Dry season farming: How realistic?

By Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf and Joe Agbro Jr
In Nigeria News Feed
Feb 9th, 2014
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Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf and Joe Agbro Jr. with agency report, take a look at the new policy regime on dry season farming vis-à-vis its prospects and challenges

THE Federal Government holds the view and very strongly too that one sure way to boost food production across the country is through dry season farming, little wonder it recently approved the release of N14 billion for the venture.

The release of funds for dry season farming has indeed become a practice as N9 billion was released in 2013 for the same purpose.

But why dry season farming?

From available statistics, Nigeria has over 82 million hectares of arable land not fully utilised because of predominantly rain-fed farming practised in the country.

Rainfall occurs only seasonally – and there is a pronounced dry season – however, rainfall is often intensive when it does come, making it necessary for farmers to employ soil moisture conservation techniques. The main crops grown in the region are millet, sorghum, and cowpea, while groundnut and sesame are significant minor crops.

The preparation of fields for farming is begun in April or May when the farmers clear shrubs. Sometimes grasses are burned in order to clear fields that have not been grazed by livestock. The beginning of the rainy season is in June or July and this is when most planting begins, although a few farmers may dry-plant before the rains begin.

In September, millet is harvested, followed closely by beans. In late October or November sorghum is harvested. In addition to this, farmers who do not wish for their cereal stalks to be consumed by livestock must also harvest these. Some farmers begin planting guna melon as the millet is harvested. However, guna melon is very vulnerable to pests, so the crop is not successful in every year. They are harvested from February to April if it is.

Presidential imprimatur

Thus, in the view of analysts, the release of the funds underscores the importance government attaches to dry season farming.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who spoke recently in Abuja at the official launch of the Dry Season Farm Support Programme, said government would sustain the dry season food support programme.

“Our resolve to expand this dry season programme is strong and subsequently it has to come up in October so that they will get all that they need before the commencement of dry season.

“To demonstrate this, I am today announcing N14 billion to support dry seasoning farming for 2014 season.

“As more states come on board we will continue to increase the amount of money.

“We will continue to work with farmers and that is why I am announcing today that the support will become a national policy.

“Our nation shall be green, our barns shall be filled and our farmers shall prosper,” the president said.

The president said that the programme launched in 2011, was designed to add an additional 20 million metric tonnes of food to the country’s domestic food supply.

Crave for dry season farming

Alhaji Mohammed Yusuf, Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, who spoke recently in Bauchi at a stakeholders meeting of the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme, said agricultural inputs would be provided farmers under the dry season farming programme.

Yusuf said that in Bauchi State alone, the Federal Government provided incentives to 10,000 dry season rice farmers.

According to him, each farmer received three bags of fertiliser at 50 per cent discount and 25kg of improved rice seeds.

Yusuf said that more than 400,000 farmers from 19 participating states were being supported under the 2013/2014 dry season GES scheme.

“The effort produced more than one million tonnes of rice during last year’s dry season farming with just over 200,000 farmers drawn from 10 states.

“We intend to double or even triple the production this year.

“We have already carried out sensitisation campaign across the state, identified genuine farmers, enlightened them and assessed their level of preparedness in respect of land and source of water.

“I am happy to inform you that our farmers are ready; they have prepared their lands in clusters and ready for planting. Very soon, we will commence distribution of the inputs,” he said.

The director advised the farmers to utilise the inputs to expand their production capacity, adding that the problems of processing and marketing had been addressed through the value chain initiative.

Dr Emmanuel Adanu, Director, Dams and Reservoir Operations, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, urged farmers to embrace irrigation farming, as it can deliver greater crop yield than rain-fed farming.

He noted that irrigation farming was more productive because it was usually regulated and more focused than rain-fed farming.

According to him, that is why the southern part of the country is being encouraged to use the dams located in their areas for irrigation.

“We are encouraging people in the South now to go into it, though in the South we don’t have a long period of dry season for them to do continuous irrigation.

“So, we encourage them to go into some irrigation because the production from irrigation normally is better than rain-fed agriculture, “ Adanu said.

Adanu said the North engaged in irrigation agriculture more because it has a longer period of dry season and abundant expanse of land than the South.

Mr Charles Ovweigho, the Manager, Asaba Area Office of Benin-Owena River Basin Development Authority, said that dry season rice farming would soon start at Illah, Delta after the inauguration of Illah irrigation project.

He said that the N200 million irrigation project was for dry season rice farming.

Ovweigho explained that 100 hectares, out of the 200 hectares earmarked for rice farming, was irrigated for dry season farming.

“The contract for the irrigation was awarded in 2012 and the project will soon be inaugurated by the Minister of Agriculture,” he said.

Ovweigho said the farm project extended to the neighbouring Ebu community, where 100 hectares was acquired, adding that 15 hectares had also been cleared in the community.

Ovweigho said interested large-scale farmers would be allowed to farm on the land after fulfilling some obligations.

“This is a Federal Government project and it is all over the country; no restrictions or discrimination is placed on anybody,” adding that interests of host communities would be protected.

Ovweigho said that farmers currently on the land, only paid for the cost of land preparations, adding that when the irrigation system becomes operational the cost would also be subsidised.

Stakeholders want the government to complete the various irrigation projects spread across the country, to ensure the success of the dry season farming programme.

Meanwhile, as part of keying into the programme, the Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority (UNRBDA), Minna, said at the weekend that 900 farmers in the state would participate in the 2014 dry season rice farming.

Speaking at the launch of the dry season farming in Wushishi, the authority’s Managing Director, Prof. Paul Marley, said that a yield of 5,400 tonnes of paddy rice was expected.

Marley said that the initiative was geared towards realising the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda for food security and sufficiency in the country.

“With the advantage of double cropping, 1,800 hectares will be put to rice cultivation annually by 900 farmers and this will give an expected yield of 5,400 metric tonnes of paddy rice.”

Marley said the Tunga Kawo Dam Irrigation project in Wushishi Local Government Area of the state would irrigate 900 hectares of land.

He said the authority had 22,165 hectares of irrigated land across the state but only cultivated 3,375 hectares, which translates to a total of 10,125 tonnes of paddy rice expected as yield per cropping season.

The managing director said areas covered by the river basin irrigation included Tunga Kawo, Tafa, Jere, Swashi, Wuya, Doko, Nasarawa, Jebba, Badeggi, Edozhigi and Gusoro.

Marley said that irrigation farming was the panacea to possible food shortage and rice importation.

“It is in the light of this that the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, through UNRBDA, is using this programme to improve the standard of living and empowering our rural dwellers,” he said.

Also speaking at the occasion, Alhaji Ahmed Matane, the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said the government had discovered the need to encourage farmers to go into all-year-round farming, to ensure food security.

Matane, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim, said the state government had set aside N250 million to purchase water pumps and tube wells to boost irrigation farming in the state.

He said government would establish farm implement hiring centres across the state, to enable farmers to have access to agricultural equipment at subsidised rate.

Earlier, Alhaji Haruna Jemaku, the Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in the state, urged governments at all levels to involve the association in policies concerning its members to ensure that farmers embraced policies that would engender food security in the country.

Relatedly, Bauchi State Chapter of the Rice farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) also commended the Federal Government for the N14 billion dry season farming intervention fund.

Dr. Yahaya Adamu, the Chairman of the association, gave the commendation in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Bauchi.

Adamu said the gesture would go a long way to boost rice production in the country.

“Last year, it was nine billion and this year it was increased to 14 billion. This is a clear indication of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration’s commitment toward ensuring food security in the country.

“If the fund is judiciously disbursed and effectively utilised, I assure you that there is going to be bumper harvest in this year’s dry season farming programme.”

Adamu, however, appealed to the Federal Government that subsequently, such fund should be released on time for effective utilisation.

“The timing was very faulty. It would have been better if the money was released by November or even December; that way, we could get fertiliser on time, seeds on time and other inputs on time.

“Usually, we prepare our nursery in January and by the end of that month it will germinate. By the second week of February, it is ready for transplanting and within two weeks it will require fertiliser.

“But the fund has just been released and for farmers who could not make any preparation, I doubt much if they will harvest much, because it will be late.

`If the fund is released on time, and inputs are made available by November, farmers would commence land preparation from January with high guarantee that by May, they will harvest their produce before rain sets in.”

The chairman expressed optimism that in spite of the lateness, Bauchi farmers had prepared ahead of time, adding that the association targets 100,000 tonnes in this year’s dry season farming.

It would be recalled that President Goodluck Jonathan on January 20 approved the disbursement of N14 billion in support of the 2014 dry season farming.

Jonathan also directed the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to ensure that the programme commenced not later than October of the preceding year.

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