By Afe Babalola
“I urge Government to revisit the river basin schemes in order to improve agricultural fortunes of Nigeria. To me this becomes more relevant today than 40 years ago having regard to the global climatic changes and the unpredictable rain fall.”
LAST week in continuation of my discussion as to how Nigeria can get out of the current economic recession by reviving the agricultural sector, I advocated that government encourages mechanised agriculture.
I suggested a system by which government would instead of giving money directly to farmers, employ the use of heavy machinery purchased by government on the farms of individual farmers who will then be debited for such services.
Acquisition of land: However as I stated last week also, such a scheme would require the acquisition of huge parcels of land which the average farmer may not be able to afford.
Furthermore, such a scheme must be organised in a manner that would enable government recoup its investment. To achieve this a pilot scheme can be initiated in each local government whereby either 10 families or 10 agricultural cooperative societies will be assisted to acquire two (2) hectares of land each for farming.
These two hectares of farmland per family will be inspected and supervised by the government in collaboration with ABUAD. The government will buy agricultural implements to plough the land for use during the dry season. Owner’s account will be debited for this job after harvest. The land will be ploughed and prepared against the rainy season. During the raining season, one (1) hectare of land will be dedicated to the cultivation of cash crops (cocoa, coffee, palm tree etc) and the other hectare of land is dedicated for the cultivation of food crops like vegetable, maize, cassava, yam etc. In the growing season, money will be provided for the tilling and care of the farm.
At the end of the growing season, food crops will be harvested and sold from where each of the 10 families make money and the government can also recoup money invested. Also, the cash crops will be allowed to grow for 3-5 years before harvesting and again, money is made. This process will be repeated every year with new 10 families and or 10 cooperatives in all the local governments in each state. When this is repeated in a state with 20 local governments in ten (10) years, ten (10) hectares of cash crops and ten (10) hectares of food crops multiplied by twenty (20) local governments would have been initiated and promoted to produce both food and cash crops. This singular pilot project will engineer food surpluses in the society and money-making cash crops to provide wealth for the families. For the government, no money will be lost and the government can recover all money invested.
River Basin development: To further aide the actualisation of the above, governments across the states must continue to improve on infrastructure and agencies designed to support agriculture. As pointed out by a reader of this column, B. Olugbemi, River Basins and like concepts have important roles to play in the move towards the revival of agriculture. He specifically stated as follows:
“I will like to add sir that while listing the efforts of past Federal governments to focus on agriculture, there was an important omission. The Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari made the boldest and most far-reaching effort. In what that regime called “The Green Revolution”, River Basins were set up in all the present geo-political zones of the country. I remember the Owena River Basin in Ondo State, the Kano River Basin, The Bakolori, the Bagauda Lake basins. You are right in your assertion that the States were not involved in the formulation of the policies of those agricultural initiatives. There was also the folly of carrying the acrimonious political rivalry that preceded the elections well into post-election developmental initiatives for which reasons non-NPN states did not show much interest in what would have been the beginning of a true revolution in agriculture. Thus, the river basins in the SW died without making any impact. Most of those in the NPN states in the north thrived. They formed the basis of the increase in the production of tomatoes which we all enjoy all over Nigeria today.”
Importance of the River Basins: I agree with Mr Olugbemi on the importance of the River Basins. I note, however, that they were first introduced by the military via decree No. 25 of 1976, as a direct result of the drought experienced in some parts of the country between 1972-74.
As a result 11 River Basin Development Authorities were established with the aim of harnessing Nigeria’s water resources and utilisation of its agricultural resources for food sufficiency. These included; Upper Benue Basin, the Lake Chad Basin, Benin-Owena Basin, Sokoto-Rima Basin, Sokoto; Hadejia-Jema’are Basin, Kano; Maiduguri; the , Yola; the Lower Benue Basin, Makurdi and the Cross River Basin, Calabar.
Water for irrigation
Others are; Oshun-Ogun Basin, Abeokuta. Anambra-Imo Basin, Owerri; the Niger Basin, Ilorin; and Niger Delta Basin, Port Harcourt. According to report on the subject published in the Vanguard of April 2, 2013, “it was assumed that the RBDs, would apart from agricultural needs, provide other basic needs associated with water resources. Instructively, the RBDAs were primarily established to provide water for irrigation and domestic water supply, improvement of navigation, hydro-electric power generation, recreation facilities and fisheries projects.
The basins were also expected to engender big plantation farming and encourage the establishment of industrial complexes that could bring the private and public sectors in joint business partnership.”
Recent events such as the flooding recorded in some parts of the southwest of Nigeria last year and increasing desertification in some areas in the north make the establishment of the River Basin Development Authorities and the objectives they were meant to serve more imperative now perhaps even more than at the time they were established.
Therefore I urge Government to revisit the river basin schemes in order to improve agricultural fortunes of Nigeria. To me this becomes more relevant today than 40 years ago having regard to the global climatic changes and the unpredictable rain fall.
To be continued.