Despite Fulani attacks, we are committed to food security - Hon JAMES ANBUA
The Commissioner for Agriculture in Benue state, Hon JAMES ANBUA, is full of optimism that despite the challenges posed by Fulani herdsmen in the state which has largely affected farmers, the state was still able to record success in its pilot dry season farming. Anbua spoke on other sundry matters with SCHOLASTICA JOSEPH in Makurdi. Excerpts:
Not too long ago, you spoke about the state’s effort to promote dry season farming, what is the progress report of that endeavour?
Yes, we have done the demonstration of dry season farming, one around Gbajimba and one in Agasha all in Guma local government area but our trial run was nearly truncated by the challenge of Fulani herders. Since it is a pilot farm, I wanted to do it nearby to the state capital for close monitoring. The one in Gbajimba is up to 20 hectares owned by five different cooperatives. The other in Agasha, which is the biggest, close to 30 hectares was disturbed by Fulani cattle. More than seven hectares of it was consumed by the cattle. It was a rice farm and the cattle ate the rice that was planted there.
As we speak now, in the next two or three weeks the rice should be nearing harvesting. The surviving ones have done very well.
Is this the first farm the state is working on?
This is the first dry season farm done by the state. That is why I called it demonstration and pilot farm. The method, system and agronomic practice are quite different and alien to them. It is an innovative one done according to specification.
I am happy that the youths that participated in the demonstration were trained to carry on with the farming. It was done with some level of speciality because it's a special scheme. We are hoping that by next year we will have more of those youths training others in in the practice of dry season rice farming. That was actually our target so that they will know the technology and methods.
What irrigation practice did you used during the period?
Pump irrigation. If you want to succeed in dry season farming, pump irrigation is not the best practice according to international standards. Canals and dams should be built and used for optimum yield so that you get natural water flowing in all the farm plots rather than pumps.
In Agasha for instance, the water source we were using initially got dried midway and we had to source for alternative water source which was some meters away from the farm field. This posed a serious challenge but I was happy because it was learning by practice. Now we know how to do it best next time.
I’m also hopeful that given any available resources, we will try and develop some dams and shallow wells that will help farmers’ access water for irrigation rather than depending of streams that might get dried up anytime.
How much was expended on the pilot scheme?
It is quite expensive but I can give an average cost per hectare. Ploughing and harrowing per hectare costs N40, 000. Transplanting in a special agronomy practice costs average of N5, 000 per hectare, the cost that was quite alarming was fuel used in the pumping machines.
This one cannot be fully quantified especially with the unstable price of fuel now. Some people spent an average of N2, 500 or N3, 000 worth of fuel a day watering their farms. So if you multiply that by the number of days, you know how much you will spend. So, approximately a hectare is costing between N50, 000 to N60, 000 since the fuel price is not static.
Before now, were there any state government farm projects that were abandoned?
Yes such projects existed. The government of Aper Aku initiated a lot of farm projects that were abandoned up till today. These projects include Ber Agbum farm project in Ushongo, demonstration farm at Ukegbe in Guma LG, Raav Livestock Investigation farm and breeding Center, Gwer, Gbor II farm in Logo, Owohiev farm project in Mbatirev, Ikyogen Cattle Ranch, Agric Development Company (ADC) which had the potential of feeding the whole of north central with chickens and so on.
What is the plan of the ministry to resuscitate these farms?
The ministry plans to revive all these farm projects especially using public private partnership arrangement. For investors who want to partner with us in agricultural production, crop production, livestock production, we have the land under liberal terms.
Your ministry promised early distribution of inputs for Benue farmers this year. When are you starting this?
The psychology of farmers is that once they have these products early before cropping season the tendency of selling them is there. Once a farmer has inputs and he has no money in the house, he will just sell the crops thinking that when the cropping season comes, he will get money to replace them.
We are thinking that the earliest the inputs would be available would be ending of this month. Arrangements are already in top gear and all contract papers are complete and in the next two weeks before cropping season, you will see fertilizer flooding this state. The fertilising period begins from May, June and July and even August. So, we are not late at all. The behaviour of our people is that if they are given fertilisers in March, he might decide to exchange it with money.
When and how much of the federal government agric loan is the state accessing?
We are still in the process of accessing the agric loan. We are already clustering our farmers and registering them. As we speak, I'm signing up more cooperatives and have directed them to register and open accounts with the Bank of Agriculture. After all these processes, in the next few weeks, the qualified farmers and cooperatives will start accessing the money from agric bank and micro finances. The state is accessing up to N20 billion in five years. In fact, it is as much as the state can access. In the case of Benue, it is not just for rice farmers alone, it includes soybeans and beniseed.
Benue farmers are killed on daily basis and their farms destroyed but Fulani herders. What stringent measures have the state put in place to ensure the safety of farmers and farms?
(Cuts in) Already the federal and state government have done something swiftly on that issue. Areas like Agatu, Makurdi, Logo and Guma, the borderline areas, now have soldiers deployed there.
As the way things stand, our farmers can go back to farm. It's a directive from the federal government and the governor is not sleeping on it.