For the over 2,000 wheat farmers in Jibia irrigation scheme of Katsina State, it was with nostalgia that they recount their bitter experiences from farming wheat last year.
The farmers said they were advised by unsuspecting government officials from the Sokoto Rima River Basin Development Authority to embark on wheat farming because of its viability.
The farmers said they were told of the high demand for wheat at local and international markets with good prices far above what they can get from maize and millets that they are used to. They said last year alone they had a bountiful harvest of over twenty five thousand metric tonnes of wheat.
The farmers said they bought the best seeds from SASSAKAWA that gave about 3 tonnes per hectare at harvest while the long grain wheat seeds have low yield, giving them about 2.4 tonnes per hectare.
However, the farmers were at lost as to how they can sell off their produce to reap the maximum gains from their investment because of lack of functional value chain. This dilemma left many farmers at a lost because no market was forthcoming for their produce. Many were forced to sell cheaply through piecemeal arrangement with local marketers who often reap from such opportunities.
This, among many issues, made so many farmers at Jibia to shift attention from farming wheat. Statistics from Jibia agricultural extension officers showed that only 210 metric tonnes was realised this year. The Jibia irrigation scheme has over 3500 hectares of land that was used mainly for the production of wheat when it was launched by the federal government.
Wheat is normally farmed during dry season farming. It is a very lucrative venture that farmers are not taking lightly in view of the nature of its farming which most believe is simple and straight forward. Investigation shows, however, that the experience of the past two years have made farmers to switch to other crops.
A bag of wheat sells for between N14,000 to N15,000 during the glut of last year.
For Alhaji Lawal, the Sarkin Noma of Jibia it was a sorrowful experience to recall. Speaking with Daily Trust over the issue, Lawal said they were introduced to wheat farming on the ground that it’s a profitable commodity to cultivate, adding: “We accepted it wholeheartedly, even myself I farmed the commodity and cultivated it. I kept it with me for over a year with no buyer.
“Having spent huge amount of money that I could not recoup because no buyer was available. No individual or marketing company nor government came forth to purchase our surplus produce as such we had to move some to Katsina and Kano to sell off in piecemeal to small end users at a poor price, giving the cost of transportation, seedlings, insecticides and the rest.
“As if that was not enough, we are being told that government has designated Jibia for wheat production even when we are yet to recover from the loses of last two seasons. It will not be easy for us to convince farmers to once again engage in such wasteful venture, especially as government could not assist us when we were counting our losses. We must have a concrete reason to tell the farmers as a way of convincing them to plant wheat again. The only way out is for the government to come with a marketing company that is ready to buy what we produce or government should buy. In Jibia to dispose of a bag of wheat is a problem because nobody will buy, every household has it.
The Chairman of Water Users Association of Jibia, Audi Mallam, said the farmers were overwhelmed by the coming of the irrigation farming in the area which was made possible by Katsina State Government.
Another wheat farmer, Malam Habu, lamented that despite the acceptance wheat farming received when it was launched, it has failed to meet the expectations of the farmers.
The farmers, however, commended the management of Jibia irrigation scheme for providing the wheat farmers with free technical services, new farming methods and fertiliser. The farmers said at the commencement of the project, over 1,500 hectares were solely allocated to wheat farming with more than 25,000 metric tonnes realised.
However, as Nigerian wheat farmers continue to count their losses, a wheat farmer in Mombasa County of the Republic of Kenya, Ismael Khali, told Daily Trust in Nairobi that through effective wheat value chain, wheat farmers have ready market for their crops.
He said: “The wheat marketing company that buys our wheat after harvest provides us with seed they require. So, there is no way they could reject the crop from us after harvest since they provided us with the seed and also made part-payment to us. The problem with the Nigerian wheat is that it has a lot of water in it and, therefore, the flour in it doesn’t swell. They require a better seed.”
However, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Katsina State Alhaji Musa Adamu Funtua was quick to allay the fears of the farmers, saying that a marketing board is in the pipeline to address their predicaments. He added that government will subsidise wheat farming to encourage its cultivation across the state.
In the interim, he said, government used to spend about N400 million yearly on the purchase of grains from farmers so that they can reap the benefit of their labour.
He said: “If you can remember there is a policy in Katsina where government intervenes in seedlings, fertiliser, mechanisation and financing free interest loan that motivates farmers because the environment is suitable for all year round farming.
He denied that the state government has abandoned the farmers in marketing their produce, saying in the last three years, statistics have shown that government bought grains of N68 million from farmers during bumper harvests.
He said in 2012 alone, about N275 million was spent on the glut and in 2013 close to N355 million was spent to stabilise prices of farm produce to encourage farmers. [SOURCE: DAILY TRUST]