Songhai farm in Minna: The template for robust food production in Nigeria- Mohammed Kandi

MD, Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority, Minna, Prof. Mohammed Abdulkarim Ali.

By Mohammed Kandi

Successive governments in Nigeria have come up with a number of strategies and approaches to address food scarcity that could lead to full-blown food insecurity in the country. As ambitious as those approaches were, they failed to achieve much, owning to policy inconsistency and complete neglect by succeeding governments.

The President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has indeed shown some flashes of seriousness and determination in its resolve to make Nigeria a major food hub in the continent and globally.

To achieve this very important feat, President Buhari administration is reforming and repositioning the agricultural sector to meet the food needs of Nigeria and serve as a net exporter of agricultural commodities.

The Nigerian government is anchoring its food security drive and initiative which is aimed at tackling food insecurity, hunger and acute poverty on existing and reliable bodies like the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs).

In a concerted effort made by the federal government to enhance the operations of all the River Basin Development Authorities through its supervisory agency, thus, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, a recent pronouncement by the Minister of Water Resource, Suleiman Adamu indicated that a lot was being done through the RBDA’s to address issues of food security in Nigeria.

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The Minister was particularly assertive on the volume of work currently being carried out at various RBDAs, sighting possible commercialisation of their activities for increased revenue generation.

There are several initiatives aimed at seamless implementation of RBDA’s mandates, one of which is the domestication of Songhai Farm, as a model that would facilitate Nigeria’s expedition to self-sufficiency in food production.

The Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority (UNRBDA) under the leadership of Prof. Mohammed Abdulkarim Ali, was rated the best amongst others for its commitment to the implementation of the Songhai farm prototype. As the Managing Director, Prof. Ali’s tenacious drive to proactively change public perception about the Authority, especially from his provision of firm leadership to timely execution of multi-billion naira projects within the franchise of the UNRBDA including Niger, Kaduna and the FCT cannot be contested.

He has shown leadership, competence and capacity in the discharge of his responsibilities as well as other adhoc assignments given to him.

Already, Nigerians are beginning to reap from the Songhai farm in Minna, the Niger state capital. Whilst the Ouando Centre,  the main experimental site of the Songhai Farm in  Porto-Novo in Benin Republic currently sits on over 22 hectares of land, the Model Farm Minna, which is one of its prototypes resides on approximately 7.51 hectares (75068 m2) and lies at an altitude of 310 m above the mean sea level, with a cultivated area of about 3 hectares within the premises of the UNRBDA headquarters.

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An integrated system of farming that combines different agricultural activities to increase food production and maximize returns per hectare was enabled in the Minna Farm Model, with the support of some expatriates from Songhai Farm in the Benin Republic. Residents from communities around the Model Farm in Minna have continued to throng the Sales Unit to procure various products of their choice, ever since commercial activities commenced in the farm. They’ve developed an affinity for the Model Farm for a single reason- all products from the farm are organically produced.

As products disappeared from the shelves, sooner were products replaced in their troops to meet the daily needs of customers. The constant demand for smoked fish, eggs and processed Gari- mixed with coconut or with pineapple have kept staff at sales point busy all day.

Already, the farm management is planning to deploy some state-of-the-art storage facilities for the preservation of other perishable crops like pawpaw, cucumber and okro that are often scarce, no thanks to their shorter life span.

The MD has repositioned the farm as a Model to draw huge revenue from the training, entrepreneurship and agricultural needs of Nigerians. Also, there are eight sections in which various agricultural activities are organized into a functional unit to profitably harness resources.

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These are Agroforestry (Orchad), Poultry, Fishery, Market Garden (arable farm), Ruminant Section (livestock), Processing, Bio-gas production plant and sale point. Various groups mostly women have received training in poultry, fish and agroforestry farming.

Agroforestry (Orchad) section

The agro-forestry section consisting of pawpaw, orange, banana, plantain and moringa plantations has the potential of creating for the Authority, millions in revenue. For instance, information obtained from interaction with staff and survey at sales point has shown that the average pawpaw (Vega) pod costs N50, and each stand is capable of producing 80- 100 fruits per season. With a population of 1, 110 stand/ha and assuming a harvest of 80 pod/ stand, a revenue of four million four hundred and forty thousand Naira (N 4, 440, 000) is assured per season from a  single hectare of pawpaw.

Poultry section

The poultry section was planned for the production of both layers and broilers. The layers section was designed to accommodate three thousand five hundred and sixty (3, 560) birds in two pens (housing units). The first pen has been completed and production has commenced with 880 birds that are now laying a minimum of 24 and maximum of 26 crates per day, while the second pen is under construction. The two pens of layers when fully utilized will produce 100 crates of eggs per day or more (assuming 85%-90% of their maximum production potential which will generate a revenue of one hundred thousand (N100, 000) naira only/day at a cost of N 1000 per crate. Production in the broilers section would commence as soon.

Fishery section

The fishery section has 12 production ponds, one hatchery containing 16 small ponds, 6 nursery ponds and 2 parent stock ponds and a reservoir for the collection of wastewater. Each production pond has a capacity to accommodate 1, 000 fish. The fish are sorted as they grow in size in a way that only 500 can be accommodated in one pond before harvesting. The fish takes 8 months from hatching to harvesting in production ponds. A peer of three or four fully grown smoked fish costs N1, 000. There is always smoked fish in abundance at the farm.

Market Garden section

In the Market Garden, arable crops such as okra, cassava, cucumber, sweet corn and sweet potato are planted. These crops are sometimes inter-planted and cover approximately 18% of the total area (14306 m2).

Livestock section

The livestock section is the source of manure for both agroforestry and the market garden. The animals are confined within a pen. There are 51 cattle and 95 sheep in the animal pen.

Processing section

The processing section has an abattoir for processing and packaging meat to the sale point. There are also cassava processing units where cassava is turned into granules (Garri) of various types to meet its increasing demand.

Bio-gas production section

Waste material produced in other sections are utilized in the Bio-gas production plant section. The section has digesters, inlets and waste reservoirs for the collection of sludge from the digester. Plant residue, animal excreta and water hyacinth from the pond are introduced through the inlet. These are decomposed anaerobically in a digester to produce gas and sludge.

Training centre

Tremendous success has been recorded I the area of training. The youth and women groups residing within the catchment areas of the UNRBDA have been trained to acquire skills in their various fields of interest. This is in line with President Buhari-led government’s transformation agenda on agriculture, food security and poverty alleviation.

Kandi, is the Special Assistant (Media & Publicity) to the MD, Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority.

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