By Zanau Hassan
The Mambilla Plateau is one of the three plateau locations in Nigeria, located in the Southeastern part of Taraba State. The Mambilla Plateau has an average elevation of about 1,600 meters (5,249 ft) above sea level, making it the highest plateau in Nigeria. It has a semi-temperate climate and with a rainfall average of 1800mm and 3-4 months of dry season.
Sardauna Local Government Area has a total landmass of 4,644 KM2, it is bigger than Lagos (3,345 KM2) and almost the size of Anambra state (4,844KM2). The original name of the area is Mambilla, it was changed to Sardauna LGA in 1984. Now, the Mambilla has been in the news recently for the Hydro Power Dam project that was recently approved to generate 3,050MW of power for the country. Beyond the potential of being the largest power generating area, it has a huge potential for tourism with the coldest weather, beautiful landscape with fascinating panoramic views of undulating mountains and lush green vegetation that looks naturally trimmed.
Over the years, there has been a long silence on the Agricultural possibilities on the Mambilla and you will hardly hear of any agricultural development project on the plateau. The Highland Tea estate at Kakara has been the leading story of the agricultural potential of the area. Beyond the tea, there are so much more than the people of the area have been involved in for many years which I intend to highlight here.
Agricultural production on the Mambilla has been the mainstay of their economy for ages. They have been very resilient and one of the very few people of the state that have been open to trying out new crops that are not indigenous or traditional for the area. Most of these have happened without government intervention for a very long time now and also due to proximity to the Cameroon. The Mambilla have for a very long time been neglected in terms of developing the agricultural potentials of the area. Most of what has happened has been based on personal or private efforts in order for them to survive against all odds.
Despite the unique climatic condition of the Mambilla, the region has not received the desired treatment it requires to properly harness her agricultural potentials. An example was the introduction of Irish potato cultivation in 1991 through a demo plot that was established and that led to the adoption of Irish potato as one of the crops that grow very well on the Mambilla. Since then, there had been no special programme from the State Agric ministry aimed at enhancing the production to make the Mambilla a leading producer of Irish potato in Nigeria.
Another crop that used to be the darling of the Mambilla was Coffee, most of the Coffee fields have since been converted to maize fields due to poor patronage over time and the lack of support to help develop the Mambilla Coffee as a brand that will permeate the Nigerian and Cameroonian market.
Tea cultivation was introduced on the Mambilla in the mid-1970s with a 450 hectares and an expansion programme Mambilla Tea Integrated Development Programme (MTIDP) between 1993 t0 1997 that took the cultivated area to 850 hectares and an out-grower scheme of 450 hectares. Today, the Highland tea company maintained a monopoly of processing of the tea in the area. This monopoly has not enabled the tea sector to grow and be competitive enough to drive growth. Mambilla being the only Tea growing region in Nigeria by now, should have expanded the cultivation of Tea to over 10,000 hectares. Kenya is currently cultivating 157,720 hectares by over 500,000 smallholder farmers. Kenya’s Tea is one of the top leading export product along Tourism and Horticulture. Kenya is also ranked number 1 before China and India. With an intense effort, the Mambilla can meet the tea demand of Nigeria and at least the Cameroon while engaging a massive population in tea jobs.
The Lake Chad Research Institute Maiduguri had successfully carried out wheat cultivation trials on the Mambilla and have found the location good for wheat production. But so far, that was how far the trial could go. No further effort is being made to enhance that and make the Mambilla a bread basket of Taraba and Nigeria.
Also, in the recent past, there have been some trials in growing series of vegetables on the Mambilla which has proven to be successful. A member of the IFDC team told me how after successfully growing carrots on the Mambilla, the transport cost of bringing it down to Jalingo to sell, makes no business sense. Other veggies like Radish, Lettuce, Cabbage and several others are doing well on the Mambilla and need to be enhanced.
The Mambilla Apple could have been the darling of Nigeria to replace the South African apple fruits that are hawked on Nigerian streets and sold in shops across the country. But, the 40m x 40m trial field in Nguroje has long been abandoned and adoption has not taken place. This has left the Mambilla Apple dream unrealized. Imagine a number of apples consumed in Nigeria, comes from the Mambilla.
Avocado pear, the Mambilla still remains the leading grower and producer of Avocado pear in the country. The Mambilla Avocado pear is being consumed all across the country without recourse to where it comes from or where it is being produced. Avocado pear remains the success story of the Mambilla and I can tell you that, it hasn’t reached her potential yet. Mambilla Avocado pear can be properly packaged and branded Mambilla Avocado or Grown by the People of Mambilla.
Have you tasted the pineapple grown on the Mambilla? The Mambilla is home to one of the best pineapples you can find around. They are organically grown and have a fantastic taste. Warwar I was told are the leading growers of Pineapple. Last year I came across a BBC documentary of black Americans who returned back to Ghana to grow nothing but pineapple in large quantity. Do you know that Nigeria still imports pineapple juice concentrates to make your favorite fruit juice brands? The long duration of rainfall gives the Mambilla the pineapple advantage. The Mambila only has 3-4 months without rain in a year.
Another cash crop doing very on the Mambilla is Kolanut. The Shagamu kolanut splits into two, but I tell you, the gods of kolanuts are on the Mambilla because the Mambilla kolanuts has multiple splits. The Mbamga region is the masters on kolanut production. Traders from Kano buy the Mambilla kolanuts, which they use as dye and for chewing.
Mambilla Dairy or Mambilla milk could have been a selling brand competing with the Dutch Peak milk or the Danish Dano milk. The Mambilla has the best weather to breed the best of Friesian cows that will yield good milk quality. It has been reported that the Mambilla play host to million heads of cattle. Reason being that, it has the best of green pasture that last almost all year round. One will have expected that the headquarters of Dairy Production should be somewhere at Nguroje, but that hasn’t been the case. Those who keep cattle depend on their age-old knowledge without any form of improvement. In today’s world, technological advancement in dairy production has reached a whole new level that we shouldn’t be left behind.
I can go on and on regarding the various untapped potentials of the Mambilla that have been long abandoned.
As I conclude, I want to say that the issue of the agricultural potentials of the Mambilla is not only restricted to the Mambilla alone. There are three high-altitude locations in Nigeria which include the Mambilla plateau, the Jos Plateau, and the Obudu plateau. All along, there has been no agricultural research institutes targeted at the semi-temperate regions of the country and hence, agricultural researchers focus less on their research on those areas. We have the research institutes for tropical and arid zones agriculture in this country, but we have none that focuses on semi-temperate regions of Nigeria. These have also made it impossible for students to even apply their knowledge in those areas. The University of Jos till recently existed without a faculty of agriculture, I believe that that should be the center of semi-temperate agriculture in Nigeria.
Another area of concern is the political leadership from the region that has insisted on developing their own. Take it or leave it, if you lack visionary political leadership, it would be like the case of the Cock who sleeps on guinea corn, only to be chased out in the morning without knowing. There is a great need for visionary leaders to lead our people, that way, our immense potentials shall be realized. Today, there are only 10 agricultural extension officers on the Mambilla, they have for a very long time not been benefiting from Government Agric interventions like the agricultural input subsidies. The last government fertilizer arrived on the Mambilla was during Governor Suntai as I was informed. Also, there has been no tailored made solutions for the unique Mambilla agro-climate by the government both local, state or federal.
Moving forward, as I stated in my last article on the Mambilla Power Project, there is a need for a plan on how best to tap into the potential of the Mambilla. Now more than ever before, we must develop the Mambilla brand. Let the world know, that there is a place called Mambilla. Let those who eat Avocado, know that it is from the Mambilla, and let the world know that, there is more to Mambilla than the Highland tea. I think the young educated elites from the Mambilla must look beyond government and use the knowledge they acquire to attract investments and develop the Mambilla, than remaining in the cities. You must do it now moving forward, or else, others will discover and before you know it, some persons will be the sole beneficiaries of the Mambilla brand.
Zanau Hassan is an agricultural consultant and writes from Abuja.