By James Emejo
The National Agricultural Land Development Authourity (NALDA) has awarded certificates and test kits to 269 soil doctors and extension workers in Borno State, in a landmark initiative to boost food security and job creation across the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in January, directed the authority to immediately engage over 30,000 young graduates with backgrounds in agriculture and sciences to be trained on soil science in a major push to boost food security in the country.
They are to be deployed across the country to collect soil samples and conduct tests as well as render extension services to farmers to boost their yields.
The award of certificates to the graduands followed their successful completion of a two-week intensive training exercise organised by NALDA in collaboration with the state government.
The Excecutive Secretary of NALDA, Prince Paul Ikonne, at the ceremony, attended by the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan and the Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, among other dignitaries, expressed optimism that the entry of the trainees into the Nigerian agricultural space will address issues associated with poor soil testing and food quality.
He said:”It is expected that the injection of soil doctors and extension service providers into the Nigerian agricultural system will correct the anomalies of non-soil testing so that farming becomes healthy for the environment, humanity and quality food production”.
He said the initiative was being undertaken under the National Young Farmers’ Scheme, which was recently launched by the president.
The NALDA boss further explained that proper understanding of the soil and farmlands by farmers will “give Nigeria the desired achievement in food security”.
He said:”We cannot achieve achieve food security without understanding our soil and without getting our farmers to know what the soil requires.
“Over the years, farmers go to the farm to just do their normal thing – open the soil, put their maize or wheat without soil test to ascertain the nutrients that the soil requires.
“The fertiliser dealers take advantage of that to sell all kinds of fertilisers to farmers and at the end of the day, the desired yields would not be achieved.”
He said:”But what these soil doctors would be doing is that they will go every farm land and meet farmers in their farms to conduct soil test first before any farming season in order to know what nutrients the soil requires or what type of fertiliser would the crop need.”
However, Zulum and Lawan commended NALDA for its laudable initiatives to boost food security and job creation across the country.
The governor, particularly commended the Excecutive Secretary of NALDA, Prince Paul Ikonne, for giving the state such an opportunity adding that it was the first time the any head of an agency of government would approach him with such a lofty intervention since his assumption of office.
He said:”It is the first in the history of my administration in Borno state that a chief excecutive of a federal agency called and told me, Mr. Governor, I am in receipt of funding from the federal government, come so that we can work together“.
He said the state’s agricultural potentials is not limited by absence of water, noting that irrigation engineers are being continually called upon to design structures that could handle the natural supply of water.
The governor said he will keep working towards improving the food supply and agriculture value chain to ensure the nation and the state have food sustainability.
Zulum said:”This effort by NALDA and her development partners by training and providing well designed soil testing kits to one thousand youths shall provide effective and adequate number of experts on soil, to our farmers in time, for Borno to engage in scientific cultivation which should be anchored on sustainable development”.
He identified lack of adequate extension workers, poor funding, inadequate logistics services for field staff as hindrances to agriculture in the state and urged NALDA to provide extension support services.
On his part, Lawan, alongside members of the National Assembly, said the choice of Borno to kickstart the training of soil doctors was apt and commendable.
According to him:”Borno state alone can feed Nigeria, I know for certain. I was part of this state before Yobe was excised and I know the Chad Basin’s projects and programmes alone could produce enough food for this country, so the choice of Borno state for this particular project is apt and in fact in the right direction and the right thing to do.
The senate president also believed the initiative by NALDA will address issues around Nigerian agricultural exports rejection which had reduced their competitiveness because of high chemical residue.
Lawan said:”The soil doctors are going to be real doctors for the soil, our practice has been to apply fertilizers without knowing what type of fertilizers are required or needed on our farms, with the soil doctors we should have a clear analysis of what we need in terms of fertilizers and other necessary inputs into pot soil”.