of agric development
Thirty-one years after Father Godfrey Nzamujo,a Nigerian, established the Songhai International Centre in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, the centre has become a model for sustainable agriculture.
The Songhai model has developed new approaches and farming system that rely heavily on the combined inputs from local experiences, indigenous knowledge base on one hand and business communities and research institutions on the other hand.
Today, the result is a robust, zero waste, integrated agro allied model promoting rural growth through training, technology adoption and strong business and commercial strategy. It is the success story of the model that the present government of Rivers State is replicating with the ambitious Songhai Rivers Initiative farm.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi on a visit to the Songhai centre in Porto Novo was impressed with what he saw as a good model in developing agriculture in Africa and decided that this would work well in his state. That visit has given birth to the Songhai Rivers Initiative Farm (SRIF) that is being developed as the hub of agricultural development in Rivers state.
Songhai Farm is a very interconnected activity. It is at the centre of the six regional farms the government has identified. Each of them with a minimum of 500 hectres will be linked to Songhai Farm which becomes a nerve centre, and indeed the hub for all agricultural systems in the state.
The regional farms are sited in a Local Government Area where small holder farmers within the catchment Area will get support from them. The regional farms will be linked to Songhai Farm.
The Songhai Farm will be a centre for training and research, working in collaboration with different institutions in the world.
Songhai Rivers Farm is in 3 phases. When completed, the farm will cost N4.5b. The first phase includes training of the 105 students in Songhai International, construction of infrastructure and operationalisation.
The first phase has cost N1.7b. Phase 2 will include activating the production systems and building of a 3 star hotel to drive agro and eco tourism. The third phase will be expansion. The partnership with Songhai International is for five years. They will run the farm for that period of time.
The government sent 105 young Rivers men and women to Benin Republic to receive training in various specialized agriculture and agro based areas. Many of them are back today with entrepreneurial culture and already deployed to the farm to form part of the first corps of workers.
Speaking with one of the trainees, Anthony Rogers on a visit to the site located at Bunu-Tai/ Ban Ogoi, he was full of praises for the government for the initiative. He said as you can see this is an integrated farm with livestock, aquaculture, arable farming and agro-tourism. I had the opportunity of training in human capacity that cut across all aspects of agriculture in Benin Republic.
The training has a strong impact on me and others who were there as we have been trained to be self employed and I see a bright future for the project if those entrusted with it are sincere. I see hope in this sense that this centre will be able to produce food to feed the nation, not Rivers alone.
For the Songhai Manager, Dr. Frank Abamu, the fear of Rogers on sincerity of purpose will be taken care of as the agency is committed to creating opportunities for linkages between the Songhai Initiative Farm and network of farms in order to grow more food and feed the people.
“We hope to provide opportunities for people to see agriculture as more sustainable and attractive, and through that process keep people in jobs either through direct agricultural activity or value additions. He explained that the initiative as envisioned by the government is to create employment opportunities, promote enterprise development among the youths and promote research in new agricultural techniques and varieties as well as encourage skills transfer to local farmers among others.
Abamu said in trying to achieve these goals, the government has invested over N1billion so far in training and putting infrastructure in place for the smooth take off of the centre. As it is today, the Songhai Rivers Initiative Farm consists of the production centre; technology and industrial park; and the hospitality and administrative centre.
The production centre consists of the arable agriculture, livestock including over 400 pigs, a ranch that will train people on how to manage livestock products. There is a massive poultry and fishery sections. There are 48 ponds in the farm and each of the ponds can take about 2000 fish.
Ogbanga disclosed that their target for the aquaculture is to have about 80,000 tons per annum and that the capacity right now is 50,000, we have man-made lakes to support the aquatic programmes. He added that they have catfish, tilapia and carp fish, fresh water fish species are reared in the concrete fish ponds, the nutrient-rich waste water is channeled into the earthen ponds and from the earthen ponds to the rice fields for fertilization.
For the poultry, he explained that 250 creates of eggs are sold on the average per day from the poultry unit where chickens are reared for their eggs and other poultry products.
There are free range poultry like Canadian geese; Guinea fowl; Duck fowl and turkey. The free range allows these birds to be reared in semi-intensive conditions that give them limited freedom to roam.
The arable section which has taken off is of special interest as about 60 hectare of land for rice that will grow in six months have been cultivated. The first harvest from the rice farm was used as feeds for the poultry. The pineapple orchard, cassava and vegetable garden that is cultivated on five hectares of farmland are all doing well.
Abamu said the pineapple is being grown for processing into juice and waste materials to be used as animal feed, while the vegetable garden is focused on the production of vegetables such as tomatoes; cabbage; carrots and watermelon. He added the plantain farm is a very conducive habitat for snail rearing. The plantain is processed into flour and chips
Songhai Rivers Farm is not only focused on arable livestock, poultry and fishing, it combines everything. The farm has all agricultural systems working in the same place. It goes beyond production side of Agriculture to include processing. For example, we have the rice mill, feed mill and different facilities to make juices and process as well as products that will come from other farms that are linked to it.
Abamu added that the fruit processing units are on ground and that the poultry and fish processing units will commence as soon as they are through with the electrification of the centre. The equipment are all here, once the power issue is completed we will commence processing.
Speaking on the waste generated, he explained that human and animal waste is collected from the farm and processes into biogas and fertilizers. We also have a green house here where certain plants can be grown throughout the year. Light and temperature are regulated to allow plants that are non-native to flourish. Maggots are cultivated in the maggotry and used as feed for fish.