By Daniel Gumm, who was in Ilorin
KWARA State commer cial agriculture initiative is one of the cardinal projects of the Abubakar Bukola Sarakiâ€™s administration. But the various states can replicate the Kwara model at least in each of the senatorial districts.
The project, sited at Shonga in Edu Local Government Area of the State, involves the development of an integrated farming community comprising 13 farming families all being managed by specialised farmers from Zimbabwe.
The farms have been duly incorporated as Shonga Farms Holding Limited, as a special purpose vehicle to mobilise investments and funds for the projects. As at today, the Shonga Farms Holding Limited has attracted investments up to the value of N3 billion in both loans and equity for the company from six major banks in Nigeria: the GTB, Intercontinental Bank, Fin Bank, Unity Bank, First Bank and Bank PHB having 75 per cent equity in the arrangement and the state government pooled 25 per cent to make 100 per cent of Shonga Farms Holding.
According to the Kwara Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Professor (Engr.) Mohammed Gana Yisa, â€œone major thing that has happened at the Shonga Farm is the commencement of irrigation project on the farm. And one of the farms has already been irrigated. The idea is that if you are going to do agriculture on a commercial basis, you can not depend on rainfall because it may come or it may not come.â€
â€œThe arrangement is that out of this 1,000 hectares per farmer, 120 hectares would be irrigated, so that they can practise all-year round agriculture. In addition to that, some areas of land will also be provided with irrigation facility so that the local farmers around this commercial farm would also benefit from the irrigation facility.
â€œTowards the end of last year a contract of N2.99 billion was awarded to provide irrigation facility at Shonga Farm. As at now, irrigation has been completed on four farms. And because of some the equipment that are to run the farms, state government has also provided electricity to the farms and also extend same to the local community.
â€œBy the time the Board of the Lower River Niger Basin got to the farm early this year, and saw what the state government had done they were marvelled and said that the Federal Government would come in.
â€œIn this yearâ€™s budget, the Federal Government has budgeted N800 million for Shonga Farm.
â€œAgain these 13 commercial farmers at peak especially during harvest engaged about 3,000 – 4,000 local people helping in harvesting.â€
Thus, by the project, Kwara State has led the way in the countryâ€™s quest for alternative development framework by changing Nigeriaâ€™s reliance on imported food such as poultry, milk and diary products and making Kwara State a net producer of food, agricultural and agro-allied products both for the huge domestic market and for exports.
The commissioner also noted that â€œthe establishment of diary farm is one of the principal sub-sectors of the Shonga Farms Holding Ltd. The cost of the construction of the factory is about US$3,000,000, including the processing machinery. Each farm is fitted with Internet and DSTv facilities, and the Kwara State Government has ensured that power is connected to all the farms,â€ adding that when the farmers first came â€œthey started growing crops â€” cow peas, cassava, maize, bananas, etc.â€
Thus, the arrival from South Africa of 690 pure exotic Jersey cows bought at a cost of US$2,07 million as well as the commissioning of a US$3 million dairy factory signals the beginning of a new era in commercial dairy production in Shonga, Kwara State, Prof. Yisa noted with a beam of satisfaction on his face as he explained to journalists.
He stressed that the cows were imported by five of the 13 dislocated white Zimbabwean commercial farmers, who have added dairy production to crop production in Nigeria.
Explaining that arrangements have also been made to improve the indigenous cattle by selection and artificial insemination of the imported cattle, following synchronisation of estrus cycle by injection of relevant hormones, the Kwara Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that currently, Nigeria imports 48,000 tons of dry whole milk, 30,000 tons of evaporated milk and 16,000 tons of dry skimmed milk valued at US$275 million.
The Shonga dairy project when fully operational, according to him would generate about US$21 million saving in foreign exchange. Shonga Farm Holding Ltd. has its own poultry farm which produces about two million broiler chickens annually. It is expected that the poultry will begin production before the end of the year. Currently, they are milking about 100 cows a day which is delivered to a processing plant and turned into yoghurt and sold.
Besides, a reservoir has been constructed to provide a shield for three days worth of water, the logic being that if the borehole has a problem, it must be possible to fix it in three days.
A fourteenth farmer that was brought was not brought to the farm but was taken to our training school at Malete. What we are trying to achieve is to transfer technology â€” the know-how of these farmers to our youths. The Malete Youth Farm is another Kwara State Governmentâ€™s strategic initiative for creating a successful generation of new Nigerian farmers.
Located in Malete, about 45 kilometres from Ilorin the state capital, the youth farm is an agricultural training facility for training young men and women between the ages of 21 and 30 years, who are interested in pursuing a career in commercial agriculture.
They have come to the farm with different levels of educational background ranging from primary school certificates to university degrees. The youth farm, which graduated 100 students late last year, has taken in another set of students.
In the first year, cropping activities consisted of 190 hectares of maize, 10 hectares of cassava, 10 hectares of rice and 5 hectares of cowpeas. All these crops have been put up for sale. In addition, each student has a small plot of land on which he or she has planted maize, cassava and cowpeas. This is done to give them practical experience on cropping.
The Shonga Farms Holding LimitedShonga Farms Holding Limited was incorporated as a Special Purpose Vehicle to facilitate the Public Private Partnership in respect of the commercial farming project of Kwara State Government.
Shonga farm as the project is popularly called is the brain child of the Executive Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki. He took the initiative in inviting a group of displaced farmers from Zimbabwe to assess the potential of developing commercial farming in Kwara State.