A total of 3.4 million hectares of land in Nigeria need irrigation. However, only 88,95 hectares currently benefit from the practice, leaving the rest to depend on the forces of nature; OKECHUKWU NNODIM reports that this has compounded food insecurity in the country.
Out of the 3.14 million hectares of farmland with irrigation potential in Nigeria, only 88,950 hectares have been developed, leaving millions of hectares of farms to depend majorly on rainfall for crop production.
Although the government through its Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as Water Resources, stated that efforts were being made to expand irrigation across the country, farmers and experts condemned poor farmland irrigation system in Nigeria.
They told our correspondent that the food crisis currently experienced in Nigeria was further worsened by the lack of irrigated farmlands in many states.
Figures obtained from the agric and water ministries in Abuja on showed that while only 88,950 hectares of farmland had been irrigated as of 2020, the country’s irrigation annual water demand was about 1.926 Billion Cubic Meters.
In a document on irrigation that was sighted at the water ministry, the government said, “Nigeria’s irrigation potential is about 3.14 million Ha (hectares) out of which only 88,950 Ha have been developed as of 2020.
“Irrigation annual water demand is about 1.926 BCM comprising of irrigation in wet and dry seasons as well as Fadama lands.”
Officials of both water and agric ministries, however, stated that a National Irrigation Development Programme was initiated in 2016 to support the government’s drive towards diversifying the economy to ensure food security and job creation.
They stated that the aim of government though the programme was to establish additional 100,000 hectares of irrigated farmland by 2020 and achieve a total of 500,000 hectares by 2030.
“The programme also has a target of creating an additional 1,000,000 hectares of irrigable land to be developed by the private sector and state governments by 2030,” an official, who requested not to be named for lack of authorisation, stated.
But farmers and experts in Nigeria’s agriculture sector decried the meagre 88,950 hectares of irrigable lands in Nigeria, as they stressed that this was contributory to the worsening food crisis being experienced across the country.
The Coordinator, Nigeria Agribusiness Group, a body of industry experts and operators, Emmanuel Ijewere, told our correspondent that Nigerian farmers were not farming all year round due to lack of irrigation systems in states.
“Irrigation is absolutely necessary for Nigeria so that we can produce food all year round, rather than relying almost exclusively on the weather,” he said.
On whether the about 89,000 hectares of land in Nigeria that had irrigation was considerable, Ijewere replied, “It is nothing. That is, I am saying that what is the scientific approach? How much do we need and where do we need it? And for who?
“There should be transparency. If they had made a general statement that the target was to irrigate 100,000 hectares of land in 2020, it means it was included in the budget and money was made available for it.”
He said food producers in Nigeria had been struggling due to lack of irrigable lands, adding that the government should provide the facility for farmers on a sustainable basis.
Ijewere said, “Irrigation helps to boost food production. But the government has to request that those who own farmlands and want their farms to be irrigated should apply.
“Government will then subsidise the irrigation but it will be owned by the farm and the farm will use it for what it is meant for.
“It is a good thing that the government is trying to develop irrigation projects. But the past experience we have seen and heard is that it is never good for government to start participating in a private sector driven area.”
He added, “In the first place, when they say they are going to do it for 100,000 hectares or more, who are the owners of the farms? Government does not own farms; so, how do they choose the owners of the farms?
“What is the technical advice that we got that will be in the best interest of the country so that when tax payers money is spent, it will be sustainable and maintained.
“So the irrigation projects of government need to be more transparent. Their intention is good but the application is dangerous, not sustainable and extremely wasteful.”
On his part, the President, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, Segun Adewumi, said only less than two per cent of farmlands that required irrigation in Nigeria were actually irrigated.
He said, “If we have good irrigation system we will not have to depend on or wait for the rainy season before we plant.
“Let us take, for instance, in terms of percentage; if the normal requirement for irrigation in Nigeria is say 100 per cent, I don’t think we have up to two per cent.”
This, he said, had further worsened food production in Nigeria, as most farmers relied on the rainy season before they would start planting.
The National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, told our correspondent that farmers had to rely majorly on rainfall for crop production, describing the irrigation system in Nigeria as non-functional.
“The irrigation system in Nigeria is near non-functional, otherwise, why would farmers depend majorly on rainfall for crop production?” he asked.
On what the government had done as regards the issue of irrigation, documents made available by the agric and water ministries showed that seven irrigation schemes were completed between 2016 and 2020, bringing actual area under irrigation to 88,950 hectares.
Some of the schemes include the Mamu Awka Drainage and Land Reclamation, Anambra State, 180 hectares; Azare-Jere Irrigation Project, Kaduna State, 1,500 hectares; and Sabke Irrigation Project, Katsina State, 1,200 hectares.
Others include Gari Irrigation Project, 248 hectares; Shagari Irrigation Project, Sokoto State, 220 hectares; and Middle Rima Valley Irrigation Project, 2746.08 hectares.
The government stated in the documents that during the five-year period, 55,000 hectares of irrigation land were leased out to commercial farmers under a public private partnership arrangement.
It added that feasibility studies and designs of some selected projects had been completed and they include the Integrated Irrigation Development at Nasarawa, covering 6,600 hectares and the Donga Suntai project covering 6,000 hectares.
On efforts at transforming irrigation system nationwide, the government stated that it was carrying out the Transforming Irrigation Management in Nigeria Project.
It said the aim of the World Bank supported programme was to improve irrigation management in Nigeria and to reduce rural poverty through progressive management transfer to user-regulated bodies such as Water User Associations.
The government said the programme comprised rehabilitation/expansion of about 42,000 hectares of irrigation land under the first phase, expected to be completed by 2022.
“The project is a loan facility of $495.3m from the World Bank, counterpart funding of $44m from the Federal Government and beneficiary contribution is $21m,” the government stated.
It added that the total cost of the project was $560.3m, as projects to be supported under this programme include the 13,500 hectares Bakalori Irrigation Project, where work commenced in 2017.