PATHWAY TO FOOD SECURITY

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Inside story of a blueprint and experimental activities on water resource management, mass food production, livestock breeding and  animal husbandry spearheaded by  M.A. Ali, Professor of Agricultural Engineering at the Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority in Minna, Niger State.

The confidence the Minister and the President reposed on Ali is fast paying off. On assumption of office, Ali moved fast to create enabling and harmonious environment for work by paying off all outstanding salary arrears of both junior and senior staff. He also commenced the process of converting casual junior staff to permanent staff. Also, payment of contractors’ outstanding five years’ payment were verified and paid accordingly.

Combining his experience from the University with what he obtained in the River Basins, Ali also kick started an ingenious experiment, using the Songhai model to help boost food production in the country. When Verbatim Magazine visited, the experiment had commenced in full at the large expanse of arable land in Minna, Niger state where the Headquarter office of UNRBDA and residence of its directors are situated.

Ali told Verbatim that apart from its primary purpose of helping raise food production in the country, the activity which has already led to early yield of some crops like maize, okra and cucumber is meant to serve as a platform to give out skill to Nigeria’s unemployed youths, and unemployed graduates. “The hope is that at the end of the day, more employment opportunities will be created and also our agricultural productivity will be enhanced. I want to effectively use all available access within the River Basin to ensure that we generate employment and enhance agricultural activities and also promote national food security’’, he said. The experiment in Minna is programmed for replication in many locations in the three statutory UNRBDA catchment states of Niger state, Kaduna state and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Ali has been to Porto Novo, Republic of Benin, as head of a delegation  on a visit to Songhai Regional Centre, the largest integrated agricultural centre in West Africa. The delegation was received by the Director of the Songhai Centre, Prof. Godfrey Nzamujo.

The centre, established about 30 years ago by Nzamujo, a Nigerian from Rivers State and professor of Microbiology and Micro-electronics at the University of California, United States, is the largest employer of labour in Benin Republic, with staff strength of over 1,300. The Songhai centre engages in agricultural production, processing, packaging, sales and exporting. It is described as “a one-stop centre where all the sectors are integrated and intertwined and run strictly as a business enterprise. The Songhai model is what Professor Ali dreams of improving upon.

His visit to Songhai culminated into a partnership venture. It was quickly followed by Songhai’s secondment of agricultural consultants and specialists to help capacity development and farming activity practices undertaken by the UNRBDA in Niger state as well as in Kaduna and Federal Capital Territory. It has since been all hands on deck, and work on full speed, through the four core departments, headed by Executive Directors, as fund availability dictates.

Through the Department of Agricultural Services headed by Dr. Aminu A. Omar, for example, a number of activities are taking place, in the discharge of the departments’ core function of agricultural development, extension services, commercial production, research and seed multiplication. This is in addition to the departments’ statutory function of taking responsibility for fisheries, livestock, forestry, commercial ventures, bilateral and multilateral relationships, among others.

Through its agricultural services unit, a total of 1500 hectares of land was developed by farmers at various Authority’s irrigation schemes for the 2017 dry season farming activities at Tungan Kawo, Gussoro Awulo, Gadabiyu,Tafa, Jere, Jebba, Igabi, Kudan, Kuzuntu and Swashi irrigation schemes. The farmers, among others, cultivated rice, vegetables, cowpea, maize, etc, with an estimated harvest tonnage of 10,520. This is made possible through the dam and irrigation facilities that are provided within the catchment area.

The Nursery Seed multiplication centre and Orchard that are located in Minna, the Authority’s headquarters also performed wonderfully in the year 2017. The unit produced a lot of seedlings like oranges, mangoes, pawpaw, oil palm, coconut, avocadoes, zongale, vegetables, melena, etc. These were sold to the public at reasonable prices.

Under the leadership of Professor Ali, efforts are being made to rehabilitate the Authority’s Guest houses located in Minna, Suleja, Kaduna, Wushishi and Pambegua.  A recent report prepared by the Department stated that in the years leading to the arrival of Ali , “the Guest houses in Minna could not bring in any revenue due to their state of physical dilapidation and lack of facilities’’.

Efforts are also being made to rehabilitate and revitalize poultry and fishing venture activities. This has involved bringing back to live, existing fishponds and poultry pens. The last time the exercise paid attention to this sector was said to be in 2012.

Through the engineering department section of the UNRBDA, Professor Ali’s footprints of success has also been registered and acknowledged. The department that is saddled with the responsibility of constructing, supervising and maintaining civil engineering works, buildings, mechanical and electrical maintenance, supervision of hydro-geological and deep water projects.

More specifically, the department is equipped and indeed carries out the Authority’s job of constructing, operating and maintaining dams, dykes, weirs, polders, wells, boreholes, irrigation and drainage systems. It also undertakes “other works necessary for the achievement of the Authority’s mandate and handover all land to be cultivated under irrigation scheme to the farmers”.

Additionally, the department is also saddled with the responsibility to construct, operate and maintain infrastructural services such as roads and bridges linking project sites. The projects executed are usually the ones included and are in the list of approved projects.

The department also undertakes comprehensive development of both surface and underground water resources for multipurpose use with particular emphasis on provision of irrigation infrastructure and the control of floods and erosion control and for water-shed management. The Department also undertakes the corporate assignment of the Authority “to develop and keep up to date comprehensive water resources and master plan, identifying all water resources requirements in the areas of operation, through adequate collection and collation of water resources, water use, socio economic and    environmental data of the river basin’’.

Documents obtained from the department clearly indicate that a number of transformational changes and credible achievements have also been recorded by the UNRBDA, in concrete terms, since the leadership of Professor Ali took office. These include the provision of infrastructure to Apo/Garki resettlement scheme at Apo district in Nigeria’s federal capital territory, Abuja.

There were also projects that were handed over to the Authority by the parent ministry, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, for maintenance in the year under review. These include, the Kargo earth dam handed over by the ministry for Technical Safety/Maintenance. The dam is said to have been constructed in 1981 across river Kargo in Kaduna state for water supply to armed forces command and staff college located 200m downstream of the dam.

In the period under review, the Authority rehabilitated/maintained two other dams. One is the Likarbu dam, located in Kubau local government area of Kaduna state. The dam has a service irrigation area of 100Ha and a total storage capacity of 3M CM. In carrying out this assignment, shrubs were cleared from the upstream, displaced rip rap at the upstream were replaced and the downstream slope was corrected.

The second is kudan dam, an earth-fill dam located also in kudan local government area of Kaduna state. In similar way, shrubs at the upstream of the dam were cleared, slope at the downstream corrected and displaced boulders were replaced.

Many other achievements were also recorded within the period under review, through the hydrological unit of the department. The unit deals with the supervision of all borehole related projects in the Authority. The year under review saw a significant increase in the number of borehole related construction and rehabilitation project. A total of 198 projects were embarked upon under the supervision of the unit.

The unit also successfully supervised the construction and rehabilitation of solar powered, hand pump and motorised boreholes in various locations of Niger, Kaduna state and FCT, Abuja. The following are the number of projects supervised by the unit: 61motorized boreholes; 86, solar powered boreholes and 223 hand pump boreholes. Eight other motorized boreholes were rehabilitated’

After several failed attempts at constructing functional boreholes in previous years, three motorized boreholes were successfully constructed, bringing to an end the perennial shortage of portable water within the estate.

Rehabilitation and maintenance work in the office complex and the estate were also carried out successfully. This included rehabilitation of the reservoir and pumping system for the office complex. Under this arrangement, the booster pump which had been out of use for several years was serviced. The ground reservoir and two overhead tanks were cleaned, disinfected and coated with ant-rust.

Additional storage capacity was provided via construction of an overhead tank by Messrs Ceylon Construction services limited, installation of solar pump and panels were also done.

Also, the Asso Small Water Scheme project which consists of construction of three solar powered boreholes, reservoir and reticulation for the use of the Asso Community was completed under the supervision of the unit.

Other activities carried out by the department, through the Operation and Maintenance unit are many. These include rehabilitation of the Managing Director’s official residence which was left unoccupied for some years. The house was also furnished to accommodate the Managing Director and his family.

Other structures which were rehabilitated include the Authority’s guest houses and the Authority’s second floor building. While the guest houses are currently serving as temporary residential accommodations for newly appointed Directors, the 2nd floor structure at the HQ office building, which is over 62 percent completed as at the visit of Verbatim magazine editors was initiated by the new management with a view to provide additional offices and a conference room to enhance efficiency and productivity of staff.

Collapsed portion of the Authority’s perimeter fence covering a length of 842 metre was reconstructed and repainted. Some block of rooms were also renovated to improve the living conditions of staff.

In addition, the unit was involved in the erection and rehabilitation of many other locations. These include the construction of multi-purpose town hall in Karu, FCT, which is still in progress, renovation of Wushishi area office building and construction of an office block at Jebba project office.

Similarly, many other activities were carried out by the Authority, through the Operations and Maintenance unit of engineering services department. Apart from its daily routine of carrying out maintenance of electrical facilities during the period in reference, the unit was involved in installations of various dimensions in many locations.

The unit was responsible for the installation of 125 poles of solar street lights in Kuje area council of the FCT as well as the installation of 9 poles of solar street lights at Kagoma, in Jema’a Local Government area of Kaduna state.

The Planning and Design Department was also involved in playing pivotal roles in the overall goal and program of the Professor Ali led management to use the UNRBDA as a vehicle for achievement of enhanced agricultural production, attainment of national food security, poverty alleviation and employment generation. The Department led by Engineer John Bature Gimba is responsible for budget and policy analysis. It also prepares project/development/corporate plans for the Authority.  It is also part of the responsibility of the department to organize and conduct socio-economic surveys of on-going and proposed project areas as wells as prepare estimates, tender documents as bidding requirements.

The year 2017 was indeed full of activities and accomplishments for the Planning and Design department. Gimba attested to this in a document in a report of the department’s activities for the year in review.

He confirmed that the four units that make up the department “performed remarkably’’ and its achievements were in the areas of successful preparation of estimates, tender documents as bidding requirements. Indeed, the department ensured that the 2018 budget was prepared and successfully defended at the National Assembly as well as the 2018 budget implementation performance evaluation.

Gimba also confirmed in his report that the master data base of information and data from various departments of the Authority which the department prepared is now in place. It is also constantly being updated, thus fast tracking the time spent in executing tasks and ensuring that every information needed is available at the press of a button. “The department is determined to do even more as greater goals are targeted for the coming years’’, Gimba said.

There is no gain saying that finance and good administration are key ingredients that has the potency to make or mar an organisation. The UNRBDA is no exception. Much of the successes recorded within the short period of the administration of Prof Ali as MD is largely credited to his team work approach.

A lot also goes to the competence of the staff of the Finance and Administration department, supervised presently by Mallam Idris Yusuf, as Acting Executive Director. It is to the credit of the department that the UNRBDA, with a current staff strength of 362 staff is being run transparently, and without  much of industrial dispute.

Years ahead, much is expected of the magical hands at UNRBDA, to consolidate on gains made. Hope is high that the experiment and blueprint for turnaround of the river basin in Minna which Professor M.A. Ali and his team are doing much to actualise will yield the expected result. The much talked about revitalization of the river basins in Nigeria to support the national effort for food security, job creation and income generation, may after all have started in earnest, with Ali and his team in UNRBDA, as co-key- drivers of the process.

By Tobs Agbargbu

 

 

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