Harnessing river basins’ potentials for food securi

River basins across the country have all it takes to sustain food production, if well harnessed. UMAR ABDULWAHAB reports.

The minister of water resources and sanitation Professor Joseph Utsev recently started a nation-wide tour of Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA), an agency under his ministry, with Kwara being his first port of call. 

The minister said the choice of Kwara as the first state to visit was deliberate because it is the seat of power for the  chairman of Nigeria’s Governors Forum (NGF) Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.

Secodly, he said Kwara is the headquarter of the River Basin that comprises Kwara and some parts of  Kogi state.

Speaking during a courtesy call on the governor at the Ahmadu Bello Way Government House in Ilorin,  the minister implored  Governor AbdulRazaq to use his office as NGF chairman to prevail on his colleague governors  to also key into the activities of River Basin Development Authorities across the federation.

The minister said, “Your Excellency, this is a familiarisation visit and assessment of the projects and programmes, including challenges of the River Basin Development Authorities in Nigeria. We are here in Kwara state to start this tour because you are the chairman, Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and we feel it is important to do that in order to receive your blessings and support,” he said.

“During this visit to the state, we also aim to assess ongoing federal government project and also commission those that are completed. Among these projects that the federal government has constructed are for the purposes of irrigation, water supply and hydropower and other empowerment programmes,” the minister added.

For this reason, the minister said his ministry is key in driving the renewed hope agenda of Mr President one of which he said is to achieve food security, improvement on WASH programmes and strengthening of the national economy.

Glamour for dredging of River Niger

The governor while responding called on the federal government to expedite action on the dredging of Rivers Niger and Benue to check the annual flooding and human losses along their banks and tributaries in order to promote food security.

AbdullRazaq  regretted that some agro-allied companies have halted operations because of the damage caused on human and material resources especially on communities along the tributaries ofthe two rivers as a result of flooding. 

“One of the main challenges I want your ministry to take up is the dredging of River Niger and Benue down to the Delta. It is essential for the ministry to start that immediately because of the damage it is causing to the national economy and food security. 

“Issues of internally- displaced persons are of concerns. People are leaving their traditional abodes because of the water level. We know that on both banks of River Niger and Benue, rice is being farmed a lot. Two years ago, we saw how OLAM Farm in Benue state was devastated. The issue of dredging is not just about the navigation; it is also about agriculture and building the Marine Economy from those rivers,” the governor said.

AbdulRazaq commended the ministry’s usual support for the country, particularly the state, on the success recorded in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes and Open Defeacation Free (ODF) campaign. 

Food security 

Acknowledging the important role of river basins to achieving food security the governor said, “Without river basin development authorities, we cannot achieve the level of food security we want to achieve. That is something we really need to do. All your programmes on water and sanitation are basically essential things. If we get that right, we will have less traffic in our primary healthcare facilities across the nation. So, your ministry is key to food security, good health and human capital development,” the governor added.

Parley with traditional institutions 

From the Government House, the minister headed straight to the palace of the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu- Gamabari in order to pay homage to the royal father 

At the Emir’s palace, the minister canvassed the support of the royal father and other traditional institutions towards the success of President Tinubu’s administration.

President Tinubu, according to him, has good intention for Nigeria and requires the support of traditional institutions and Nigerians as a whole to actualise his dreams for the country. 

Thereafter, the minister inaugurated two water projects completed by LNRBDA at the palace. 

Security for farmlands 

Also while inaugurating another water project constructed by LNRBDA at the headquarters of the police command in Ilorin, the minister sought the cooperation of police authorities towards securing the authority’s  farmlands across the country. 

“Our farms and facilities are scattered all over the country and we need the cooperation of the police to safeguard them in order to boost food security.

“Food security is a key component of the `Renewed Hope’ agenda of President Tinubu. Without food security, we cannot drive the president’s economic policy,’’ the minister said.

Graduate youth empowerment  scheme

The high point  of  the minister’s visit was the presentation of certificate and empowerment tools to 50  youths who just completed training at the Graduate Youths’ Empowerment Scheme of LNRBD.

Initiated in 2016 by LNRBDA, Ilorin,  the programme is designed to train and empower youths to be self-reliant and meet the nation’s need in food sufficiency.

The youths, male and female from Kwara and Kogi states, were trained in poultry, fish-farming, horticulture and crop farming. They got cash and relevant input to start their farming businesses.

Presenting the empowerment materials, the minister said the empowerment programne was in fulfilment of President Tinubu’s promise on food security. 

“The present government with its Renewed Hope agenda promised Nigerians to work on food security, review the nation’s economy, health and security. As a ministry, we are working to provide potable water for drinking, sanitation and water for irrigation. Water for irrigation would be used for the production of food that would enhance food security. With food security, there would be food on the table of Nigerians, revenue generation for the government and employment opportunities for youths.

“As we see today, youths are being empowered to see how they can go into agricultural ventures and other activities that would empower them to enhance the nation’s economy.

The managing director of the authority, Dr Adeniyi Saheed Aremu had said at the opening ceremony of  the training that the programme was part of the initiative of Mr President to ensure food security for the citizenry and engage the youths actively.

Aremu who was represented by the director, Agric Services, Dr Muftau Moronfoye, said that the programme had succeeded in empowering past participants to stand on their own and make a good living out of the training in poultry, livestock, crop farming among others.

While encouraging the beneficiaries to make good use of the programme, the MD said that their starter packs which included pumping machines for irrigation farming and chemicals, among others, were enough to make them start on a beautiful note.

Apart from the empowerment programme, another highlight of the event was an exhibition of farm produce from the various area offices of the  authority in Kwara and Kogi states. 

While conducting the minister round the various exhibition stands mounted within the premises of LNRBDA  in Ilorin, the deputy director, Agric Services  in the authority, Dr Olabisi Awoniyi said the authority is one of the leading  contributors to Nigeria’s rice production. 

The deputy director said rice farmers under the supervision of the authority in Ejiba has the capacity to produce rice that will feed substantial population of the country.   

For instance, Awoniyi said the  authority contributed 35% to the Rice Pyramid Show that was displayed by the Central Bank of Nigeria recently.

Inside Shongai model farms 

To cap up the visit, the minister was also at the Shongai Model farm located within the premises of LNRBDA in Ilorin. 

At the farm, the minister and his entourage were conducted round the different sections ranging from poultry to fishing, farming, animal husbandry and feed production, among otbers.

The facility, according to the farm manager, Tosin Onilo is also a training ground for local farmers and students of tertiary institutions some of whom shared their experiences with the minister during his visit. 

During the visit, the minister was shown special breed of cows that were being raised from a range to avert farmers/herders clash.