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How Koreans revived hope for rice farming in Yobe desert

In the 1970s and early 80s, fishermen around Nguru, Gashua, Bursari and Gaidam, all in Yobe State, went  home with basket-full of assorted fish while…

In the 1970s and early 80s, fishermen around Nguru, Gashua, Bursari and Gaidam, all in Yobe State, went  home with basket-full of assorted fish while those engaged in farming saw themselves as proud owners of plantations of rice and sugarcane.

However, between 1990 and 2006, the once flourishing River Yobe faced serious threats from ravaging effects of typha grass and slow flow of water, a development which inflicted a serious blow on many farmers.

In 2007, the Korean experts including engineers, doctors and agricultural extension officers came to Yobe State under the South-South Technical Cooperation arrangement.

The aim was that they would bring their expertise to bear on the economic and social life of the people.

One area that witnessed a noticeable presence of the Koreans is the agriculture sector where like magic, areas that were once written off as  infertile like Garin Gada in Gaidam local government area now flourishes with green acres of produce.

The pilot irrigation farm project in Garin Gada, despite the harsh harmattan weather in the northeast, unveils a positive scenario where rice, wheat and vegetable farms blossom.

The project, an initiative of Governor Ibrahim Gaidam, was meant to arrest food shortages occasioned by the declining rainfall in recent times.

Mr. Chin, one of the Korean farmers in Garin Gada irrigation farm which is located by the bank of the River Yobe, said when the project started, some farmers were initially skeptical about the potency of the project.

“But the truth is that we knew it will work because we have tried the rice seed including cabbage, carrots, onions, green pepper and tomatoes in other places,” Mr. Chin, who barely speaks English language said.

Chin said the rice, wheat and the vegetables can survive once they can get little water.

Yobe State  Commissioner for Agriculture, Alhaji Musa Dumburi, said the experiment has produced hybrid rice variety that can withstand the harsh desert climate through irrigation farming.

According to Dumburi, “practical results on the farms indicated that the hybrid rice can mature in 12 weeks with an estimated yield of five tons per hectare,” the commissioner said

He said with determination and encouragement, the new hybrid rice will be expanded and farmers who had hitherto abandoned farming can come back.

According to him, “with this breakthrough, we hope to shift emphasis from rain fed agriculture to irrigation farming which is more certain.”

The commissioner said as part of efforts to extend the irrigation farming to other places, government will  develop its oasis in Tulo Tulo of Yusufari Local Government Area and other places.

“We hope to construct more boreholes and tube wells in places that have less water and we will ensure that our 366,000 hectares of irrigatable land are fully tapped,” he maintained.

Already, many farmers along the tributaries of the River Yobe have started experimenting with the new hybrid rice and wheat which they say has excellent yields.

Malam Armaya’u Kalgo who said he was chased away back to Sokoto when River Yobe started declining, is now back in Garin-Gada. “The recent discovery was responsible for my coming back,” he said.

Another farmer, Malam Babagana Musa, who is also a beneficiary of the irrigation project said he had a good harvest with little stress by adopting the Korean experience. “In fact, my hope in agriculture which was dying has been brought back to life by this irrigation project”, he said.

Other people living around Gaidam and Yunusari Local Government Areas said they had abandoned fishing which according to them was now less lucrative. Sanusi Hussaini said he has four hectares of the hybrid rice and during the harvest which was witnessed by our reporter recently, he got 120 tonnes.

Aliyu Ibrahim, an agric extension officer in Gaidam, said the pilot irrigation project was successful.

He said in other parts of the world, irrigation agriculture has made many people and communities very rich. “There is no certainty in rain water now so the best bet for any serious government is to encourage irrigation.

Other farmers interviewed opined that the Hadejia-Jama’are, Kumadugu Yobe basin should be dredged for optimum utilization of its resources.

According to them, with free flow of water from Tiga and Challawa dams in Kano State which empties into the River Yobe, economic activities can once again thrive and many people who rely on government for employment can  get safe havens in agriculture.

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