IN SARAKI'S KWARA, FARMERS ARE KINGS
When Dr. Bukola Saraki assumed office in 2003 as the executive governor of Kwara state, one of his priorities was to revolutionise agriculture in the state. But when he decided to carry out the revolution through white farmers from Zimbabwe in 2004, not a few people viewed the project as not only a white elephant one, but also a conduit pipe to siphon the people's money abroad for personal use. The farm was commissioned by the former Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Alhaji Zayid Abba Ruma.
And to disabuse the minds of the public, the governor threw the challenge to the leadership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), to visit the farm at Shonga and carry out an independent assessment of the project.
This led to the two-day visitation of a delegation of the national body of the NUJ led by the National President, Mallam Muhammed Garba.
But five years on, the controversial project has become a success story. Kwara State, through the farm project, is gradually becoming the food basket of not only Nigeria but the whole of Africa.
Conducting journalists round the farm, a zonal agricultural officer, Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar Yahaya informed that 13 white Zimbabwean farmers arrived Nigeria at the instance of the state government to revolutionise agriculture the way it is obtainable abroad.
In 2005, 13,000 hectares of land in Shonga area of Kwara State were shared among the 13 farmers with each farmer having a thousand hectares to himself for various projects.
The officer explained that the projects chosen by the farmers included dairy farms, crops mandate, poultry and feed production among others.
The farmers, the newsmen were told, had prepared feed ready before the 800 pregnant cows shared among five farmers, arrived the country in 2006, noting that the 800 cows have now multiplied to 3,600.
Right now, the cows are producing about 15 litres of milk each on daily basis. Mrs. Gayle Reid, who is director of Rosadale, one of the farms, said in her farm, 50 litres of milk is realised from 70 cows every day.
Another farm owner, Mr. Tizora Langton, who said pregnant cows are pampered like pregnant women, said each cow brings 15 litres of milk every day, adding that milking is done twice a day.
The farmers produce various by-products like fresh milk, strawberry, butter, peach, and pineapple and banana yoghurt, among other items.
Mr. Peter Tutoil, another farmer, said his farm targets 2.5 million birds yearly. He noted that 5,000 frozen chicken are sent to the market every day.
According to him, in due course, when the people of Kwara have their fill, the outside world would have enough chicken in large supply from the farm.
Crops like cassava, banana, millet, maize, soya beans, guinea corn and guinea peas are a common sight at the site. 700 hectares of cassava made the farm the largest in Africa. Right now, the zonal agricultural officer also disclosed that 'the farm is the major supplier of raw materials to the starch factory at Ihiala. The farm, according to him, also produces 10,000 tones of feeds per day.
Mr. Paul Retzlapf mentioned the reluctance of local banks to release loan facilities to the farmers, blaming this on the fact that commercial farms are strange in these climes.
Yahaya attributed the social peace reigning in the vicinity to the social infrastructure and employment opportunities brought to the communities by the project.
For now, about 600 youths in the adjourning communities are gainfully employed in addition to 45 kilometre roads that are either tarred or graded for easy accessibility to the farms. He also noted that the communities are electrified even as the local people were also given lands to farm with the government supplying them tools and seedlings.
At an interactive session with journalists, the state Commissioner for Economic Planning, Alhaji Abdul-Fatah Ahmed explained that the state has only 15% of the total equity in form of land, equipment and materials. While the farmers have 40%, the banks, own the rest 45% of the equity.
It was discovered that, the project recorded tremendous success because of the basic infrastructure already on ground in the state. These include the NIPP power plant at Gonma, which gives the state 18 to 22 hours of power supply every day, the Asa Dam and two other dams which allow for motorised irrigation system as well as motivation from the government.