Katung: Mentoring Southern Kaduna youths on agric

What matters to the senator, representing Kaduna South, Kaduna state, Barrister Sunday Marshall Katung, is to positively impact the lives of the people he is representing at the National Assembly. 

Recently, Senator Katung presented a paper titled, “The Vital Contributions of Youth in the Agriculture Sector to National Development, the Southern Kaduna Example”. It was to celebrate the 2024 Agriculture Day by the National Association of Agriculture Students, Kaduna State University (KASU), Kafanchan Campus.

Senator Katung noted that, as the world grapples with the challenges of climate change, world peace, food security, unemployment, and poverty, among others, youths have the responsibility of steering the course towards alleviating these challenges and repositioning their nations on the path of prosperity.

According to him, this is because the youth represents the most critical segment of every society and carries on their shoulders the future aspirations of their society, whatever they may be. And as future leaders, therefore, they have a duty to provide fresh perspectives, innovations, and energy needed to make life better for everyone.

He added that, “This, of course, is true about every society that has attained greatness throughout the ages. So, whether it is the history of the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, the technological revolution, or globalisation, the youths have always been behind those success stories in every age and clime. The advent of the slave trade before the colonization of Africa and the plundering of our natural resources by the Europeans, for instance, was necessitated by the shortage of manpower to drive the agricultural revolution in Europe and the Americas. Millions of young African men and women were, therefore, shipped to work in various farm plantations, and it is on the sweat and blood of those Africans that the foundations of the European and American march to industrialization and today’s greatness were laid.”

Katung stated that, back home, the area known as Nigeria today has had hundreds and thousands of autonomous and semi-autonomous societies with agriculture as their major economic activity prior to the coming of the Europeans. These areas traded between and among each other, taking what they had to other areas to obtain what they did not have in what the economist would describe as the barter system. Young people were, therefore, engaged in all manner of agricultural production practices, from cultivation to animal husbandry and so on, and this has remained the practice in most of the Country’s rural areas to date.

He said, according to verified data on Wikipedia, Nigeria has a total agricultural area of 70.8 million hectares, of which 34 million hectares are arable land, 6.5 million are used for permanent crops, and 30.3 million are meadows and pastures.

“Maize, cassava, guinea corn, and yam are the major crops farmed in the country. Seventy per cent of the households are engaged in crop farming, and the remaining 30% are involved in fishing, livestock, or other ventures outside the agricultural value chain.”

While observing that as of independence in 1960, Nigeria’s gross domestic product was dominated by agricultural production, with food exports accounting for almost 90% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. In fact, almost all of the infrastructure developed before and shortly after independence was financed by revenues from agricultural exports until the discovery and commencement of oil exploration in the south, when the country started to witness a change in fortunes in the agricultural sector, albeit for the worse. Regrettably, food production began to decline, and attention started to turn toward food importation, leading to grains accounting for more than 50% of the gross national import by the 1970s.

He also mentioned that livestock production is an integral part of Nigeria’s agricultural system, with over 90 per cent of those involved being the traditional herdsmen of northern Nigeria who move south and north searching for pastures for their livestock. However, due to changes in human life circumstances, especially population growth and urbanization, animal grazing practices began to change from the traditional nomadic and fishing systems to sedentary practices such as ranches, poultry, and fish rearing, with youths as the major drivers of this change.

According to him, recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that in the year 2022, Nigeria produced:

59.6 million tons of cassava (the largest producer in the world). Nigeria accounts for up to 20% of the world’s cassava production, about 34 per cent of Africa’s, and about 46% of West Africa’s;

47.5m tons of yam (the largest producer in the world);

3.3m tons of taro (the largest producer in the world);

2.6m tons of cowpea (the largest producer in the world);

6.8m tons of sorghum (the largest producer in the world);

2m tons of okro (2nd largest producer in the world, second only to India);

2.8m tons of peanut (3rd largest producer in the world, second only to China and India);

4m tons of sweet potato (3rd largest producer in the world, second only to China and Malawi);

369,000 tons of ginger (3rd largest producer in the world, losing only to India and China);

2.2m tons of millet (4th largest producer in the world, second only to India, Niger, and Sudan);

7.8m tons of palm oil (4th largest producer in the world, second only to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand);

572,000 tons of sesame seed (4th largest producer in the world, losing only to Sudan, Myanmar, and India);

332,000 tons of cocoa (4th largest producer in the world, second only to Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia);

3m tons of plantain (5th largest producer in the world);

833,000 tons of papaya (6th largest producer in the world);

1.6m tons of pineapple (7th largest producer in the world);

3.9m tons of tomato (11th largest producer in the world);

6.8m tons of rice (one of the largest producers of rice in Africa, 14th largest producer in the world);

10.1m tons of maize (14th largest producer in the world);

7.5m tons of vegetables;

1.4m tons of sugarcane;

1.3m tons of potato;

949,000 tons of mango (including mangosteen and guava);

938,000 tons of onion;

758,000 tons of soya beans;

747,000 tons of green peppers;

585,000 tons of egusi;

263,000 tons of sheanut;

150,000 tons of coconut and this is despite the harsh economic realities of the time.

Katung said, “At the center of these agricultural productions are young entrepreneurs working round the clock to improve the sector. For example,  in the early 1990s, Kola Adeniji quit his job at Guinness Nigeria to start his own business, Niji Lukas, a mechanical engineering service aimed at solving some of the processing challenges faced by food manufacturers in the country. Thirty years later, Adeniji has expanded this company into the diversified Niji Group with various subsidiaries that not only manufacture agri-processing equipment but are also involved in food processing, farming, the assembly of tractors, agricultural training, and hospitality. Through Niji Foods – the agri-processing subsidiary – the group has the capacity to process 100 tonnes of cassava daily at an integrated cassava processing plant near its 4,000-acre farm in Ilero, Oyo State, in southwest Nigeria. Similarly, young Abubakar Falalu runs a rice production and milling venture in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria. His company, FaLGates Foods, founded in 2012, grows, processes, packs, and sells parboiled rice to its largely Nigerian clientele. Falalu incidentally hails from Kaduna State and currently owns one of the largest rice mills in Nigeria, with hundreds of young people directly employed and thousands indirectly.’

“In Southern Kaduna, which is distinctively different from Kaduna South Senatorial District and thus comprising parts of Kaduna South, Chikun, Kajuru, Lere, Kachia, Kauru, Kaura, Zango-Kataf, Jema’a, Sanga, Jaba, and Kagarko LGAs, the area was known mainly for the production of maize, guinea corn, groundnut, ginger and others for both subsistence and commercial purposes, again, with the youths dominating every generation of the farmers. On a lighter note, I’m quite pleased with the speed with which young people from the Bajju nation are setting the pace in revolutionizing agriculture in our zone. But it is heartwarming how the likes of Dr. Manzo Maigari and Rijo Shekari have become deliberate in changing the narratives from government dependence to self-reliance through innovation and mentorship.

“Dr Manzo’s agricultural initiative, which assembles and partners with local farmers under his Agrolog organization, has farmers in clusters numbering over 100,000 in the ginger and rice value chain and making a yearly turnover of about 2 billion naira.”

 The lawmaker said “Rijo Shekari, on the other hand, is doing great things at his ranch in Abuja. He has an operation where he crossbreeds our local cows with foreign ones using artificial insemination. His farm recently partnered with the University of Jos to offer scholarships for 45 indigenes of his LG to study Agriculture or Veterinary Medicine, and one can only imagine what this intervention would become to the nation and our zone in the years to come.”

According to Senator Katung, in the Kauru and Lere axis, several young people have been making their mark in the cultivation of maize and soya beans, farming thousands of hectares of land yearly and contributing to our nation’s GDP and the food supply chain locally. The likes of HRH, the Bugwam Kurmi iii, Yakubu Iliya Sauri, who before becoming a chief harvested thousands of bags of maize from his farms. 

He added that, in Kachia, Jaba, Kagarko, Jema’a, and Zango Kataf, among others, young people have taken the initiative to be involved in ginger farming, processing, and export, and there is quite a good number of them contributing to national development and making the region proud. In almost every ward, warehouses are being erected for both processing and storage and with the right investments by the government, these young people will blossom to unimaginable heights. I can assure you that we are already pushing for the same on behalf of our people.

“While we can celebrate the giant strides our youths are making in the agricultural sector in our zone, we must acknowledge that the last decade has been bedevilled by serious challenges of security, diseases, and climate change. In particular, the nearly consistent attacks on our peace-loving people and hitherto peaceful communities, resulting in the killing and displacement of thousands over the years, have stalled our progress as farming activities have come to a total halt in the affected areas. Climate change, which has often led to flooding or shortage of rain, has continued to lead to serious losses to farmers, while disease outbreaks such as we witnessed in the ginger sub-sector last year have also resulted in losses valued at several billions of naira,” he observed. 

He stressed that overcoming these challenges and setting the region and its ever-hardworking youths on the path of recovery and growth would require concerted efforts between the government and relevant stakeholders. In this regard, he wants to use this opportunity to thank His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Gen. Christopher Musa, Chief of Defence Staff, and the Kaduna State Government for the improvement in the security situation in Southern Kaduna, and the nation at large, adding that with a sustained onslaught against criminals and criminality, the people can be rest assured the youths in agriculture will thrive very fast. 

He also expressed gratitude for the release of the sum of 1.6 billion Naira to ginger farmers who suffered last year’s mishap. Though not exactly what they have hoped for, he however regarded it as, it is still tremendous support from the Federal government, and his office, together with the state government, will work to ensure that everyone who deserves this support gets it in the end.

In conclusion, he reminded all and sundry that the future of Nigeria depends on the ability of all to guarantee food security, and harness the potentials in the agricultural sector. “We must go back to that era when everyone was involved in production, whether for subsistence or commercial purposes. We need to unearth the opportunities for employment and wealth creation in agriculture. In southern Kaduna, there abound untapped potentials in piggery, ranching, fishery, and processing for exports, and our youths need to develop an interest in those areas while also seeking partnerships that will help them blossom. As students in agriculture, this responsibility lies on your shoulders, and you can’t afford to fail. You are the ones to make a difference in your various communities, and we look forward to this happening very soon.”,

Abubakar Labaran writes from Kafanchan, Kaduna state