Songhai Farms: Boosting Integrated Farming

0
3961
Ploughing of rice farm on Dan-Danko Road at Kagadama village in Yelwan, Bauchi, recently. Photo NAN
Ploughing of rice farm on Dan-Danko Road at Kagadama village in Yelwan, Bauchi, recently. Photo NAN

Have you ever found a place where nothing is considered a waste, where man, animals, plants, and where all that nature has got to offer are harnessed; each relying on the other without friction? Finding such a place seems impossible but it exists in Songhai Farms in Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin. Tourists note that in the farm, everything is re-generated. Leaves, stems and roots are used to produce animal feeds, soil mulch and compost manure while aquatic plants, such as water hyacinth, are used to generate gas and purify water. Animal wastes such as droppings, horns, bones, intestines, feathers are equally used for biogas production and compost manure while rain water is harvested for aqua-culture, irrigation and human needs. In the farm, tourists observe that one becomes so in tune with nature because all food items are organic (natural) without additives or any form of chemicals. Songhai Centre, a 200-acre land that has become an international non-governmental development organisation, was founded in 1985 by a Nigerian-born American Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo. It has become a destination for agro-tourists from around the world. It is named after a prosperous and powerful empire that was very strong in West Africa between the 14th and 16th centuries. “Songhai for us is not that empire but the spirit of a people that can carry themselves and know how to make a good reading of their environment and discover the opportunities therein. “And again, how to convert these into common wealth, rather than individual wealth, which most leaders in Africa are infamously known for today,’’ Lazarus Dourossimi, a tour guide at the centre said. Apart from citing its regional base in Porto-Novo, the centre has three other farms in Savalou, Parakou and Kinwedji, all in Republic of Benin.There is also Songhai Farm in Tai Local Government Area, Rivers State Nigeria. The Porto-Novo centre has pens for chicken, grass-cutters/rabbits, turkey, guinea fowls and quails while the snails and others are kept in neat houses. The maggot uses the intestines of slaughtered animals and dung to produce relatively big ones that are used in feeding fish. The farm, a mini-town on its own, has metal workshops, pottery workshops and an industrial zone for the production of bio-energy, liquid and bar soaps, plastics, fruit juice, fish mill and a slaughter house. It also has administrative blocks, communication buildings, multi-purpose halls, staff and student quarters, feed mill, rice mill, compost production, swimming-pool, chapel, meeting and conference rooms. It has variety of hotels and restaurants where various natural cuisines are prepared and served to visitors as well as a supermarket where only organically-grown produce and finished products from the farm are sold. “I want to be a part of Africa saying no to this logic of poverty. When I see brothers and sisters, I am really grateful that we are not giving up. We want to give our children something different. “In Nigeria, we are being trained to face the problems of yesterday. We are doing our training in agriculture of yesterday. “We are not seeing the challenges of today and preparing ourselves for the challenges of tomorrow which are very simple. “It is a challenge of employment for all, particularly young men and women. It is to remove poverty in terms of what we eat, food security and the way we live,’’ Nzamujo told a group of Nigerian agro-tourists who visited the centre recently. Tourists observe that the farm transforms all its agricultural products, using simple and natural processes and effective technologies that are easily accessible. They note for instance that palm-nuts are processed into palm oil and palm kernel oil that can be used for various purposes. “We want to develop the idea that we can really develop in a very sustainable manner if we respect our environment. The environment, therefore, is going to improve our productivity. “To further magnify what we are doing and in order for us to really get everybody on board, we are developing low-input agricultural production. Most of the production inputs are within the reach of practically everybody here,’’ Nzamujo said. “The plant is what nature has given us, it takes carbon-dioxide from the air, chemical substances from the soil and some energy to grow fruits, leaves, stem and roots. The animals consume parts of the plant that man has no use for, like corn stalk, to feed grasscutters. “Since Songhai is a resource centre, we discovered that out of primary production, we can process our goods into finished goods; hence we need machine and energy. “For energy to run those machines, we use solar and covert our all categories of waste to methane gas to power our generators and machines. “We want to train young people so that they can provide jobs for themselves first and then the entire world. “The second aspect is giving technology to farmers and people to enhance their productive capacity, ‘’ Dourossimi explained. According to him, the Songhai model of green rural cities has extended to other countries including Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congo Brazzaville. Statistics shows that Songhai has farms in Cross River, Lagos, Katsina State, Rivers and Enugu State while the project is also being replicated for private individuals in Ebonyi. In spite of these initiatives, Nzamujo said Nigeria had yet to take full advantage of its vast agricultural potential to transform its fortunes. “Nigeria, rich as it is and with all the blessings from God, imports food. It is even importing fuel into a country that produces crude oil. “But we can produce food and send it to all of West Africa but we are doing the opposite. So, we’ve lost it. What we are doing at Songhai Farms is to show that Africans can do it,’’ he said. Nzamujo said his experience with some states in Nigeria had been worrisome because of the attitudes of the government nominees. “Something that costs 20 dollars, they want us to quote 40 dollars. We built our Port Novo centre for just a third of what they wanted us to quote in one state,’’ he alleged. He said that Songhai Farms employed more than 2,500 people from different countries, noting that it recently sponsored 185 candidates to undergo psycho-technical test, written test and endurance test. “My dream is that when you come to Songhai Farms, you marvel and say Africa is working,’’ Nzamujo said. A Nigerian agro-tour operator, Mrs Olufunke Taiwo, said: “We want to inspire our farmers to form the habit of cultivating big and sustainable farms as against small ones. “Running small-scale farms is no longer in vogue, the business of agriculture has grown beyond that. “We are looking at people to build sustainable farms and these must not necessarily have to be the government but individual farmers that could build big farms to provide employments and grow the wealth of Nigeria.’’ Pedro is of the News Agency of Nigeria.