In Green Monitor maiden Exclusive interview with the Hon. Commissioner of Agriculture and Water Resources, Nasarawa State, Professor O. Alanana, who before his appointment was a Professor of Sociology at the University of Abuja, where he had taught and mentored students and future leaders for several years, the erudite Scholar, cum politician beared his mind on several issues related to his Ministry. Below is the full interview.

My name is Professor Allananah O. Otaki, Commissioner for Agriculture Nasarawa state. All my life I have been in the University of Abuja teaching in the department of sociology. The ministry I preside over is called the ministry of agriculture and water resources. It was originally Agriculture and natural resources, but to cut cost in governance, Hs Excellency the Governor of the state Engineer A. A Sule merged ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources and took Natural Resources to the Ministry of Environment to be called the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

I assumed duty as commissioner on the 1st November, 2019. When I came, I told His Excellency that I am not going to be an office person; rather I would be a field person.  And good enough he is the governor that has a lot of vision and supports you especially if he beliefs you on what you are really doing and that you are going to deliver on the mandate of the government and also to deliver on the mandate of our great party that brought us to power.

When I came in, there was a Nasarawa State Economic Development Strategic Plan on the ground. It is a strategic plan put in place by the governor for all Commissioners to begin to implement our own policies or fish out our own policy within the framework of the plan.

With that on ground, it was so easy for us to begin to implement the strategic plan because we had so many problems on the ground; and we began to build on it within the framework of the state economic Development Strategy. So we put our heads together to design a plan for ourselves in the ministry. So everybody knew my own direction, and knew where we are going, and decided to key in.  One great thing that is behind the success of this place is the team player policy we invoked. As Commissioner I made sure everybody is encouraged to perform his role as a director of a particular Unit. The ministry has nearly 10 departments, each headed by a director and we move together as a team.

I also encouraged us to begin to work by extending our hands of fellowship to other agencies and departments. First of all, we knew we cannot do it on our own. We had to stand on the shoulders of giants. We identified Agencies and Institutes that could support us. We have the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Federal University Lafia, State Polytechnic Lafia, College of Education Akwanga, College of Agriculture Lafia, etc. We partner with them to attract a lot of experiences in order to move the ministry forward. Some of their students also come here to do practical and demonstrations with us.

We also have a fish department which was dead before but it has been resuscitated. We put it in place in such a way that students from College of Education Akwanga, College of Agriculture, Lafia and the State Polytechnic would come and do their practicals and demonstrations here. By the time the fish reach a certain level and we cannot keep them, we sell them to the public and this has been on six monthly or quarterly affairs within the year and the governor is really impressed on what we are doing.

We have also taken it up to ensure that Nasarawa State Supplies water to all the rural communities in the state and His Excellency graciously approved the movement and some funds have been approved. We have moved round to nearly every local government in the state to ensure that water is supplied to them. We have surface water and we have ground water. The surface water is the Mada Water Works along Akwanga – Keffi road, the Nasarawa Eggon Water Works and the Doma Water Works. The Ground Water is the boreholes, some of which have been resuscitated and activated and the people are really enjoying water. It is on record that people have been coming in their numbers to thank the governor for what he has done particularly for restoring water supply to almost all parts of the state.

We are also collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Abuja for support. There are so many government interventions they have given us, for instance, recently we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for yam tuber production, ie for the provision of yam seedlings. It was initiated by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Abuja as well as the state Ministry of Agriculture and water resources, Nasarawa state.

The federal government has also awarded contracts for yam stores and conditions in the state and the project is already going on and our partners in the Nasarawa state university is managing it for us.

There is what we call a value chain development programme which is an initiative of the World Bank in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development which we have joined, and funds have been made available for us. The emphasis of the programme is on rice and cassava production. It is for root tubers, grains and legumes. The objective of the programme is to ensure that every part of the state benefits from it for food security, for availability and affordability.

We also have the Agro Processing Programme for Enhancement of Life hood Support (APPELS) in the state. The governor has told us that the state has been selected. So we are happy to tell the world that we have been selected and we are working to make sure that we get the desired fund to run the programme. We have put in place facilities for the programme, ready for inspection and approval of the fund.

When I assumed office, I discovered one challenge that was recurrent in the Agric Ministry.  The inability of the government to give inputs to farmers, and if they do, it is not always early. I told the governor and he supported the idea so that fertilizers and other Agrochemicals are distributed to farmers before the rain sets in.

Before, we never had something like dry season farming in the state but when this administration came in, we have flagged off the sales of fertilizer and other inputs for dry season farming.

For the rainy season farming, we had planned to distribute fertilizers and other inputs to farmers in the month of March before the rain starts, but Covd 19 truncated that plan. We had to stop it until the month of May so as not to expose people to the hazards of Covd-19. All in all, we have been able to do it for both the rainy and the dry season and the farmers are happy with us and we are expecting a bumper harvest.

We have different Farmers’ Associations such as the All Nigerian Farmers Association, Rice Farmers Association, women in agriculture, horticulturalists, Cotton Farmers Association, etc. we have invited them for a round table discussion on the problems associated with agriculture and we synergize our thoughts to move the Ministry and the agric sector forward.

It is important to note that one strategy we put in place that gives us an edge over our counterparts in other states is that we keep our doors open for farmers to come in so that we can put our heads together for the progress of the sector. They have been coming in their numbers to put in their suggestions and we have put down our recommendations and the governor is ready to make funds available within our budget and ability.

We are also partnering with the Nigerian Mechanized Farmers Association in Ibadan, who is into the production of local machines for planting, harrowing, harvesting, etc. Very soon we are going to have a training session/workshop with them on modern technology. We see them as ready partners for our famers and we will invite our farmers from all over the state to come and see and also learn as well as whether they can buy or we support them to buy.

This is what we call post harvest realities. After harvest, there are challenges of storage. Like I said earlier, we are partnering with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, and they have promised to build Yam storage for us. Nasarawa state has a comparative advantage for producing yam, cassava, sesame, soy beans, rice, beans, groundnut, etc. nearly every agric produce is produced in Nasarawa State. Though the resources may not be there to support them build storage facilities at the moment but we always give them expert advice on how to store some of these grains they produce. We always tell them to come to us for such advice. For now, the federal government has a provision to purchase some of these grains in large quantities for storage. Nasarawa state is lucky to have grain silos along Makurdi road where tons of grains are being stored. We will partner with the federal ministry of agriculture to purchase these grains and get them stored.

Covid-19 pandemic actually affected the farming season this year. It affected the actual time we were supposed to support our farmers with inputs. We were supposed to distribute those inputs in the month of March but we could not until late April and early May, but thank God they got it on time despite the Covid. What was really an issue was the financial support that most of them usually get which was not there because most of what was saved must have been expended during the lockdown.

The ministry was also directly affected because the quantity of inputs we gave them was not what we intended to because when we planned to purchase more, the pandemic denied us. The little money we had on the ground was swallowed up by the pandemic. Notwithstanding, we thank God the rain is really good and we hope to have a pumper harvest and we are also hoping that those things that we could not achieve within the rainy season, we will achieve them in the dry season because we have the advantage of both.

The unfortunate thing there is that dry season farming may not be everywhere like the rainy season because you need water. Except areas along the river banks that can enjoy that; but those who want to still do it, we encourage them to sink boreholes for that.

The purpose for banning importation of agric produce is to encourage us to be self sufficient and self-reliant. And we are already getting there. Let me assure you that we have Dangote Flour Mills, Flour Mills of Nigeria, Dangote Sugar Company in Nasarawa state here-the Sugar Cane farming at Tunga. We have OLAMS Rice Company with over 30 million dollars investment that produces and processes rice here in Nasarawa State.

So when the import was not banned, they were losing but now that we have a ban on the importation of agric produce, they are really making a lot of sales.

Apart from producing and selling, OLAMS Company also encourages out growers to supply them with rice. So we have enough Companies producing rice for us. In Kano, Kebbi, Ebonyi States we have companies producing and packaging rice for the Nigerian markets. So the ban is to help the local farmers produce more and to make money as well as to improve on our own currency because when you import, it affects the value of your currency.

We do not import cassava; in fact Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, so we are self-sufficient in that. We are also becoming big in rice and sesame. So with the support of the government in that direction, we are very optimistic that the country would really be self-sufficient.

With due respect, I inherited a dead ministry. There was nothing here, but when I came, we began to drive the ministry and injected new life into it. All thanks to Almighty Allah and the governor for all the support he has given us. He has been able to put us on our toes so that it is not the question of sitting and sleeping but working to achieve results; and by the time I am leaving this ministry, I should leave it a better place than I met it. We inherited this place without a single vehicle, tractor, etc. now we have been able to introduce so many things including staff welfare by taxing ourselves from our meager take home to support the needy amongst us. We also make sure we support every staff that has good plans for the ministry. So by the time I am leaving this place, I should leave it better than the way I met it so that what I went through, the challenges I faced, the next person should not go through the same experience. And I also pray so for His Excellency, Governor A.A. Sule.

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