Kaduna State offers Nigeria huge business opportunities in tomato and sugarcane production, but as Emmanuel Bagudu, finds out, not much is being done to tap into it.
Tomato and Sugarcane are the main pride of farmers in Ungwan Geri and Bargi Villages in Makarfi Local Government area of Kaduna State.
But as our reporter found out, despite the massive investment of their energy and resources, farmers in the aforesaid areas still wallow in poverty due to a continuous drop in the value of their farm products as result of poor processing opportunities which spells more misery for the helpless growers.
Early last year, Governor Nasir El-Rufai launched a 5million dollar tomato processing plant in the state capital where farmers were also reportedly empowered to produce more tomatoes. But this didn't make any obvious impact at all. No farmer in Makarfi LGA attested to being a beneficiary of the tomato empowerment.
In fact, not much of the value of these farm produce is known by the farmers as a good proportion of their harvest end up in the hands of exploitative dealers who buy at low prices and take to urban areas for retailing or sales to processing companies.
"Tayin wulakanci ma suke mana, wanan Kondon Tomatiri ne wasu diloli suna tayin dari hudu" meaning "They price our products very low; give us small money and cart away very large quantity of our farm products" Abdul Geri one of the farmers in Ugwan Geri told our reporter.
Tomatoes and Sugarcane are sometimes allowed to waste simply because they do not meet the desired standard of the dealers. Sometimes the farmers are forced to sell at cheap prices in fear of wastage.
Some tomato farmers who have less demand for money usually preserve their products by sun-drying while their sugarcane counterparts are forced to squeeze out and cook sugarcane juice to produce Mazarkola, a locally made sugar which are sold at very low prices.
Living in Poverty Despite Hard Work
From the entrance of the two villages, up to the end, ripe tomatoes are being harvested, while young boys and girls are seen hawking the local sugar, Mazarkola. With twenty naira (N20), one can afford two huge slices of Mazarkola which is equivalent to fifty cubes of Modern Sugar in terms of usability.
For Abdul Geri, despite massive irrigation farming on a farmland covering more than 50hecters he still cannot afford to carter sufficiently for his seventeen children and three wives. ''From either Kaduna and Abuja these dealers arrive with trucks. This basket of tomatoes is weighing over a hundred and twenty kilogram (120kg) but guess how much it cost. Just Five hundred naira (N500)'' Geri said.
Asked why they accept to sell it very cheap, Geri said the increasing demands by family in areas of hospital bills, school fees and even ceremonies are the reasons.
For Shehu Umar in Ugwan Bargi, sugarcane dealers have since last two years stopped buying from him due to his refusal to sell at cheap prices. He said he prefer to sell his sugarcane and locally made sugar, Mazarkola on whole sale to retailers, which he said makes him feel fulfilled.
''We use our local machine squeeze the juice out of the sugarcane before making the Mazarkola''. He said. ''Here we don't consume modern sugar, only Mazarkola is enough for us. Umar added.
Umar also cultivate tomatoes, he said he has no choice but to give in to the demands of dealers. According to him some of the dealers pay his twenty one child for labour whenever they are desperate.
''....You see that basket, originally it cost N500, but if any of my child is able to fill the basket to the brim, he or she will be rewarded with N200'' He said. ''That's almost half the price of the basket he added. So a basket will now be N700 instead of N500.
Asked whether he is aware of the Kaduna State Government's partnership with farmers, Umar said 'No'.
Muhammed Ladan, a close friend to Umar said he is aware of the partnership but said only big men in the local government headquarters, i.e Makarfi town benefitted.
Abandoned Investment Opportunities
Spanning an area of more than 541 km2 and a population of over 150,000 people, Makarfi local government area has a huge reputation of producing tomatoes and sugarcane for the Nigerian Market and neighbouring countries.
Located about 40km from the ancient city of Zaria, Makarfi LGA is home to several agrarian villages known for both raining and dry season farming. Driving to Makarfi was quite easy. The Local government and its villages are among the lucky areas with good roads, serene and peaceful atmosphere; no cases of banditry at all. The reason it’s not far fetch; it is also home to two-time Kaduna state governor and senator, Mohammed Makarfi.
Although its dry season, irrigation farming gave the entire environment in Ungwan Geri, Ungwan Sanda and Bargi Communities a fresh smell and look. The hash desert-like environment in the three communities have been tamed by irrigation farming. Farmers creatively pump water from rivulets situated by nature around the communities at 500meters intervals.
Early last year, Governor Nasir Elrufai launched a 5million dollar tomato processing plant in the state capital where farmers were also reportedly empowered to produce more tomatoes. But this didn't make any obvious impact at all. No farmer in Makarfi LGA attested to being a beneficiary of the tomato empowerment.
Mallam Garba Maikudi is the Sarkin Noma of Bargi ward, the biggest Ward in Makarfi Local government. He claimed their is an urgent need for the Kaduna state government stop the exploitation of farmers by creating more processing plants. ''We are not asking for too much, even if it is local machines that are cheap let them build it....'' ''We can be doing our local sugar and selling....'' He said.