By Tony Obiechina, Abuja
Two hundred and sixty-nine soil doctors and agriculture extension workers have been awarded certificates and also given test kits to facilitate their field operations, in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.
This followed the successful completion of a two-week intensive training exercise organized by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), in collaboration with the Borno state government.
The trainees comprising graduates with agriculture and science related educational backgrounds and corp members, were trained in areas of soil sample collection, soil testing as well as extension services.
Speaking during the certificate award ceremony, the Excecutive Secretary of the NALDA, Prince Paul Ikonne, expressed optimism that the entry of the trainees into the Nigerian agricultural system will address issues associated with 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”.
The governor of Borno state Professor Babagana Zulum, commended NALDA for giving the state such an opportunity as that was the first time the head of any agency would approach him with such intervention since he assumed office.
According to him, “ 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 “.
Zulum said no other state has Borno’s agriculture potentials adding that water is not a limiting factor as 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 has food sustainability.
He said the state has a total land mass of over seventy six thousand square kilometers with over seventy percent of it arable and under no circumstances should it miss this singular opportunity of developing the region.
“ 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 stated.
The governor highlighted problems faced in the state’s agriculture system to include lack of adequate extension workers, poor funding, inadequate logistics services for field staff and wants NALDA to provide extension support services.
While congratulating the graduates he enjoined farmers in the state to cooperate to make the intervention a success.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan, who was at the event with other members of the National Assembly, on his part said the choice of Borno to kickstart the training is very apt and commended the state government for taking advantage of the opportunity offered through the programme by engaging with NALDA on the project.
Lawan said “ 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 believes the initiative by NALDA will address issues of export rejects of Nigerian farm produce,which has reduced their competitiveness because of high residue content.
He 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”.
The Director General of the National Youth Service Corp, Shuaibu Ibrahim thanked the federal government for resuscitating NALDA, while sharing optimism in the agency’s ability to contribute to agricultural development.
He lauded the training saying it is coming at a time when the government is pursuing a deliberate policy of economic diversification through harnessing the agriculture sector’s potentials.
Ibrahim said “ No doubt the activities of the young men and women who are concluding their training today will go a long way in enhancing agricultural productivity and profitability in Nigeria”.
He revealed that the NYSC is collaborating with NALDA so corp members can benefit from the National young farmers scheme.
The NYSC DG said the agency is reviving its agricultural programmes in a bid to compliment the Federal government’s efforts at ensuring Nigeria attains food self sufficiency.
He added that the Corp’s mega farms are operational in Bauchi, Kebbi and Oyo states, adding that with the return of the NYSC farm in Ebonyi state it’s rice cultivation will be extended through the twenty twenty one farming season.
The Coordinator for NALDA in Borno state, Talba Mustapha, said of the two hundred and sixty nine graduates with science related backgrounds trained, sixty nine were Corp members.
He said the graduating trainees were the first of a targeted one thousand to be trained, and another two hundred will be engaged in the next batch.
“ NALDA in collaboration with the state government will observe the trainees, they will liaise with NALDA so that they can go to farms in parts of the state to inspect soils, so the farmers can know what types of crops they can plant, they will not be sent to insecurity prone areas but places where the farms can easily be accessed”, Mustapha said.
One of the trainees , Usman Alhaji-mala, said he and his colleagues were empowered with knowledge on soil fertility, the soil’s nutrient content and how farmers can identify needed nutrient requirements on their farms , how they can improve on the nutrients as well as the most suitable crops for their farmlands.
He said, “ we are ready to go out and meet the farmers and introduce the new initiative to them so they can improve their production, it is very relevant, we were trained perfectly on how to help the farmers and I am sure it will make them happy”.
Another beneficiary, a Corp member, Fati Abdulkadir, was also glad to have received the empowerment. She said, “ it’s a great privilege for me to be amongst the soil doctors , we have been exposed to the theory and practical aspects of the programme”.