By Rowland Olonishuwa
The importance of agriculture to humanity can never be over emphasized. Apart from the production of food as a means of sustenance to man, the main source of raw materials for major industries such as cotton and jute fabric, sugar, tobacco, edible as well as non-edible oils is agriculture. Moreover, many other industries such as processing of fruits as well as vegetables and rice husking get their raw materials mainly from agriculture.
Dubbed as the oldest profession on earth, agriculture creates opportunities to lift people out of poverty, especially in developing nations.
It is said that over 60 percent of the world’s working poor works in agriculture. This profession creates more jobs, beginning with farmers, and continuing with farm equipment makers, food processing plants, transportation, infrastructure and manufacturing.
Unfortunately, in this part of the world drudgery has limited the capabilities of rural farmers and reduced them to subsistence farming thereby giving the false impression that Nigeria, nay Africa, can barely feed herself.
Coupled with the advent of leaders without patriotism and foresight, agriculture has, in this part of the world, gradually taken up the toga of a poor man’s profession. It is now seen as the duty of the dregs of the earth to till the ground. Among other things, this contributed immensely to hike in food prices, raw materials and other farm produce.
However, there is a bright light on the horizon in Kwara State as the governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq-led administration has decided to take the bull by the horns.
Instead of importing foreigners to take up the people’s ancestral land, the present administration is rather empowering the local farmers to produce more on their own lands.
One major way of doing this is ensuring that farmers have access to tractors at a reduced price so that they can be able to cultivate more and subsequently produce more.
In the words of the chairman of the nine-man committee charged with the responsibility of coordinating this lofty idea, Aliyu Alhassan, what drives this idea is the state government’s passion to ensure that, “local farmers working on their own lands are given all the help they need to do more than they have been doing before now.”
Alhassan, who is the SSA to the Governor on Job Creation and chairman, Kwara state Task Force on Tractor Subsidy Scheme, explained that there are 55 tractors in Kwara State for the present land preparation period in the state.
He disclosed that, “the Kwara state government deployed these tractors to various farming communities across the state so as to support farmers, first of all, to retain their jobs, and also to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown affected many people and so many are losing their jobs while others can’t afford their cost of the production.
“The state government is aware that most farmers are not able to afford the exorbitant charges of commercial mechanization service providers. So, the Governor thought one of the ways to help them to retain their jobs, cut cost of production and promote food security in the state is to deploy these tractors to the various farming communities and provide services to farmers at a highly subsidized rate, the cheapest you can find around here.”
Shedding more light on the mode of acquiring the tractors, Alhassan explained that the present administration in the state met four nonfunctional tractors when it came onboard. He said the state government invested in these four tractors by refurbishing them through the Ministry of Agriculture.
“The state government through the Ministry also retrieved another tractor from one debtor, who is indebted to the state. The ministry of agriculture retrieved that one. This makes it five tractors under the ministry of agriculture presently,” he disclosed.
However, since five tractors would not be able to go round all the farming communities in the state, he said the government decided to fashion out a way of ensuring that farmers have enough tractors during this land preparation period
“The state actually had a plan, there is a fund in the budget that was earmarked for the state to actually acquire her own tractors but coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown affected a lot of things, the state had to cut down its budget by N40 billion, I’m sure you are aware of that.
“As a result of that cut, the state could not afford to buy its own tractors at this stage. You know it has to be imported and there is no international movement right now. The Governor thought it wise that we have to do something tangible for the farmers so two companies were brought in Traxi Continental Ltd and Machine and Equipment Africa Ltd.
“These are companies that have a very large fleet of tractors so the state government engaged them and they brought in their tractors, they brought in exactly 50 tractors these 50 tractors were deployed to the various local government areas across the state based on demand. You know some local governments are more agrarian than others.”
According to the Governor’s aide, 26 of these tractors were deployed to the various local government areas across Kwara North while the remaining 24 were deployed to different parts of Kwara South and Central.
He stressed that the tractors were deployed strictly based on need. Although, he hinted that there has been some redeployment he stated that the committee is committed towards ensuring that, “only the places in need of these tractors get them,” he assured.
Shedding more light on this, the chairman of the Kwara state Task Force on Tractor Subsidy Scheme revealed that, “the tractors were deployed based on the need for them, for an example now that the rains are becoming much in the marshy areas of Kwara North, there is a plan to redeployed some of the tractors that are there to some other parts of the state.
“For example the rains are becoming more frequent, so you can’t use tractors in some areas any more. For those areas, once we identify them, we withdraw the tractors from that area and redeployed them to where they are needed. The entire system is to have all these tractors offering services to small holders’ farmers.”
“Other beneficiaries include the tractor management agents’ through whom the state is providing services to the farmers, as well as tractor operators and artisans in our local communities across the state.”
On how the tractors are managed, Alhassan explained that, “The state government is providing the services to the small holder farmers from the farming communities through accredited agents. The state engaged some agents from different communities who are supposed to be the manager of these tractors.
“These agents are contacted by small holder farmers to get the service at the government regulated rate of N10,000 per hectare by operation.”
The SSA on Job Creation also described as mere fallacy, tales from political opponents that the state government brought in tractors that were not in good shape.
“As I speak with you, these tractors have cultivated over 2000 hectares of farm land across the state and we are targeting about 9000 before the end of the exercise. Tractors are machines and these companies were engaged to bring in functional tractors. Of course, if you bought a tractor last year it is no longer new this year but what is more important is that they are functional.
“Of course, there are technical problems here and there and that’s why these companies also came onboard with a team of technicians who are responding to breakdowns. You will agree with me that even if you buy a new tractor by the time you work on the farm for three days there are things you will need to fix on it. But there is a technical team on ground that is responding to all these challenges,” he said.
Speaking further, Alhassan insisted that, though N10,000 is the cheapest price per operation per hectare in the state, the state government would gladly embrace and support any group or individual interested in rendering these services for lesser than N10,000 that the state government is doing it.
“The essence of the scheme is to ensure that our farmers get their cost of production at the least price possible. When this is done farm produce will be reduced too and people will have access to it. So yes, the state will support and accommodate anyone or group willing and has the equipment to offer these services for even cheaper prices.
“This scheme is the cheapest being offered. The Federal Government through the Niger River Basin is offering the same services for N15000 per operation but we want to cut down the cost of production significantly,” he said.
According to him, some indigent farmers had given up hope of cultivating their land this year but when they heard about the program of the state government, they keyed into it.
He disclosed that in furtherance of its commitment towards ensuring food security, the state government partnered ACB Africa who had opened an outlet in Lafiagi local government and selling fertilizers to famers at the rate of N4500 per bag compared to the N8000 or N9000 per bag it is sold for. He stressed that what the state wants to achieve is to cut down the cost of production for the people so that many more people can come into the agriculture sector.
However, glut is believed to be one of the major post-harvest challenges facing farmers in the rural areas and so churning out more yields by these farmers might in the end only compound the waste. But addressing this, Alhassan said the state is well prepared for such and assured that there would be no glut.
He stated that the state is speaking with large scale commodity traders across the country and millers so that the farmers can easily sell their produce directly to the processors. He noted that part of the holistic plan is not just encouraging small holder farmers to produce but there is als
o an ongoing arrangement to see that these farmers are able to sell their produce so as to cut down post-harvest losses.
Also, addressing the issue of bad road network in Kwara North which usually impedes the free flow of produce from that region to other parts of the state, Alhassan assured that the state government is already working on it but said it is a gradual process.
“It will interest you to note that the state government is highly interested in fixing the infrastructure deficit in the state but as we know fixing the infrastructure in Kwara state, after the many years of abandonment will require very large capital. The state definitely is working out to source for funding to see those infrastructures are fixed.
“But it will also interest you to know that the first road which is being constructed in Gwanara, the homestead of the Speaker, since the inception of Kwara state is been done by this government. So, of course the state is aware of the bad road network and is working on it but it is a gradual thing,” he said.
Asked to rate the work done so far, the chairman of the Kwara state Task Force on Tractor Subsidy Scheme assured that “We are on track and pushing to see that we meet up with the target, it is a high target that we intend to meet up with. There are challenges like where there is heavy rain fall we can’t work there for like two or three days. Other areas where there is insecurity like we had in Patigi local government area recently operators cannot go into the farms. We are having so many distractions but we are having our eyes on the ball.”
Commending the efforts of the state government, a beneficiary from Maya/Ile Apa ward of Ilorin East local government area of Kwara State, Usman Akanbi Adeyanyu Alase said this effort will go a long way to help farmers in the state especially small holder farmers.
“We know how much we use for land preparation before now and we know how much we are using right now, we are most grateful to Governor AbdulRazaq for this gesture and pray for God’s guidance for him always,” he said.
Also, Alh. Saba Y. Momoh of Lafiagi district of Edu local government area of the state described the scheme as an innovation in a class of its own.
“We highly appreciate the efforts of Governor AbdulRahman, this kind of scheme has never happened before now and we are so happy. It will go a long way in assisting us in cultivating our major crop which is rice. We are so happy,” he said.
On his part, Lukman Solih from Aba Owode Ira area of Oyun Local government area of Kwara state was full of prayers for the efforts of the state government in making available the tractors.