The most important security concern of any nation is ‘food security.’ A nation that can’t feed its population is leaving at the peril of other nations. Agribusiness and economic experts has overtime, raised concern about the whooping sums being spent on imported food items by Nigeria. However, the tide is about to turn, with the bold step being taken by NFG with the establishment of two thousand hectare farmland in Gaati, Kokona Local Government of Nasarawa State and Yola, in Adamawa State. The National Coordinator of the Group, Retson Tedheke told LEADERSHIP’s OMONU YAX-ONELSON, that, the aimed of the Group is to cover the six Geo-political zones of Nigeria.
Can you let Nigerians into what Nigeria Farmer’s Group and Cooperative Society (NFG) is all about?
My name is Retson Tedheke, I am the National Coordinator of Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society, also the Secretary of the Group. Mal Ibrahim A. Waziri is the President of the Group and he is presently on our farm in Yola. Looking at what is part of over two thousand hectares of farmland been developed by Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society (NFG), across Nigeria, the one here is over a thousand.
What is this all about?
The concept of economic nationalism is at theheart of how countries grow. And agriculture is the bedrock of that growth. What we did was to start something unique that has never done in this country, That is, pulling together Nigerians from all works of life.
Wherever you are, be it Yaoundé, London, Kigali or wherever, you canbe a member of Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society and also be part of a farming project that is at the heart of leading Nigeriato food sustainability, industrial growth and development, as well as elimination of poverty for so many.
Most importantly, we want to empower our people, so that they don’t continue to be vulnerable in the hands of politician who deceive them with sugar, salt or a thousand naira for their votes. We are trying to create a movement, where Nigerians can comfortably earn a living.
Because” if you can earn a living, you are empowered, and if you are empowered economically, you can make informed decision. That is what we are doing with this project.”
“Above all things, this project are also driven by the desire to key into President Buhari’s burning aspiration to see that Nigeria becomes a country that can comfortably take care of its citizens.” As a Cooperative Society, we have tapped into this vision, we are here to make sure that Tractors and bulldozers are working and they are all paid for what they do.
Also the members of this cooperative group make effort to contribute at list one, five, or ten thousand to ensure this farm project succeeds.
How long has this been going on?
We have been on for this project about a year. But we only become very active for this farming season. This project is capital intensive for us to finance our purse. So, when the idea of NIRSAL – The Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System For Agricultural Lending was muted by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, we liked it. Because, if you own a land with the capacity to manage it, the CBN will come in thereafter, to support you through NIRSAL.
However, just like every programme of government in our country, the process is way too slow. For instance, during the programme platform, the acting President revealed that Nigeria produces about two hundred thousand tons of maize annually. But what this means is that, there is shortfall of about four hundred thousand tons yearly. We are left with no alternative than to fall back on importation. The way Nigeria imports palm oil, rice and some other things into our country. How can we import such large volume of food and expect the value of naira to appreciate against the dollar?
Again, how do we expect to determine the prices of food items in the market, when most of the foods we consume are imported? We intend to produce at least five thousand tons of maize this year. And, we want to be able to increase that to about hundred tons within the next three to four years by having farm settlements like this one across the country.
What is the role of relevant government agencies in all of these?
The minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe has been fantastic with his understanding of what we are doing. To buttress that, he personally promised to give us one bulldozer from Kaduna, which we are expecting to arrive soon. He also promised to give us about two Tractors; we are also expecting to receive them soon. Though, he admitted to us that the budgeting process is very tough but his ministry will do everything it takes to support our cause.
Now, the intent is there, but have we gotten these support; no. But the minister has listened to us. In fact, we have met with him about three times, over the last two months. He has also made commitment to us that, as more and more sources of funding opens up, the Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society will be the first to be considered. But, like I said, have we gotten this support in tangible terms? The answer is no! What you see here are all source from the cooperative efforts. When we arrived here on April 4, 2017, the whole place was a thick forest. But, since then we have had bulldozer on this farm day-in-day out. And two Tractors have been working everyday, since then. As you can see, evidence is the end of argument.
One of the challenges of farmers in Nigeria is the slow response of government agencies to farmer’s needs. While expecting government agency like the CBN to intervene, we decided to start plough and cultivating by ourselves. This is because, if we wait for them, the season will come and go and, as you know, farming depends on rains.
They have also promised to dam part of this area, so that we can have artificial water for dry season farming. We intend to do both rainy and dry season farming. Projects like this should run throughout the year. A thousand hectare of farmland in every state of this country, running for twelve months will automatically meet Nigeria’s food need. We need to be time conscious and do the needful. Also, for CBN to give money to commercial banks before giving it to farmer at cut-throat interest rate is a “great disservice.’ What is wrong with the CBN coming to the farm site to inspect what is on ground, if they are satisfied, they can now go ahead and allocate resources to us based on what they have seen, instead of giving it to commercial banks. Thank God that the minister of Agriculture has assured us that they are fighting for 3.5 interest rate for farmers.
Farming is a gold mine but the process of opening up farmlands is huge. Government need to start helping us to open up farmlands. That is why we went to Yola, Adamawa State.
Giving that Nigeria is facing food crisis and there is need for urgent government support for Cooperative Societies like yours, are you sure the relevant government agencies will match words with action or there are just making ‘political promises’.
In the first place, the drive to do what we are doing is drawn from the resolve of President Buhari to move Nigeria from a nation who depends on external sources for its food supply, to a nation that has enough to eat and sell to others. So, we have a leader who is committed. When the information minister came up with the slogan ‘change begins with me’, though it was a political message but it spoke to so many of us that, ‘it’s time we stop the ‘ranting’ on the internet and go to the farm and work. The desire to build a Nigeria that can feed itself is not in doubt. Actions are beginning to take place but government must get above the ‘pain’ of excessive bureaucracy in policy implementation. Nigerians has taken the initiative. They are ready to change the narrative and government support must be swift.