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USAID Boosts Food Production and Income in Northern Nigeria

In northern Nigeria, the US Agency for International Development, USAID, is helping promote agriculture by improving varieties of cowpeas and sorghum, and with improved farmer training. It’s also working to increase the amount farmers earn from their crops by adding value through additional processing. From Kano, Isiyaku Ahmed takes a look at the US-government sponsored effort.

Most Nigerians live in rural areas and grow food for the table or for local markets. But the crops are often not sold in large amounts regionally or internationally.

Part of the problem is a lack of information about potential markets and about training and financial services.

Today, a USAID program called Maximizing Agriculture Revenue and Key Enterprises for Target Sites, or MARKETS, is helping train local farmers to produce better rice, cowpeas, sorghum, and dairy products.

The five-year effort will cost 25 million US dollars.

Bello Yakasai is the North Office Manager for USAID MARKETS in Kano.

Today, as every day, he is attending to farmers in his office.

He says the project is expected to eventually train up to half a million farmers, about a quarter of them this year.

Yakasai says the MARKETS program is now teaching farmers how to improve their sorghum and cowpea yields. It’s also helping increase demand by linking farmers with buyers from international and even local institutions.

For example, Yakasai says the project has brokered an agreement with a major beverage producer to create added demand for sorghum for up to 900 farmers in several northern states, including Kano, Kaduna, Plateau and Bauchi.

In the last growing season, farmers produced over 5,000 tons of improved varieties of sorghum worth about $1.5 million.

"We train the farmers to satisfy the demands of the buyer," he said, "For instance, if there is a new variety that is being developed by the buyer, you need to train the farmers on how to produce it. Take sorghum. Traditionally, we don’t use fertilizer in sorghum because it doesn’t usually need it. [However], the variety that we are encouraging our farmers to produce needs fertilization, so we have to train farmers on how to fertilize sorghum. Secondly, we need to train farmers to form themselves into groups that will take advantage of the bulk of the commodity."

The idea is to eventually help farmers become more mechanized and commercialized. For this, Yakasai teaches farmers how to obtain and manage loans from local financial institutions.

"We train farmers in managing their personal incomes," he said. "Largely, we have problems with farmers having seasonal [success but] off-season [difficulties] because they don’t manage their resources well. So we train farmers to budget and plan. Last year we are able to get them some loans. We have trained them before taking them to the bank to satisfy the conditions of the bank."

The training is open to all farmers who can meet certain conditions.

He said, "First, they must have a farm. They must be active in farming themselves; they must be willing to change the ways of farming, meaning from subsistence to commercial basis. Fourthly, they must be willing to sell to a particular market that we have identified because if the sale is not done, then there is no business."

Ahmed Aminu is the manager Modern Universal Food and Beverages, Kano, and the leader of a group of 200 farmers being trained.

The arrangement, so far it is good in the sense that the middleman is somehow discouraged. Therefore, at the end of the day the farmers will benefit more because USAID is providing the seed and a good market with considerable prices for the farmers.

During the 2006 growing season, the MARKETS program showed results.

More than 7,500 rice, sorghum and cowpea farmers were trained and provided markets. Overall productivity has also increased by up to 150%. A total of over 3,000 tons of improved varieties of cowpeas worth about $960,000 was produced in Kano and Kaduna states.

To enhance value, three Kano-based investors established cowpea-processing plants to package flour for local consumption into sachet bags.

The MARKETS program is also courting the business of large institutions to purchase cowpeas, like schools, hospitals and prison services.

There’s hope that the MARKETS solution to greater food production and income will not be limited to just one region of the country. Besides its presence in the north, it has promotional offices in Abuja and Lagos.

For VOA Africa, I am Isiyaku Ahmed reporting from Kano-Nigeria