By Emmanuel Unah
Bassey Nkposong is the Managing Director of Cross River Basin Development Authority and Chairman of Managing Directors of River Basin Authorities in Nigeria. Nkposong speaks on organic farming among other issues.
There is so much talk about integrated farming scheme. What is the scheme all about?
Integrated farming scheme is the new technology in farming. It is the process where we have a value chain going on within a farm system and we have been able to use this scheme to do both animal husbandry and crop agriculture within the same environment. Integrated farming system is basically the Songhai model which forbids throwing away waste, even human waste, in soak away pits. There is nothing to be wasted under integrated farming system. Every effluent is something that can be used to produce yet another thing. This system tacitly imbibes organic fertilization as against chemical fertilisation which is what the whole world is adopting in farming.
Some communities in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States have donated land for this farming scheme. How many communities are going to participate?
We set off by having at least one integrated farm in each of the traditional sites within our catchment area, that is, the six senatorial districts in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. But as I speak, almost all local government areas in the two states want to participate. We have on record about ten communities already participating. The minimum we require is for a community to have about thirty hectares of land but most of the ones participating have over a hundred hectares.
The beauty of our approach now is to get friendlier with the communities. We leave out the issue that used to plague us back in those days which is compensation for land. Communities are now made to see land as a property that does not leave them. Rather than demand for compensation for land that will just be spent by a few people, they tell us what to do so that generations to come can also benefit, that is, good roads, electricity, health centres and other infrastructures that will go beyond the present generation. That is why many communities freely give us land. Again, who are the beneficiaries? The communities, workers who will be gainfully employed and the expertise they get and the value added to their land.
Are we talking about only vegetables in this farming scheme or other crops too?
Not just vegetables. As I talk to you, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with Cross River State government to take over Bansara Rice Farm. In Abi is a rice mill we also plan to take over. I have discussed with the co-operative society that runs the rice mill. We are doing our NEEDS analysis; after that, we take over the mill. When we acquire land, do not forget the number of economic trees that are there. We will also set up processing industries. We are going far beyond normal crops, we are doing animal husbandry. What the urine of a rabbit means to pharmaceutical will surprise you.
What is the size of the land you are looking at to be used?
Like I said, the minimum we require for complete integrated system is thirty hectares but it can be smaller. It depends on the level of investment of the farmer. With Cross River State government, we are about to take over the Songhai Model Farm at Abi which sits on about seven hundred hectares of land. So it does not have limitation, it is all about how much you have. And because of the way we are going about it and the adaptation, you do not have to do everything all at once; you can start very small and grow from there. You can have a fish farm and discharge the water over a field where you plant water melon, tomato, waterleaf, pumpkin, etc.
What is the volume of harvest expected from the different farm locations?
Maybe we should look at the number of farms first. We are looking at a situation where we have about ten thousand farms taking off from this area. We will start small but before you know it we have become the food basket of the nation. Between Cross River and Akwa Ibom, you have an expanse of land. If you drive along Itu from the bridge down, you find a wide expanse of land that is not used. All the problems that have been arising from among communities were borne out of idleness. What we want to do is to turn all those areas into farm lands where everybody is busy in the farm and earn revenue and all the thoughts about fights would end. We actually don’t go to a place and take up the land and use it just for ourselves. If a community gives us one hundred hectares, we use seventy for the Basin farm and give back thirty to the people to divide among themselves. We have the expertise and training facilities; as they come and work in our farm, they get trained and acquire knowledge which they go back to utilise and are able to maximise yield though the use of organic processes. We have our youth empowerment scheme and, from the thirty hectares, some youths are given small potions each to farm. When you look at that, you do not begin to say ‘this is the X amount of yield we need to produce from this locality’; that is limiting the expectation. It is what we call Green Agriculture Revolution; yes, we are going back there.
The dams being constructed by the Basin Authority, are you going to use irrigation in these farms?
I will tell you something about farming in the South-South. In the past, people would say in this area it rains all year round, so there is no need for reservoir or irrigation system but too much of everything at the same time is bad. The reality is that rainfall washes up everything and there is flood everywhere; so we need a reservoir to store the water to feed agricultural fields and also to be treated and taken back to the community as drinking water. In a situation where we have plain land that is completely flooded, we build dikes to break the flood to create dry ground for farming to take place. That is what we are doing in Bussi. About seven kilometres of dikes have been erected there and, within that region, we are getting about ten thousand hectares of land. The irrigation system will be able to support sufficient farming land during dry season