Minna — They are fast becoming the face of the rice revolution in Niger state. The Usman twins, Gimba and Hussaini along with some youth and women are currently driving the states coordinating office of Fadama's generation shift initiative in the implementation of the 6th World Bank/Federal Government Fadama III Additional Financing across six states.

In Niger State, rice was the initial mandate crop for the state under the programme with implementation focusing on the rice belt of the state around the Badeggi Staple Crop Processing Zone of Katcha, Lapai, Lavun, Gbako, Edati, Mokwa, Wushishi, Agaie, Gurara and Magama local government areas.

However, based on popular demand, sorghum was given to the state as additional mandate crop effective from January 2016. So it was that Fadama III is currently being implemented across the 25 local government areas in the state in 53 production clusters of rice and sorghum.

The project target beneficiaries are smallholder household farmers that are already engaged in the production of the two crops, young farmers and agro-preneurs who are the new entrants into agricultural enterprise.

The smallholders household farmers are organised into rice and sorghum production groups within a community of 10 to 15 members which forms clusters, with each producing a business plan for its constituents. The business plan provides the basis for project investment in the production clusters.

In the Majin Gari cluster in Lavun local government area, the Usman twins define the success that earns Niger the best state in the implementation of the Fadama III Additional Financing and the number one rice producing state in the country, if the World Bank rating during the supervision mission to the state recently is anything to go by.

The duo of Gimba and Hussaini known as "Smart Famers" speed into the Majin Gari Equipment Hiring Centre in their newly acquired Peugeot 306 cars during one of the assessment visit by the team last Thursday. The vehicles were products of the wet season rice proceed, where each of them cultivated 5 hectares.

Gimba said within two years, Fadama initiated rice farming has changed his fortune from an applicant struggling for job after graduating with a diploma in public administration ,from one of the polytechnics in the state.

Today, Gimba though would not discourage youths from embracing education, but urged them to do so in order to bring new innovation into farming. "Rice is our crude oil; we don't need the Niger Delta crude oil," he exclaimed.

Within the space of two years when the team from the state coordination office paid a sensitization visit to the council to sell the federal government's "Agric Dollar" initiative to the natives, Gimba has built a four-bedroom flat, married two wives and acquired three vehicles from rice proceeds among others.

Hussaini also tells the same story of achievements as a rice farmer. Both of them are among intending pilgrims from the state to Saudi Arabia this year.

As their profile rises so is the status of the clients. "We no longer deal with small time rice merchants," Hussaini acknowledged. Gimba tells the story of how a "big company" based in Kano sends in money even before harvest season sets in.

Like in Magji Gari, money bags and corporate organizations across the country are tempting young rice farmers with mouth-watering offers in most of the clusters. Chairman of Logunma cluster in Agaie local government area, Mr. John Ndagi said a rice farm in Kano has approached the group with N250 million contract offer last year.

Logunma is traditionally a rice farming hub. Ndagi now popularly known as "Mr. Rice" told Daily Trust that in the 50s, natives transport rice on canoes through the River Niger to markets in Lokoja and environs in present day Kogi state.

He said that the age-long culture of rice production has been reawakened through the various interventions by Fadama. The irrigation canal, which feeds 140 hectares of farmland and headwork built sometime in 1945 have been rehabilitated and is now servicing the cluster. Water pumps are used to feed rice farms from Rivers Niger and Inni during dry season farming.

Mr. Rice said the groups dynamic which sees the high turnout of women and youths into rice farming, was encouraging.

Like the Usman twins and Mr. Rice, the stories of successes are told across the 53 clusters in the 25 local government areas of the state. One of the fundamentals driving these successes in the state, according to the National Coordinator of Fadama, Chief Tayo Adewumi, was the generation shift initiative adopted by the state coordinating office through youth and women.

Speaking during the launching of dry season farming in Wushishi, the national coordinator said he was "happy that the state coordinating office is evolving a process leading to generation shift from aging to young farmers, by the involvement of young women and men in agriculture."

The national coordinator, who emphasized that agriculture was the leeway to driving development, urged Nigeria's youths to focus on Agric Dollar, adding that the era of oil dollar is fast fading away.

Unlike in the past when women were only recognized in the area of processing in all government food production drive, they are now an integral part from cultivation to the end. So across the 53 clusters finding shows that women and youth represent more than 80 percent of each group membership.

In Louma cluster in Wushisi local government area, out of the 100 farmers involved, 34 are women, with the youth representing about 80 percent of the total figure. The same applies to almost all the clusters, even as the same scenario is replicated across the sorghum clusters.

In Manyisa Sorghum production cluster in Lavun local government area, Dabban Youth Group was like a graduate scheme, where unemployed young graduates are productively engaged.

The group consists of 20 of such graduates in various disciplines who had roamed the streets in search of white collar jobs for years. Engineer Aliyu Usman Kutigi said from the outcome of the participatory rural appraisal carried out, the young graduates indicated interest in crop farming especially sorghum.

"The group provided the 20 hectares land and the project intervened through land clearing and preparation, and also supported the group with the required inputs that include improved sorghum seeds, fertilizers and agro chemicals at 100 percent International Development Association (IDA) as stipulated in the working document," he explained.

Like the Dabban, the Ntachigi group in Manyisa, Lavun local government area also consists of 10 graduates who are into sorghum farming, while in Edata local government, the Natya group is made up purely women.

Engineer Kutigi said a total of 970 hectares of rice farms were cultivated during the 2015 rainfed season. This according to him include 700 hectares in seven production clusters in the wet season, and 270 in 2015/16 dry season cropping in three production clusters.

A total of 3,610 hectares of rice and sorghum, he also said, were cultivated during the 2016 wet season, made up of 1,810 hectares for rice and 1,800 hectares for sorghum in 43 production clusters, while 3,000 hectares was targeted during the dry season farming.

He said the successes recorded would not have been possible without huge financial commitment on the part of the state and federal government, as well as the World Bank as N1,161,251,101.25 was disbursed to implement various activities of the project during the period under review.

He said out of the amount, the state government paid a total of N80 million counterpart funds made up of N60 million for 2014 and N20 million as part payment for 2015 counterpart contribution ,with a balance of N40 million for 2015 and N50 million for 2016 already approved.

He said the various interventions put in place to enhance mass production of the targeted crops, include providing boreholes and drilling tube wells in various locations as demanded by farmers in the production clusters to support dry season farming; rehabilitation of roads, construction of culverts; the establishments of equipment hiring centres to aide mechanized farming; the establishment of aggregation centres where farmers assemble their produces; building capacity of farmers in various skills and establishment of community radio for mass for sensitization of farmers on issues affecting them among other interventions.

As the state counts its successes, Kutigi said pressure is mounting with many graduates and young women wanting to venture into agri-business through the Fadama III Additional Financing programme.

The programme which commenced in 2014 with four years implementation period, which is supposed to end in 2017 only targets 5,000 farmers across the state. However, with the recent extension of the implementation period to 2019 due to stultification of activities in the North East over insecurity, many are of the opinion that the programme be expanded to accommodate more farmers in the state. And with the federal government's current focus on agricultures as alternative revenue source because of the fluctuating prices of oil at the international market, many hope that the programme be sustained beyond its proposed exit period. For now, the Usman twins and other fortunate young farmers across all the clusters in the state are smiling to the banks.

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