Reviving Songhai Poverty Alleviation Initiative

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Francis Sardauna writes that the recent move by Dangote conglomerate to take over the Katsina Songhai Initiative, which has been abandoned for about six years, is a significant step towards job creation and poverty reduction among the youth of the state

The Katsina State Songhai Initiative is an agricultural scheme designed to alleviate poverty, tackle the problem of unemployment among youths in the state, and guarantee food security and self-sufficiency. The scheme, located at Makera village of Dutsin-Ma Local Government Area, was set up to provide training on modern techniques of both production and processing of cash crops and food 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 basis for earning more income from agriculture. For this purpose, three farms were established at Zobe, Mairuwa and the Sabke dam on over 5,000 hectares of land. Structures were built and instructors deployed by the previous administrations to teach and guide prospective farmers towards embracing agriculture as a business.

The motives of the scheme then were honey production, honey processing, honey packaging, fisheries production, fishery management, poultry and livestock production, animal husbandry, crops and cereals production.

Other aspects of the initiative include trainings on modern techniques of breeding and rearing of different animals, including sheep, cows, goats, guinea fowls, grass cutter, and turkey.

Past Administration

The scheme is 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. The structures at the site of the Songhai project, which was established by the former governor of the state, Ibrahim Shema, in 2014, include a conference hall, accommodation, restaurant, staff quarters, and students’ hotels.

The project, which draws its inspiration from the Songhai Regional Centre in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, was said to have gulfed N3.4 billion by the previous administration.

Meanwhile, no fewer than 60 youths were said to have been sponsored by the previous administration to Port Novo to undertake training from the mother institute. It was to serve as the beginning of the seed the administration sowed towards using agriculture to address peculiar challenges of the state.

Abandonment

Unfortunately, the project, which functioned only for a few years, was 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 did not have enough “money for such capital intensive project.” Masari said, “There are some facilities that are not supposed to be here.”

Dangote Steps In

However, the pan-African conglomerate, Dangote Group, last Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Katsina State government to take over the project for the production of tomatoes for a period of 10 years. This is however expected to cover other agricultural activities. With this MoU, 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 proposed Dangote world largest tomato production and processing plant.

The company, which is currently operating an 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, Aliko Dangote, will generate employment opportunities for unemployed youths in the state and help to bring about an economic turn-around for the state and neighbouring states.

The N500 million pact, which was endorsed at the Katsina State Government House, would see the company producing tomatoes and other agricultural products on 10,000 hectares of land at Makera in Dutsin-Ma Local Government Area through an out-grower scheme.

According to Dangote, the initiative would be involved in the mass production of tomatoes with a view to boosting food production, enhancing the economic position of the state, reducing unemployment, and engendering industrialisation.

Dangote said at the signing of the MoU, “Today is one of my happiest days 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 use their arable land and put it into use.

“We also want to use out-growers to support them and make sure that this tomato project become a reality. Not only a reality but for it to become a bedrock of doing tomatoes in Nigeria. We will 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.”

He commended the governor for his foresight and efforts to woo investors to Katsina State, stressing that the deal will revolutionise agriculture in the state and Nigeria at large.

Dangote, who advocated the sustenance of the scheme in view of its importance, said the initiative would provide an avenue to shift attention to agriculture from dependence on oil which, he said, had been crumbling in the international market.

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.”

Adding Value

In his remarks, the governor said the project would not be for the Katsina people alone but for the entire West African region.

He 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.”

Game Changer

Residents of the area commended the initiative. According to Mallam Sani Dutsin-Ma, a resident of the community where the scheme is sited, Dangote as the biggest private sector supporter of the Nigerian economy has brought a huge investment to the state. He said the act was commendable.

Dutsin-Ma disclosed that the MoU would be a game changer for Katsina State’s economy and Nigeria as a whole, just as he noted that the Dangote group of companies had been in the forefront of efforts to support government’s industrialisation programmes through backward integration policy in agriculture.

Dutsin-Ma said, “The deal with Dangote Group would help grow the agricultural sector and create direct and indirect jobs in the state.”