Maize farming in Bizara, Kaduna State

Abimbola Akosile examines emerging strides in national development, as rural communities around the country push for self-sufficiency in agricultural production, with vital boosts from the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF)

Agric Potential
There are strong indications that Nigeria’s ailing economy is regaining its growth momentum with ongoing interventions in the agricultural sector, which is expected to play a pivotal role.
As a sector that employs majority of Nigerians, agriculture has the potential to generate huge revenues and foreign exchange earnings, provide essential raw materials for the industrial sector, generate massive employment opportunities and substantially enhance the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In recognition of its huge potential, the Federal Government has reiterated its commitment to revamp the sector in order to boost national economic growth and social development. Part of the government’s strategy is to make the sector more attractive to investment.

At the 8th annual Bola Tinubu Colloquium, tagged, ‘Agriculture, work and revolution’, President Muhammadu Buhari assured Nigerians of self-sufficiency in food production. He asserted that agriculture, which holds the key to Nigeria’s economic growth, would be explored to ensure that the country becomes self-sufficient in the most consumed foods.

At the heart of this national goal is the need to involve the private sector by putting it at the centre of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), which will extensively boost agriculture. Conscious of this reality, experts have harped on the need to build a strategic relationship with the private sector to vigorously drive investments to the sector.

Crucial Intervention
In light of these measures the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) is intervening in tackling challenges confronting smallholder farmers in rural communities across Nigeria.

Through its strategic and timely interventions, the Foundation has enhanced the livelihood and businesses of target beneficiaries through various initiatives that address their needs. It provides support such as distribution of improved seedlings to farmers, periodic training programmes to enhance their capacity and expertise, among others.

These interventions have helped to raise the confidence of farmers considering the nature of agribusiness, which is slowly taking hold in the sector. The interventions also link the farmers with the market, where farmers sell directly to industrial buyers and for food consumption such that farmers’ outputs and incomes have greatly increased.

Before intervening in any community, BATNF first communicates its initial requirements to all intending farmers in such community. This involves stipulating the qualification guidelines, which include working full-time in agriculture and growing one of BATNF’s mandate crops such as cassava, maize, rice, and vegetables, as well as practicing poultry farming, among others, at a subsistent level.

Improved Maize
For its Maize Enterprise Value-chain Development Project, rural communities in the northern part of the country have greatly benefited from this project. One of such communities is Bizara in Zaria, Kaduna State. In the last two years, the Foundation has consistently supported the farmers there with improved varieties of maize, fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides, and knapsack sprayers, among others.
BATNF also encourages the farmers to initiate cooperative and agro-enterprise associations to participate in innovative economic activities, while adopting renewable and energy-efficient technology and practices that are climate adaptive and protective of soil health through trainings. This is aimed at enhancing the production of maize and growing the income of the beneficiaries.

Happy Beneficiaries
Mallam Aminu Jafar, a beneficiary of BATNF’s maize intervention in Bizara LGA, Zaria, who spoke through an interpreter said: “We are grateful to the Foundation for extending its intervention to our community. Years back, we used to plant only maize but since the Foundation intervened, we have expanded the scope of our operations such that we now plant cowpea, millet and tomatoes on hectares of land. Not only have our farmlands expanded, our profits have also increased.

“For example, this is our second growing season. Last year, our harvest was significantly increased because BATNF saved us from the hands of middle men who pretended to be assisting us, but were actually exploiting us. BATNF has taught us modern farming techniques thereby transforming our fortunes. We used to harvest 20 tonnes per hectare of maize, rice and millet but now we harvest up to 50 tonnes per hectare.”

He further said, “Zaria is blessed with fertile arable lands and thousands of dedicated farmers who are committed to partnering the governments and other stakeholders. But we need more support from the government and we hope more organisations will intervene and emulate the existing standards set by BATNF. Challenges still exist.

“For example, we need more insecticides, fertilisers, and easier access to the market for our products. Though BATNF is currently doing this, we want them to do more. We also call on the government to come to our aid. We need processing machines to process our farm products as this will immensely relieve us from the burden of manual processor, which is energy-sapping and time consuming.”
Describing BATNF’s intervention as laudable, Zonal Manager, Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Kaduna, Hammed Abubakar, commended the Foundation for supporting rural farmers across communities in Zaria and Kaduna at a critical time the nation is exploring agriculture to drive economic growth.

He noted that positive results such as higher yield, commercial production and substantial harvest and reduction in physical stress recorded in the last two years are results of the support extended to the farmers by BATNF. He expressed optimism in the intervention, noting that it is key to enhancing the livelihood of beneficiaries who hitherto operated at a subsistence level.

“The transformative interventions have undoubtedly impacted positively on the lives and businesses of the farmers who have now found renewed hope in farming. Since its interventions in eight local governments in Zaria and Kaduna, BATNF has been providing improved seedlings, financial support, and requisite trainings, to boost our farming operations,” said Abubakar.

“We believe more can be achieved by these farmers if governments across the country can commit more resources to engaging more extension officers for effective dissemination of information to farmers. For example, we used to have one extension officer to 1,000 farmers but this hindered our productivity. The situation is even more challenging now as the number of farmers to an extension officer has increased to 3,000. We urge the government to engage more extension farmers so as to enable easy attainment of government’s noble goals for the agriculture sector,” Abubakar said.

Farming Impact
Speaking on behalf of the farmers, Chairman of the BATNF Maize Enterprise project in Bizara, Isa Shuaibu, said the intervention is a positive development in the community, adding that more people have continued to return to farming in view of the progress being made.

Isa said: “Before BATNF’s intervention, we were experiencing challenges such as financial support to expand our business and insufficient inputs. But since BATNF has intervened, the community has recorded a lot of successes. BATNF provides farming inputs such as fertiliser, agrochemical, and capital, among others, to enhance our productive capacities.”

He added that the Foundation provides periodic training programmes, which have enhanced knowledge on modern farming techniques and practices. Isa also stated that the livelihood of an average farmer has been transformed positively through BATNF’s interventions.

“It is a new dawn in Bizara community as farmers have found a second love in agriculture. To help the government achieve its lofty vision for the agriculture industry, we urge other farmers to replicate what we are currently doing by forming a cohesive group, so that interested organisations such as BATNF can assist them to achieve their goals,” he added.