Niger State Governor, Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago, has flagged off the 2023 wet season Agro-inputs, POS machines, and motorcycle distribution to farmers, youths, and agricultural Extension Workers in the state. The agro-inputs were provided by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) under its Value Chain Development Programme Additional Financing (VCDP-AF).
Speaking at the flag-off ceremony held at the Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre, Minna, on Tuesday, the Governor, who was represented by his Deputy, Comrade Yakubu Garba, reiterated the readiness and commitment of the government to utilise the agricultural potentials in the state.
He stated that the event, like the flag-off of fertiliser sales for the 2023 farming season, which took place last night (Monday), was a further testimony of their unwavering commitments to utilising the advantage of abundant arable land and water bodies for agricultural sector development and towards achieving self-sufficiency in food production and employment generation in the state.
The governor disclosed that the state partnership with IFAD-VCDP had generated positive outcomes, adding that it had strategically positioned the state on the rice production map and that the recent study in the country by Nigeria Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Zaria, shows that Niger State was the highest producer of rice in Nigeria.
He also expressed the state government's determination to expand the partnership with IFAD-VCDP to support rural smallholder farmers annually with Agro-Inputs, Agro-processing equipment, and simple farm implements across the local government areas in the state to increase their yield.
Governor Umar Bago also commended IFAD-VCDP for being consistent in supporting the state with rural infrastructure by constructing Agro-Processing centres for smallholder processors in rice and cassava, market infrastructure, VIP toilets, solar-powered boreholes, farm access roads, culverts, and bridges for improved accessibility to the farms, adding that all these efforts will have a meaningful impact on the production and marketing of farm produce.
He equally expressed happiness that IFAD-VCDP had rated the state as the best performing state of IFAD-VCDP in the first phase of the programme, hoping that the next phase of the additional financing phase will centre on addressing issues of environment and climate change, nutrition, financial inclusion, gender, and youth inclusion to consolidate on the gains recorded.
The Governor also advised the beneficiaries to make good use of the items given to them so that the state will become self-sufficient in food production and security.
The National Coordinator of IFAD-VCDP, Dr. Fatima K. Aliyu, disclosed that the overall aim of the programme, which is a World Bank-funded programme, was to improve the food security and income of rural households.
She added that the IFAD-VCDP is also promoting financial inclusion, which is why they were giving youths POS machines, revealing that the aim will not be complete without looking at the aspect of nutrition that has been taken care of through the value chain of the programme.
Dr. Fatima Aliyu added that IFAD was a programme across the value chain, which was summarised as from cultivation to pot, saying the potential in agriculture was limitless and urging youths to embrace agriculture.
She also disclosed that IFAD-VCDP was supporting over 32,000 farmers across the cassava and rice value chains in the state, adding that the programme has helped improve the productivity of farmers on a sustainable basis as well as the income of the beneficiaries and their livelihood.
The national coordinator of IFAD-VCDP disclosed that Niger State stood out among the participating states of the IFAD-VCDP programme and that the items to be distributed were worth N80 million.
She equally disclosed that IFAD-VCDP had approved about M3.5 million dollars to the Federal Government of Nigeria for the climate change resilience programme for farmers and that Niger and Kogi states will be the first beneficiaries of the programme.
While appreciating the state government for its support of the IFAD-VCDP programme in the state, which she said was the reason behind their success story, the national coordinator urged the government to pay its counterpart fund in order for IFAD to continue to deliver on its mandate.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Permanent Secretary of the state Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Idris Usman Gbogan, said the Federal Government of Nigeria, in partnership with IFAD, is implementing the value chain development programme with additional financing (VCDP-AF) in nine states with the sole aim of alleviating the poverty of smallholder farmers who are engaged in the production, processing, and marketing of rice and cassava on a sustainable basis.
He disclosed that in Niger State, the programme is currently being implemented in eight local government areas of the state, adding that in the 2023 Agro-Input Matching Grant, VCDP-AF will support 355 farmers on a matching grant basis across Borgu, Edati, and Mokwa local government areas, while some extension workers will be provided motorcycles to carry out their functions and some youths will be given POS machines.
The Permanent Secretary urged the beneficiaries of the items to use them on their farms to adopt good agronomic practises in order to enhance their yield and increase income, which will in turn improve their standard of living, which was the ultimate goal of the programme.
Highlights of the event were the symbolic presentation of the items to the beneficiaries and the cutting of a cassava flour baked cake by the Governor, as well as musical performances from various cultural troupes and singers from the state.
Niger State Governor, Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago, has advocated that priority be accorded to vocational training in the education sector.
The Governor stated this when the management and staff of New Gate University paid him a courtesy visit at the Government House, Minna.
The governor advised further that brilliant students should be identified and offered scholarships as an encouragement, while opportunities for short-term vocational training should be created for others who cannot obtain a degree qualification.
"Nature has a way of putting everybody in his position, so let us encourage vocational training even at the level of the university. Short-term courses on how to fix phones, repair computers, service barbing machines, and fix microphones can be introduced, and it will change our thinking and psyche because we need more people in this category than those with degrees,", he explained.
He said subsidising education at tertiary institutions was not the best as it would affect the quality of education, but that scholarships could be given to students seeking admission into tertiary institutions as an encouragement.
Governor Umaru Bago expressed dismay over the insufficient medical personnel in the state's employment and said that the government was determined to encourage those who wanted to study medical-related courses, pointing out that there are a lot of value chains in the medical sector.
"We are poised to see that we change that imbalance. We need to give incentives and encouragement to people and children who want to go into medicine or medical-related courses.
"We are considering a bond arrangement where 50% scholarships will be given to medical students, and they will sign a pact to work for the state government for some years before going to other places", he said.
He also said the time has come for stakeholders in education to think outside the box by taking advantage of technology to encourage e-learning.
The governor encouraged the management of New Gate University to engage in private partnership in carrying out infrastructural development in the institutions, consider renewable energy as an alternative source of power, and make investments that would bring growth and development to the institution.
He commended the founder of the University for establishing the institution and assured that his administration will continue to come up with policies and programmes that would encourage him and others to make Niger State an academic city.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Yusuf Sadiq, highlighted the importance of prioritising the education of young people as they are agents of positive change and the future of society.
He said the university has partnered with a foundation to offer 50% tuition scholarships to all qualified candidates from 25 local government areas of the state, adding that 120 students are already benefiting from it.
Prof. Sadiq also said the Pro-Chancellor of the university has agreed to pay 100% scholarships to the best students in public schools within Minna metropolis, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
He said the institution offers causes such as ICT, cyber security, and medical-related causes, among others, and expressed confidence that the university will produce graduates that would be of benefit to the state.
The V.C. then called on the governor to continue with government support in the areas of security, adequate power supply, and a conducive learning environment for the students.