The Katsina State Songhai initiative is an agricultural scheme that was designed to alleviate and tackle unemployment among the youths and to guarantee food security and self-sufficiency among the general populace.
The scheme situated at Makera village of Dutsin-Ma Local Government Area is to provide training on modern techniques of both production and processing of cash crops and other crops including maize, sorghum, millet, beans, cassava, rice, wheat and different kinds of fruits by adding value to them. This, it is believed, will be a base for earning more income from agriculture.
Three selected farms were established at Zobe, Mairuwa and the Sabke dam on over 5000 hectares of land. Structures were built and instructors deployed to teach and guide prospective farmers towards embracing agriculture as a business by the previous administrations.
The motive of the scheme then, also centred on honey production, honey processing, honey packaging, fisheries production, fishery management, poultry and livestock production, animal husbandry, crops and cereals production.
Other areas of the initiative included training on modern techniques of breeding and rearing of different animals, including sheep, cows, goats, guinea fowls, grass cutter and turkey.
The scheme which was designed in such a way that over 50,000 youths all-year round are to be engaged in agriculture-related activities to earn a living has Conference Hall, accommodation, restaurant, staff quarters and students’ hotels was established by the Former Governor of the state, Ibrahim Shema in 2014.
The project, which draws its inspiration from the Songhai Regional centre in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, was said to gulfed N3.4 billion by the previous administration.
No fewer than 60 youths were said to be sponsored by the previous administration to Port Novo in Benin Republic to undertake training from the mother institute, serving as the beginning of the seed it sowed towards using agriculture to address peculiar challenges of the state.
Unfortunately, the project which functioned only for some years was, however, abandoned by the present administration of Governor Aminu Bello Masari.
Masari, who visited the site of the project when he assumed office as the governor of the state had said, “Government cannot maintain the place because it has no enough money for such capital-intensive project. There are some facilities that are not supposed to be here.”
Interestingly, however, the Dangote Group, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the state government to take over the project for the production of tomatoes within the period of 10 years and is expected to cover other agricultural activities.
The hitherto comatose facility will be maximally utilised as the business mogul intends to inject N500 million this year, take over the staff, recruit additional staff and commence planting of tomato in preparation for the would-be Dangote world largest tomato production and processing plant.
The company, which is currently operating out-grower scheme in rice production in a number of states, has Africa’s largest sugar refinery in Lagos and a sugar cane plantation in Numan, Adamawa State, among others.
The project, according to the President of the Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, will generate employment opportunity for the teeming unemployed youths in the state and bring about a complete economic turn-around for the state and its neighbouring state.
The N500 million pact would see the company producing tomatoes and other agricultural products on 10,000hectares of land at Makera in Dutsin-Ma Local Government Area through an out-grower scheme.
He said, the initiative would succeed in mass production of tomatoes with a view to boosting food production, enhancing the economic position of the state, thereby reducing unemployment and engendering industrialisation.
According to Aliko Dangote, “Today is one of my happiest day to see that we have finally concluded and signed this agreement so that we can really move into action. We are not only going to do tomatoes here as we promised. We want to make people of Katsina state to used their arable land and put it into use.
“We also want to use out-growers to support them and make sure that this tomatoes project become a reality. Not only a reality but for it to become a bedrock of doing tomatoes in Nigeria.
“We give the state government all the support that is needed from an entrepreneur. We will do our best to make you proud as a governor of this state”, Dangote added.
Dangote, who advocated for the sustenance of the scheme in view of its importance in nation-building, said the initiative would provide an avenue to shift attention to agriculture from dependence on oil.
According to Dangote, “Apart from tomatoes, we will do other things here since you have provided us the enabling environment and we will do our utmost best to make you proud as governor of Katsina State.”
In his remarks, Masari said the project would not only be for the Katsina people alone but for the entire West African region.
Masari said, “The facility will serve the people of West Africa and the entire humanity. We are happy as a government that we have brought something that will add value to the lives of the people here and to humanity in general.
“The project is not only about tomatoes as other businesses and institutions will spring up and we believe that cultivating over 10,000 hectares of land will provide not only for Katsina but for the whole of the West Africa region.
“This government is investor-friendly and we will do whatever it takes to make sure it succeeds as we want to put something in place that will outlive all of us and evidence that we have added value to the lives of our people and humanity in general.
“The purpose of life is about how we can add value and bring benefit to others. Those who do that are the best among mankind and Alhaji Aliko Dangote is one of them,” the governor said.
A resident of the area, Mallam Sani Dutsin-Ma said he was elated about the huge investment coming to the state.
He disclosed that the MoU would be a game changer for Katsina State economy and Nigeria as a whole.
Dutsin-Ma said, “The deal with Dangote Group would help grow the agricultural sector and create direct and indirect jobs in the state”.