*Waka – to walk, to journey, to travel (Nigerian Pidgin English)
On Saturday, my friend Zina and I visited a farm I’d long wanted to go to. My friend, Sola had brought me some juice from Songhai farms months ago and thus was I desperate.
For Zina, it all began when she spied the truck deliver produce right outside her office. The very same driver who we caught a glimpse of at the start of our visit.
We were both so excited when we had the ‘phone conversation. There wasn’t ever a question of whether we would go. It was when.
And that when? Last Saturday.
‘The Songhai Centre, the umbrella for Songhai farms and partnerships around West Africa runs a program, ‘designed as a catalyst for a broader, multi-partnership program to promote access of youth, men and women, to appropriate agribusiness entrepreneurial, leadership and management skills required for their effective participation in the creation of wealth and investments in commercially viable agribusiness enterprises in designated West African states.’
The ultimate aim of the Songhai Centre and its farms? To use agriculture as a weapon of mass construction. In 1985, Nigerian-born, Dr Godfrey N’Zamujo, a Dominican priest founded the Songhai centre. Nzamujo’s fundamental belief is that Africa’s ecological characteristics are advantages rather than impediments, and it calls for African farmers to use their own resources.
It isn’t too long a drive from Port Harcourt city that Saturday morning. And there is hardly any traffic as we head east.
In three-quarters of an hour, we’re there. I’m shocked, at first glance at how huge the grounds are. I’m not sure what I expected but this exceeds my imagination. It might be because I haven’t ever visited a farm in Nigeria and so my expectations are muddled. Confused with the orchards I’ve been to in the Netherlands.
The farm has an administrative centre, a few production centres, a store where you can buy all sorts of things from fresh juices to clay pots, water filters and chicken!
The objectives of Songhai Rivers Initiative Farm include: to develop a resilient programme that links agriculture with industry and commerce; to develop human capacities for the empowerment of individuals and groups; to broaden the socio-economic bandwidth in the region and contribute to the improvement of the economy through aggressive production, processing and marketing of agricultural products and related services; to provide improved planting materials for farmers in the state and beyond; to open up market linkages for farm produce; to reverse rural-urban migration; and to encourage agro-tourism amongst others.
The farm is awesome, in the sense of integration. Waste from the crops gets channeled into feed for livestock and transformed into Biogas. Fruits and vegetables from the farm are processed into drinks and flours.
It is apparent that great consideration is given to the interdependence of every aspect of this farm. It makes me think of ‘building an ecosystem’.
Also, waste from the birds are channeled to the farm’s fish ponds or used as organic fertilizers for crop growing. At the fish hatchery units, fish eggs are artificially fertilised to produce fingerlings of varied species, including Catfish and Tilapia, while the `maggotry’ is set up to produce protein-rich maggots to feed the fishes. Snail shells are processed into calcium for use in animal feeds.
But first up, we sign up for a tour of the 314 hectare farm.
About 3.14 square kilometres. (Of course we don’t walk the length and breadth of the farm.)
Almost twice the size of Monaco. Six times the size of the Vatican City in Roma.
433 Wembley stadiums would conveniently fit into the farm. That’s not an awesome fact by the way. #Justsaying…..
The farm project sits on a 314-hectare land in Bunu-Tai, an agrarian community in Tai Local Government Area of the state. It is about 20 times the size of the Songhai model — an integrated farm which combines livestock, arable farming, fisheries, snail farming and poultry.
We go past many types of chickens.
Some majestic. Others long-necked.
And Ostrich. And Geese.
Some chickens in near-flight….. roaming about freely.
And yet others nom-noming….with gorgeous plumage too.
Even red-necked lizards hang around – an extremely common sight in Nigeria.
There is a Biogas unit – where waste is put to good use!
The flame is light and a gorgeous blue – barely captured on camera but a beautiful sight nevertheless.
There are loads of crops,grown, from vegetables and herbs like regular corn to sweet corn, Bitter leaf, Plantain and Moringa.
As you would expect, there are men and women working hard everywhere you turn.
The farm is alive. And watered.
New seed varieties are tested too – like this dwarf Pawpaw trees which are half the height of the regular trees (Not tallest tree in background). The trees bear fruit in much shorter times than the traditional trees.
We visited various production centres – from the artificial pond for Tilapia which is awesome. And picturesque.
The pond is designed with sloping sides such that the nutrient-rich water from the growing field drains into it. This is one instance of the multiple integration that defines Songhai Farms.
I loved the feeding of the fish, of the thousands of Tilapia being raised here. A sprinkling of fish has the fish jumping out of water, jaws agape. A wonderful sight.
There is loads more to see – fruit trees, like the pink guava ones which produces fruit that’s processed into drinks.
No one is allowed to pluck fruits from the trees…..Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.
The store of course is one of my favourite places.
There is a whole array of drinks to try. My favourites are the Pineapple and the Ginger ones. Not that I tried all of them.
The store has Garri, processed from farm-grown Cassava.
You can buy, at extremely reasonable prices locally constructed smoking ovens/ stoves – for around $15 US dollars. The exterior is made of metal and it is divided into two sections. The base has a flap which you open to load coal or wood. The top is cast in clay, with holes. You can use it as a smoker, or as a cooking stove.
Well, I have one so you’ll get to know more about it, soon. Okay?
Water filters are also available, made from cheap buckets with the main filter component made of permeable clay. It looks amazing, is reasonably priced and therefore affordable for a lot of people.
I didn’t buy one!
There’s still so much I could say about the farm including the tourism aspect. You could actually spend time on the farm, as they have accommodation to rent.
I’d love to go back soon. To spend some time. Have a picnic maybe. Rest. Bask. Enjoy. Inhale.
Till then, I’ll have to satisfy my longing with all the things I brought back to consume – a variety of drinks and some delicious fish – Catfish and Tilapia, which we’ve already had and which was DELICIOUS – moist, tender, tasty fish.
Read more about Songhai Farms, Rivers State.
And enjoy your weekend. X X X