By Aliyu M. Hamagam
The establishment of a sugar company by Great Northern Agribusiness Limited in Jigawa State has taken off, despite resistance by the host communities, whose farmlands were allegedly seized for the project, Daily Trust latest investigation has revealed.
About 12,000 hectares of land in four local government areas of the state were reportedly taken for the project, which sparked off protests.
When payment of compensation to the affected farmers began in October 2016, only about 300 of the farmers were willing to collect their cheques out of about 11,000 farmers from Gagarawa, Suletankarkar, Garki and Taura local government areas.
Latest investigation by Daily Trust revealed that the sugar company project has taken off with the cultivation of 31.6 hectares of land for sugarcane nursery.
The nursery plantation, located in Garin Ciroma in Gagarawa local government and designed to give high yield of 120 tonnes of sugarcane per hectare, is billed for expansion by another 120 hectares to feed the sugarcane estate plantation.
When our reporter visited the site of the nursery plantation, one of the two American Case II tractors supplied to the company by Dizengoff West African Nigeria Limited, was seen working on the land for the proposed expansion.
Modern agricultural practice, called precision agricultural techniques has been adopted as the system for irrigating the nursery plots. The sugar company has drilled a borehole through which it irrigates the nursery plantation.
In May last year, Jigawa State Governor Mohammed Badaru Abubakar said the sugar company, owned by a Chinese investor, Mr. Lee Sheau, when operating at optimal capacity of over 120,000 metric tons of sugar per annum, would have a projected annual turnover of about N60 billion.
The company’s general manager, Mr. Wang Ting Fu and director Agricultural Services, Umar Mohammed Majia, said the first nursery plantation of 1.6 hectares that was started two years ago, was expanded by 30 hectares.
On the implements, the duo said for this stage of the project, only two tractors, Case II American model were purchased from Dizengoff in Lagos and that one had so far been put to use, adding that as the work progresses, the company would take delivery of more.
In the nursery plantation, there are four varieties of sugarcane, B7419, 62175, C0597 and SP series that were obtained from the Sugar Council Seed Farm in Kano and which are at present under evaluation to identify the type that has high sucrose content, high yield per hectare and is disease resistant.
On water source for the project, the two representatives said for now they are using boreholes but added that they have since realized that they can’t continue to sink boreholes because that would affect the water table of the communities around the project sites.
They said they are, therefore, thinking of rain harvest to conserve large volume of water during the raining season as well as from nearby rivers.
There are five systems of irrigation under evaluation to see which would be cost effective and most suitable for large-scale production in Gagarawa environment, the General Manager, Mr Fu, said adding that drip, sun-surface, lower head sprinkler and thorough irrigation systems are being tried.
He said they have adopted precision agriculture, where water cannot be applied until the field needed it.
Speaking on the protests, Mr. Fu and Majia, the director Agricultural Services, said they are carrying out their activities without any security threat.
“During planting, we engaged 300 to 400 people from the affected communities and each person makes as much as N2,000 per day,’’ Mr Fu added.
So far, over 8,000 out of about 11,000 beneficiaries have collected their cheques for compensation, signifying that those that initially resisted the project have started realizing its enormous importance, he noted.
“No security threat. But in a project of this nature, you can’t rule out the possibility of security threat. For now, we relate very well with the people; we relate very well with the communities and we are also not unmindful of our environment,’’ the GM added.
Jigawa State Deputy Governor and chairman of Jigawa Invest, Barr. Ibrahim Hassan, told Daily Trust that the government was happy about the early take off of the project.
He said: “There are practical benefits of this project. The expected output of the project is about one and half times the whole of Jigawa budget. The Dangote project in the state is also going to be one and half times of the state budget. In just two to three years, you have effectively tripled the economic activities of the state.
“When we started paying compensation, only 200 people collected their cheques but now about 75 percent of the population that were resisting the project have now collected their cheques.
“Even the court case instituted against the government was voluntarily withdrawn. The plaintiffs went there and said they wanted to withdraw the case. That is to show you even the most portent of resistance has begun to mellow down.’’
But some of the affected farmers expressed a contrary view.
Hassan Suleiman and Hassan Ibrahim from Fulanin Gayawa settlements, said most of the names of people, who they claimed to have collected the cheques, were impostors, adding that when they saw the payment vouchers, most of the signatories were not known in their communities.
“One Hassan Dan Bappah, signed against my name for my seven farms and collected my cheques; one Aminu Zabo also signed against the name of one of our agitation leaders, Wada Shungel and collected his cheque. These are names that don’t exist in our communities.
“These are the kind of people they are talking about but not the original beneficiaries. We are before the court and we are optimistic that judgment will be in our favour,” he said while dismissing the claims that the case had been withdrawn.