The government is pulling out all the stops to modernize the agriculture sector, the indisputable mainstay of the state’s economy and primary source of employment for its people, with new initiatives and foreign partnerships, all the while highlighting other areas of the economy that hold great investment opportunities and are wide open for development
The state government is going to great lengths to encourage local and foreign entrepreneurs to invest in the social and industrial advancement of the region by paying more than just lip service to the notion of widespread socioeconomic development. It is creating training centers to raise the state’s human capital and working with foreign entities to build capacity. It has also put in place several policies and incentives to attract foreign direct investment and public-private partnerships, and it is investing heavily to increase efficiency and expand its key industries.
“Sokoto is a place where investors can come and enjoy a friendly environment and government,” says Governor Alhaji (Dr.) Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko. “They can enjoy the benefits of a place that is certainly well endowed in solid minerals, in agro-allied matters, and many more areas. It is a place where people can come to visit, and enjoy a very secure environment, one in which investors can come and develop their business without any interference.”
Essentially an agricultural state, with more than 80% of the population reliant on farming-related activities, agriculture is the mainstay of the state economy. As Sokoto State lies in the dry Sahel region, the general dryness of the area sees millet perhaps being the most abundant of crops, complemented by rice, corn, other cereals and beans. Therefore the rich alluvial soils in the floodplains of the Sokoto-Rima river system form the region’s lifeline for growing a variety of key crops.
Efforts are under way to greatly improve the performance and output of the agriculture sector, as yields have stayed low due to various factors, including outmoded farming methods, unavailability of modern fertilizers and seeds, and the predominance of small subsistence holdings. In fact, Dr. Wamakko’s first major initiative after becoming state governor in 2007 was to provide rural farmers with fertilizers via credit lines payable after harvest.
Partnerships with other countries, particularly in Europe and Argentina, are enabling the government to see how it can improve the state’s productivity as it embarks on a massive campaign to employ modern agriculture and livestock rearing methods. “We produce so many crops, but there is a lack of proper packaging and processing procedures,” says Governor Wamakko. “That is one reason why we are trying to partner with other countries that have the capacity to help us develop our own capacity and improve our investment in agriculture. We are getting there.”
Earlier this year, the governor confirmed that his administration had secured a N4.5-billion ($27.7-million) loan package for farmers to boost food production and will pay the N143.5 million interest on the loans on behalf of the farmers. Under the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme dry season rice and tomato farmers will benefit from a total of N2.5 billion in loans, with another N2 billion to be distributed among 7,000 cassava farmers. According to Dr. Wamakko, the gesture is intended to encourage more people to go into farming and to ensure food security, generate employment, reduce poverty and arrest the increasing rural-urban drift of the population.
Agro-investment opportunities abound for entrepreneurs as the government moves to resolve any obstacles to maximizing the state’s agro-potential. Potentially viable industries include tomatoes, peppers and onion processing; sugar extraction and refining; fertilizer production; groundnut oil processing; mills processing millet, sorghum, maize, wheat and rice; and setting up Gum Arabic plantations.
In addition to its agricultural wealth, Sokoto State is believed to be home to Nigeria’s third largest livestock population, with current estimates putting levels at 2.5 million cattle, 3.1 million sheep, 4.3 million goats and 100,000 camels, as well as significant poultry stocks. As such, great potential lies in dairy, leather, poultry and fish processing and packaging. Below the surface, the state is steeped in mineral resources that are yet to be tapped.
“There are so many investment aspects in which we can create partnerships,” says Dr. Wamakko. “For example, we have considerable potential in limestone for the creation of cement, as well as in our many and varied examples of solid minerals.”
Large, commercially viable deposits of high quality industrial minerals infuse Sokoto’s soils. Limestone, a key mineral in great demand by various industries such as construction, agriculture and steel production, is the most studied mineral in the state. A geological review of Nigeria points to reserves of 100 million tons in Kalambaina, west of the state capital, alone. Sokoto’s other mineral riches include kaolin, gypsum, phosphate and clay. Uranium and gold deposits have also been reported and are worthy of greater exploration.
Furthermore, preliminary explorations in the Sokoto-Rima basin suggest substantial hydrocarbon deposits and, backed by the geological history of the state, more intensive investigations for oil and gas would be of interest to oil producers.
Ensuring a steady, reliable power supply is vital for adding momentum to a nation’s socioeconomic development and so the Federal and Sokoto State Governments are keen to partner with investors to explore the potential of developing hydroelectricity at the Goronyo Dam, as well as developing thermal-driven power station and tapping the vast potential in solar energy.
Dr. Wamakko affirms: “Our doors are open for all of those that want to invest in a place with prosperous returns and at the same time feel comfortable and secure.”