Dry season: Irrigation farming to the rescue

Michael

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The dry season is usually a challenging period for farmers. With an average precipitation that is below 60 millimetres and lack of watering holes, farmers face many challenges in planting. But with the efforts of the Federal Government to address this problem, farmers may no longer be left dry when the weather gets harsh, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

DRY-SEASON farming is not profitable for crops production. This is because there are no irrigation facilities in most parts of the country.

Some farmlands receive yearly rainfall of about 20 inches. Many farmlands in the North lhave become degraded. Areas that used to be covered by trees and homes have been deforested. Also, the climate is changing the outlook of farming.
Farmers face unpredictable weather brought on by climate change. Sometimes the rainy season comes late; at other times, it ends early. Sometimes the rains come late and hard, causing floods. At other times, rains don’t come at all, causing drought. With these weather changes, it is difficult for farmers to plan which crops to grow, when to prepare land, when to plant, and how to plan other farming tasks. Worst hit are those from the North who have to respond to serious weather changes, making it difficult for them to farm during dry season, which runs from October to May. The weather during this period is much hotter and drier. For this reason, farmers adopt various agricultural practices to confront these differences in weather patterns.
But the Federal Government has taken some steps to address the situation.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said the Federal Government has okayed the release of N14 billion for dry season farming.

The funds underscores the importance government attaches to dry season farming.
Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture Alhaji Mohammed Yusuf, who spoke in Bauchi at a stakeholders meeting of the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme, said agricultural input would also be provided to farmers under the dry season farming programme.
He said in Bauchi State alone, the Federal Government provided incentives to 10,000 dry season rice farmers.
According to him, each farmer received three bags of fertiliser at 50 per cent discount and 25kg of improved rice seeds.
Yusuf said more than 400,000 farmers from 19 participating states were being supported under the 2013/2014 dry season GES scheme.
He said: “The effort produced more than one million tonnes of rice during last year’s dry season farming with just over 200,000 farmers drawn from 10 states.
“We intend to double or even triple the production this year.
“We have already carried out sensitisation campaign across the state, identified genuine farmers, enlightened them and assessed their level of preparedness in respect of land and source of water.
“I am happy to inform you that our farmers are ready; they have prepared their lands in clusters and ready for planting. Very soon, we will commence distribution of the input.”
The director advised farmers to utilise the input to expand their production capacity, adding that the problems of processing and marketing had been addressed through the value chain initiative.
Director, Dams and Reservoir Operations, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Dr Emmanuel Adanu, urged farmers to embrace irrigation farming, as it can deliver greater crop yield than rain-fed farming.
He noted that irrigation farming was more productive because it was usually regulated and more focused than rain-fed farming.
According to him, that is why people in the South are being encouraged to use the dams in their areas for irrigation.
“We are encouraging people in the South now to go into irrigation farming even though we don’t have a long period of dry season for them to do continuous irrigation.
“So, we encourage them to go into some irrigation because the production from irrigation normally is better than rain-fed agriculture,” he said.
Adanu said the North engaged in irrigation agriculture more because it has a longer period of dry season and abundant expanse of land than the South.
The Manager, Asaba Area Office of Benin-Owena River Basin Development Authority, Mr Charles Ovweigho, said dry season rice farming would soon start at Illah, Delta State after the inauguration of Illah irrigation project.
He said the N200 million project was for dry season rice farming.
He explained that 100 hectares, out of the 200, earmarked for rice farming, was irrigated for dry season farming.
“The contract for the irrigation was awarded in 2012 and the project will soon be inaugurated by the Minister of Agriculture,” he said.
Ovweigho said the farm project extended to the neighbouring Ebu community, where 100 hectares of land was acquired, adding that 15 hectares had also been cleared in the community.
He said interested large-scale farmers would be allowed to farm on the land after fulfilling some obligations.
“This is a Federal Government project and it is all over the country; no restrictions or discrimination is placed on anybody,” adding that interests of host communities would be protected.
Ovweigho said farmers on the land, only paid for the cost of land preparations, adding that when the irrigation system becomes operational the cost would also be subsidised.
The government is said to have earmarked 230,000 hectares in 10 states under a pilot scheme to commence dry season farming.
To support the Federal Government, MARKETS II programme of the United States Agency for International Development(USAID) trained 2,229 lead farmers on best agronomic practices in dry season rice farming. Following the success of the 2013 pilot dry season rice programme that reached an initial 3,005 rice farmers in three states, MARKETS II continues to expand on the potential to improve farmers’ livelihoods and meet increasing demand for paddy.
Last year, the dry season rice programme has been expanded to 10,000 rice farmers in Sokoto, Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano, and Niger states. The project conducted demonstrations on the use of a motorcycle-mounted water pumping device for irrigation and established 17 technology transfer centres (TTCs) in the northern states using fertiliser deep placement technology. The TTCs serve as learning sites for networked farmers.
Stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to ensure early completion of the various irrigation projects spread across the country to ensure the success of the dry season farming programme, food security and prosperity for farmers.
The challenge, however, is that farmer-driven investment in small-scale irrigation is spreading without much government’s support in creating an enabling environment where farmers have information on the various systems, financial services to help them invest, and market access to sell produce.
Another constraint is the lack of detailed hydro-geological mapping for the nation as a whole. This is because successful rainwater harvesting in on-farm ponds can depend on soil type and rainfall patterns, and works best on moderately sloping land.
Finding a way to do mapping with some economies of scale and making the information public or available to smallholders would change the landscape and economics entirely.
One of those affected is Mallam Kabiru Musa. Sometimes, when he has to do some work in the farm, he leaves his home early and work before the sun becomes scorching. He has to plough the land to grow millets and to control weeds. But in recent years, climate change has made his pre-planting activities challenging. This is because it makes rains more unpredictable.
The farmlands get more degraded. The fertility of soil decreases thus posing threats to agricultural production and resulting in lower crop yields and endangering the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
Where they have to apply input and use improved seeds to get high yields, there is shortage of water, attributed to the changing climate. Sometimes the rains stop or it does not rain during the season. Musa is worried about the increasingly harsh weather as the rainy season is becoming short and some of his crops need three months rainy season to grow to harvest.
It is not in the North alone that farmers face dry season challenges. Farmers in the Southwest are also confronted by challenges farming during the dry season.
Programme Corodinator, Farmers Development Union (FADU), Mr Victor Olowe, said it is difficult for farmers to grow okro and other vegetables that need much moisture.
According to him, farming is becoming more challenging yearly with changes brought by hotter temperature.
Not only is it difficult to make decisions about what to grow, but yields have dropped. Climate change also is interacting with other pressures on the land, such as deforestation and environmental degradation, to reduce farmers’ ability to cope.
To this end, the farmers have had to work with extension to advocate practices such as using input, planting trees, using drought-resistant crops, early-maturing crops, diversification into other activities to adapt to the changing climate.
Generally, he explained that the changing climate is shifting weather patterns, reflecting in increasing number of hot days.



Source: Thenationonlineng
 
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