By Okon Okon
From all indications, the Federal Government’s plans to diversify Nigeria’s economy through agriculture have received a boost in area of rice production through the World Bank-assisted project, FADAMA III Additional Financing (AF).
The FADAMA III project was conceived in 2007 and its main objective is to reduce poverty among Nigerians via agricultural projects that could be supported by the World Bank.
FADAMA III AF project, which emerged from the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in 2013, came up towards the tail end of the FADAMA III programme.
The new FADAMA III strategy is a demand-driven approach, in which all the beneficiaries are encouraged and assisted to develop participatory and socially inclusive Local Development Plans (LDPs) to enable them to be in charge of their own development agenda.
One of the main objectives of the FADAMA III AF project in Nigeria is to increase the incomes of users of rural lands and water resources within the FADAMA areas in a sustainable manner.
FADAMA III AF project focuses on improving the productivity of clusters of farmers engaged in the cultivation of staple foods such as rice, cassava and sorghum in eight selected states of Anambra, Enugu, Kano, Sokoto, Lagos, Ogun, Niger and Kogi.
A recent supervision mission, carried out by the World Bank/Federal Government team to Anambra, Enugu and Lagos states to assess FADAMA III AF rice production sites, agreed that Nigeria, within the next five years, would compete favorably with major rice-producing nations of the world.
Prof. Bola Okuneye, International Consultant, FADAMA III AF project, during an assessment visit to Awka, said that all things being equal, Nigeria would start exporting rice in the next five years.
He made the observation when the World Bank/Federal Government team visited rice farms in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State to ascertain the level of progress at the site.
“I have carefully studied the development of FADAMA III AF in the country and I am convinced that with what I have seen, Nigeria will soon compete with other nations of the world in rice production.
“If only this community can produce 4.5 metric tonnes of rice per hectare, couple with other assessments we have carried out in other states; then, there is a lot of development in rice production in our country,’’ he said.
Okuneye, however, emphasised that if rice farmers in the area were given more encouragement, particularly in the area of adopting improved rice cultivation techniques, they would be able to increase their yield significantly.
Mr Nkem Okeke, the Deputy Governor of Anambra, who received the visiting team at the Government House in Awka, commended the Federal Government and the World Bank for the FADAMA programmes in the state.
He said that Anambra would soon be able to produce 300,000 tonnes of rice because of increased rice production in the region through the FADAMA III AF project which spurred a lot of citizens to engage in rice cultivation.
He said that the state earlier planned to produce 210,000 tonnes of rice before the end of last year.
Okeke said that Anambra was able to compete with other rice producing states in the country due to its favourable environmental factors that could facilitate sustainable rice cultivation.
“Our land is good to grow rice and our priority in the state is on agriculture; that is why we are embarking on land development schemes.
“I once met the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development at an event in Abuja and I discussed with him issues regarding land development for agriculture throughout the nation,’’ he added.
The deputy governor said that the government of Anambra had earmarked 98 per cent of the land in the state for agricultural purposes.
Earlier, Mr Patrick Chukwuka, Project Coordinator, Anambra State FADAMA III AF, said that the team came to assess level of implementation of FADAMA III AF projects in the state.
“It might interest you to know that throughout this year alone, FADAMA III AF, in partnership with Federal Government, has embarked on a lot of rice projects in the state,’’ he said.
Chukwuka said that the FADAMA III AF programme also involved infrastructural development projects such as roads construction so as to enable farmers to access their farms easily and ferry their produce to the market.
“Presently, it is constructing 13 feeder roads of about 40km to 45km across the benefiting communities and the roads are in various states of completion,” he said.
In his remark, Dr Ben Albert, Agricultural Investments Management Specialist, FADAMA III, expressed pleasure over the support given to the World Bank/Federal Government projects in the state.
“It is our pleasure to be in your state to assess the level of development of FADAMA III AF projects in Anambra.
“I must say that I am proud of the state branch of FADAMA III AF for its commitment over execution of our projects.
“We have done quite a number of projects and we have recorded a huge success,” he said.
Albert, who is also the Team Leader of the visiting team, said that efforts were underway to establish an agricultural mechanisation centre in the state, adding that farm tractors would soon be supplied to the state.
“Besides, an agro-business orientation scheme will be introduced so as to ensure that farmers make a lot of income from their produce without being cheated,” he said.
Also speaking, Mrs Bridget Obi, the Chairperson, Choma Production Group, recalled that rice farmers in the neighbourhood were initially skeptical about the initiative when it was introduced to them.
“We thought it was a joke when we were introduced to the FADAMA programme.
“I must tell you that we have learnt a lot and we didn’t know that our land can also thrive well in rice production beside other food crops,’’ she said.
Obi said that the farmers were currently cultivating rice on 10 hectares of land, adding that they planned to produce at least 4.5 tonnes of rice by the first week of last December.
She, however, urged the management of FADAMA III AF to supply rice producing machines such as threshers, rice processing machines, de-stoners and tractors to facilitate their efforts and boost their production.
At Enugu rice growing sites, the team commended the farmers for their team work, saying that the team work had been very beneficial.
Once again, Okuneye reiterated the hope that in no distant time, locally produced rice would flood Nigerian markets.
Such comments are not exaggerative, as rice farmers in Iyinu Community of Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State, for instance, emphasised that farmers in the area now cultivated rice in commercial quantities.
“We are no longer buying rice from outside our community; we eat the rice we produce,’’ said Mr Ani Michael, a representative of the farmers.
Michael, a beneficiary of FADAMA III AF, who noted that the community had been engaged in rice farming long before the FADAMA programme, nonetheless, conceded that the programme had boosted rice cultivation in the area.
“Rice is one of the major subsistence crops in our area. We have been cultivating rice before but it was just for household consumption in our community.
“With the introduction of FADAMA III AF project, a lot of youths, women and men have indicated interest in agriculture. This has also impacted positively on our rice cultivation and yields due to the new skills we have acquired.
“It is now extremely difficult for any member of our community to go outside to bring rice here for sale,’’ he added.
Another farmer, Mr Ignatius Onuabuchukwu, said that the initiative had created several job opportunities for people in the community.
Also speaking, Dr Olukayode Oyeleye, Media Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, expressed satisfaction with the performance of the farmers and assured them of communicating their feats to the minister.
“I really appreciate your efforts; please try and engage more youths in the programme,” he added.
In Lagos State, Mr Ade Obayemi, Acting State Coordinator of FADAMA III AF, thanked the Federal Government and the World Bank for the huge success of the programme in the state.
He said that FADAMA AF had constructed access roads for rice farmers in Itoikin community in Epe Local Government Area of Lagos State at the cost N450 million.
He said that the completed roads were part of the ongoing 13.6 km-road construction project in rice producing neighbourhoods of the state.
“This is one of the FADAMA III AF interventions in the state and we are happy about it.
“This intervention has already opened up this community to create access to markets because before now, it was difficult to bring in farm inputs for farmers and for farm produce buyers of to come in.
“But with this, there is a big relief for farmers from those challenges,” he said.
Obayemi said that rice production and supplies from the area would consequently increase, while it would be easier for potential buyers to have access to rice farms.
Alhaja Anifat Hassan, a farmer and Chairman, Abundant Wealth Rice Production, who lauded FADAMA III AF projects in the state, said that the programme had significantly empowered the people.
“FADAMA III AF is a laudable programme and my prayer is that this should be extended to other farm produce apart from rice production because it has brought food and knowledge of mechanised farming to us,” she said.
Similarly, Dr Adams Adebayo, President, Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Cooperative Group, commended the Federal Government and the World Bank for the FADAMA III AF programme in the community, saying that the initiative had considerably empowered the residents.
“The FADAMA agricultural programme has added another opportunity for us to create wealth for the people, while improving the country’s food security,” he said.
In his remark, Albert, Team Leader of World Bank/Federal Government team, commended Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State for the prompt payment of the state’s counterpart fund for the programme.
“From what I have seen, Lagos State is very committed to this programme and the achievement of its aims is assured because the standard and the quality of work I have seen here is encouraging and commendable,” he said.
According to Albert, the construction of a tractor service centre, irrigation structures for farmers and buildings where farm inputs would be stored for farmers to access is ongoing.
All in all, stakeholders, farmers and beneficiary communities of the FADAMA III AF programme have applauded the scheme but they underscored the need for the sustainability of the programme, as part of efforts to boost the country’s food security.