SPECIAL REPORT: How New Farming Initiative Is Transforming Lives In Nasarawa Community | PremiumTime

Gaate is about an hour drive away from the Abuja municipality. But this rural settlement along the Keffi-Akwanga road in Kokona Local Government Area of Nasarawa State could as well have been in another country. Blessed with vast arable land, majority of the residents are subsistent farmers and neither dream or feel the glitz of the Nigerian federal capital.

The community has no basic amenities, so the people depend on another community far away for even health care services as there is no facility for such in the village. Their only primary school is in ruins and the impact of this is evident as only very few of the residents attempt to communicate in English.

But change appears to be creeping into Gaate village. A cooperative farming society, Nigerian Farmers Group, NFG-CS, is raising the living standard in the community following an agreement that gave the group part of the community’s land to kick start a cooperative farming model.

“We had an agreement with the cooperative to farm on our land for five years and things have improved for us ever since,” Ibrahim Adamu, the village head of Gaate told PREMIUM TIME’S reporter through an interpreter on Saturday.

“Our major challenge is hunger due to poverty. We are local farmers and we do it on a very small scale. Before, there was no road to this place but when this cooperative came, the first thing they did was to create a road.

“About 200 people from this community have been employed to work in the cooperative’s farm. We plant the farm and also work as security and get paid on a daily basis. People who don’t have what they do now have work and are helping their families,” Mr. Adamu said.

“Apart from employing our people, this cooperative also promised to build a new primary school for us as we don’t have any school that is functional or even a health care centre. We really appreciate this farming initiative in our community and we support them.”

Aisha Gako, a local farmer employed by the cooperative, said she is paid N1,500 daily.

“Because of this farm, we can now eat and take care of our family. We plant maize and work on the farm every day after which we receive N1,500,” she said.

For Ibrahim Karshi, the upturn in fortune is massive since his first taste of paid employment in the village. Doubling as a security guard and farm worker, he said he gets paid twice daily.

“I’m employed as a security in this farm. I used to work as a security man in Abuja; so, when this cooperative came in, I saw it as an opportunity to do the job I was doing in Abuja here in my home for a better pay. I also work at the farm.

“We work from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. then go on a break and continue from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Then we guard the farm at night. I receive N1,000 as security and N1,500 for working in the farm every day.

“The only challenge we are having sometimes are the Fulani herdsmen. Their cows enter the farm but we are trying to build a blockade so cows can no longer enter. There was a land dispute between us and the herdsmen which resulted to a man’s hand being chopped off.

“But we have resolved the issue,” Mr. Karshi said.

In spite of the transformation their community is experiencing, the people say government has no reason to continue to ignore Gaate.

Adamu Baba, the youth leader of the community, who also spoke, decried government’s lack of concern for the basic needs of the community.

“We don’t have a secondary school, we only have a primary school but it’s not good at all. As you can see, it’s not functional. There is no health care centre. We have to carry our people to far away Sabon Gida if there is any health emergency.

“We have so many emergencies, which can be addressed if we have help near us. It is a problem. We have had a case where a pregnant woman lost a baby because there is no health assistant around. The government should help us and also assist this farming cooperative.”

PREMIUM TIMES in June reported the launch of the cooperative farming project which is to enable urban dwelling Nigerians own and run farms.

Under the farming initiative, NFG-CS plans to cultivate 5,000 tonnes of maize by the end of two farming seasons.

“We met with the village leaders and the king, we discussed with them and we paid for a five- year lease of 1000 hectares. At the end of the lease, we intend to increase it by another five years.

“We don’t want to buy off the land, we want to take it as a lease because we believe that over time, we will allow them to manage the process as we go to other places to open up new frontiers”, Redson Tedheke, the coordinator of the group had said.

Out of the 1000 hectares said to be acquired, it was observed that about 300 hectares is already planted with rapidly growing different species of maize. The group said it is expecting about 2,500 tonnes of maize in the next few months.

Mr. Tedheke, one of the pioneers of the #occupyNASS protest against the National Assembly last year, said it is much more better to occupy the farm than the Nigerian national parliament.

“Sometimes in April last year, we occupied the National Assembly and in November we did occupyNASS 2. But then, we realised that empowerment is the main problem Nigerians have, we are not empowered. If you empower Nigerians, then you give them the ability to have a voice, a political voice, a social voice and an infrastructural voice.

“We then thought of the idea to empower Nigerians all over the country through farming where both the low class, middle class and the high class all have a role to play.

“Through one hectare at a time, Nigerians can earn credibly with integrity and be able to say no to money in politics and what you are seeing is a result of that mindset.”

Mr. Tedheke reiterated that anyone interested can acquire land on lease through their programme and have it cultivated without having to go to the field.

He said the programme is designed to develop rural communities and create employment opportunities.

“When we came to Gaate, there was no road, hospital and schools. Since our aim is to empower the people, we have to carry the community along. We have more than 200 locals engaged in the farm. We pay the locals 1,500 per day from Monday to Saturday and that is N36,000 in a month.

“People need to be empowered. No one will come and tell you I am giving a Mudu of rice for your vote when you earn money every day. We want to eliminate that mindset.

“When the people are empowered, they start asking questions and make the government accountable.

“This is the second largest farm in Nasarawa and we are barely one-year old. So, if we can have one of the largest farms in the state under one year, you can imagine what will happen in the next two to three years.

“We are creating a synergy between the cooperative and the locals. We train and empower them, we promised to build a school block for them so there is almost a perfect relationship.”

Dilapidated primary school block in Gaate village, Nassarawa.
Dilapidated primary school block in Gaate village, Nassarawa.

Apart from Nasarawa, Mr. Tedheke said the group was planning to establish farms under the programme across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria.

He said the group had also established a farm in Adamawa State with the support of the state government where it is also cultivating maize and expecting 5,000 tonnes at the end of the farming season.

 Gaate Community Leaders
Gaate Community Leaders

He, however, decried the federal government’s slow response to the plight of cooperative farmers in the country.

“We designed this programme to go along with the NIRSAL initiative but it didn’t work out as planned. However, we didn’t allow that failure to become a problem for us so we sourced private alternatives for funding. Every member pays N50,000 per hectare for a year then pays maintenance fee of N25,000 per farming season and that is how we are supporting this initiative.

Locals working in the farm project
Locals working in the farm project

“We have met with the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh and we deliberated on this initiative. However, one thing is to listen and another is to act, so we cannot keep waiting for them. We have been able to convert their slow response to an advantage in the sense that where government have failed, the private sector has been able to step in with institutions coming in to invest with us.

“In December 2016, what grew the American economy was soybeans so if soybeans can become the measure component of growth in an economy as big as that of America, why can’t we utilise the 82 per cent arable land we have in this country to grow our economy?”