Mohammed Munirat Nasir
Yau Muhammad Dansadau, a 2004 Mass Communication graduate from Bayero University, Kano, is one Nigerian that has bought into the President Muhammadu Buhari’s desire to bring about an agricultural revolution in the country that would result in the nation being able to produce almost 100 per cent of its food needs as well raw materials for agro-processing into finished products. In this interview, Yau who is a native of Dansadau in Maru Local Government Area, Zamfara State, sheds light on the way forward for the development of the agricultural sector to become a major revenue earner for the country.
Given your background, what got you interested in farming?
WelI, I was brought up by my father who is one of the successful farmers here, and as someone living in an agrarian community such as Dansadau town, farming is part of me. After studying Mass Communication at Bayero University, Kano, I started thinking of a better career for a young person like me. I wanted to be self-reliant and contribute to feeding the nation as well as to fight poverty especially among the mass of energetic young men and women in Dansadau area. After a long time of meditation and consultations I conclusively chose farming as an option.
When did you start full time farming?
I started full time farming in 2002 with little or no support but enjoyed full security then. So, it was a hectic and multi-tasking venture as there were no available farming chemicals to augment the local mulching and land clearance techniques like in 2004, when Governor Ahmad Sani Yariman Bakura came up with ZACAREP which farmers enjoyed, and most of the northwestern states borrowed from Zamfara.
You seem to be a successful large scale farmer. What is the secret?
Yes, I am very successful with Allah’s help, support from the community and determination. I am now among the front-liners in the comity of young farmers not only in my home town, Dansadau, but also across Zamfara State. It may interest you to know that I produce over 10,000 bags of maize, sorghum, rice and soybeans put together.
How did you achieve your dream?
I can readily say that I was able to realise my dream with help of Allah, the mentorship of my father as well the much celebrated Zamfara Comprehensive Agricultural Revolution Programme (ZACAREP), initiated in 2004 by Governor Ahmed Sani Yariman Bakura of Zamfara State. The two agricultural bodies, Maslaha Seeds and the state government’s palliative scheme, ZACAREP, have immensely supported me with interest free loans and tons of assorted fertilisers which grossly aided my farming business to the present standard.
President Muhammadu Buhari has called on Nigerians, particularly youths to go into agriculture. Do you think the enabling environment has been created?
No, not at all! Right from President Buhari’s first tenure, he has been calling on Nigeria’s youths to embrace farming, but the fact is that his administration has not provided the enabling and conducive environment for farming to thrive. Take for instance, a comparative study of the present and immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. President Buhari appropriated less than N40 billion for agriculture in 2016 while Jonathan budgeted N250 billion for agriculture in 2015. To say the fact, as budget and its implementation are concerned, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan was more serious on agriculture than the present President Buhari administration. The present administration should shun mere propaganda which cannot lead the nation anywhere. Nigerian farmers are unsatisfied with President Buhari’s loquacious agricultural policies which come too little and too late. What the Buhari government has been appropriating in its budget for agriculture has always been very inadequate and poorly implemented. In fact, it does not get to real farmers at the grassroots. Neither large nor medium, small scale and peasant farmers feel any impact of the government’s policies in anyway.
What challenges are you are facing as a farmer in the Northwest, particularly Zamfara State?
The problems that farmers face in the Northwest are no longer secret to the world. They are too numerous to mention but major among them is the poor or lack of security. In any ideal political set up, security of lives and property are uppermost priorities that must not be compromised in any case. Unfortunately though, the security apparatus has been politicised, tribalised and commercialised in Nigeria. In my view, security issues have unfortunately, almost crippled all sectors including farming activities in Zamfara and indeed the entire Northwest to its poorest level. For instance, like many of my contemporaries, I have been producing approximately 10,000 bags annually, but was able to produce only 900 bags last year due to atrocities caused by insurgency. In the present 2020 farming season food production may be drastically impaired because of the incessant banditry activities against the farmers across the entire region. Farming activities may not be possible any longer owing to the unfortunate sporadic attacks on innocent citizens by gunmen who kidnap, rape women and kill innocent villagers in their farms.
What is the way forward?
First and foremost, we need serious enabling environment which is security. Governments at all levels must be proactive in the provision and maintenance of security which is our major concern. Secondly, governments, particularly in northern states, should emulate former Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Ahmad Sani Yariman Bakura by implementing a programme that will empower farmers with interest-free loans in the form of farming inputs such as qualitative and genuine seeds, herbicides, fertilizers, insecticides etc. Such loans should be disbursed through our traditional institutions and farmers’ cooperative societies under strict conditions to ensure repayment. By so doing the loans would be revolving to enable many more farmers benefit annually. Honestly speaking, I am happy that the relevance of crude oil in the world market has glaringly proved to be no longer a reliable source of our economic dependence. You can see that most African countries are now trying to diversify their sources of income. Regrettably, Nigeria is still lagging behind despite the numerous natural resources Allah has blessed the nation with. However, I wish to suggest like many other people that President Muhammadu Buhari should think beyond party politics and take serious, long term and emergency measures by diversifying Nigeria’s economy to agriculture, mining and other non-oil sector for the survival of our dear nation.
You said the Buhari administration’s budget on agriculture has always been low. How much do you want to see budgeted annually for farming?
I wish and pray that every year’s budget would be raised up to 23 to 25 per cent considering the impact of agriculture in the fight against hunger, poverty and food security. Pathetically, only 1.8 per cent of Nigeria’s budget was appropriated for agriculture in 2016. That was grossly inadequate, and a show of un-seriousness by the government. I was happy there was an appreciable upward review to 20 per cent in the 2018 budget amounting to N173 billion. However, poor budget implementation makes Nigerian farmers very angry and food production always low. Only very little benefits were derived out of most Nigeria’s budget. When Nigeria closed its borders to avoid food importation early last year, I expected a high increase on agricultural share in the budget. Surprisingly rather, there was a disturbing decrease to 18 per cent, representing N138 billion. Despite the low budget for agriculture, the major problems that Nigerian farmers and agriculturalists face are poor and late implementation.
Is the provision for agriculture in the budget of the Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, okay?
It is partially okay because Governor Matawalle inherited a huge amount of liabilities from his predecessor Abdul’Aziz Abubakar Yari, who almost brought the state to its knees economically. However, the likely issue with Governor Bello Matawalle’s 2020 budget generally is implementation. He seems to be well focused, common man driven, community related, and rural development intended, but the government drags its feet on implementation. For example, as at June 1, 2020, we were yet to see any agricultural inputs procured either by the state or federal government. Under normal situation, farming facilities such as improved seeds, fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, etc, should be readily available to farmers between April and May each year. Regrettably, such palliative equipment came very late, around August and September when the farming season was rounding off. Farmers attended to so late could not pay back the agricultural loans given to them. The unfortunate practice of late disbursement of farming loans experienced by Zamfara farmers from the past administrations should be reversed by the Matawalle administration.
You talked much about loans. How easy is it for genuine farmers in the rural areas to get such loans?
It appears very difficult for a genuine local farmer in the rural area to get any loans from the bank because majority of the farmers do not interact with the banks which are only found in the cities. To that effect therefore, majority do not even have bank accounts. The very few that have bank accounts may have issues with collateral security.
Reports indicate that most farmers default in paying back loans. Don’t you think it is the reason banks place stringent conditions on agricultural loans?
Yes, I agree with you that there are defaulters among local farmers. You need to ask, what are the contributing factors to the default in loans repayment? Firstly, the loans are given to so-called farmers, not the genuine farmers. Secondly, late disbursement of the loans also leads to defaulting by farmers.
As a big time farmer, what are you doing to encourage youths to go into farming?
I am contributing my own quota in the employment of labour to flush hunger out of Nigeria. On my own, I give 1,200 to 2,000 bags of assorted fertilizers and improved seeds to rural farmers as soft loans to be paid back with farm produce as sold in the open markets, and as agreed by both parties. I give fertilizers at prices not equivalent to the prices in the open markets. Similarly, I collect repayments of their produce based on the open market price too. More also, I have three tractors that work for me and farmers on rental basis to be paid back after harvest either in cash or in crops.
I engage in doing so to encourage other affluent farmers to help others grow. It also pains me to see a graduate or any energetic young man waiting for government job which makes people weak and uncreative. I challenge our vibrant youths to rather come forward to be supported to embrace farming so as to employ others too.
As you annually give out loans to farmers, are they defaulting?
No, not at all, the repayments have always been 99 to 100 per cent. I really appreciate our local farmers’ response to loan repayments.
What is the secret behind their cooperation without default?
The secret among other factors is that I give the loans to responsible and only genuine farmers under agreed terms and flexible conditions. Period! I therefore call on the federal, state and local governments as well as all well-meaning Nigerians to ensure food security in Nigeria by engaging our youths into full time farming.