For decades Nigeria neglected agriculture, sat on its backside because it discovered the proverbial black gold called crude oil, which gave its huge revenues in foreign exchange that it did not need to work or think hard for. There was often a general agreement that it was a bad road to travel, especially when scientists and economists began to warn that oil was a finite commodity; and besides, it was beholden to the vagaries of the markets. The vagaries have shown up a few times, but when it did three, four years ago, it hurt Nigeria badly.
It was partly on back of the hurt inflicted on the economy and Nigerians that the present federal government head- ed by Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 election and came to office, defeating the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan. Since then several attempts have been made to reverse the structure of the Nigerian economy from becoming dependent on oil and refocusing it with agriculture as an arrowhead in the charge.
So, based on the federal government’s drive to reposition the agricultural sector as a bankable mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, huge financial commitments, a key panacea to adopting large scale production methods, have been made towards supporting farmers in the different aspects of the sector, particularly food crop production.
Through the Central Bank of Nigeria, revolutionary schemes, such as the Anchors Borrowers Programme, the Agricultural Credit Support Scheme and Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme, have been wrought to not only expand the domestic production capacity but also provide means of absorbing harvests through partnerships with industrial processors of agricultural commodities. Therefore, an active market readily anticipates harvest even before the commencement of planting.
In the first two years of the programme’s implementation, N55 billion was disbursed to 250,000 smallholder farmers, who were individually able to access loans ranging from N150,000 to N250,000 for the procurement of necessary agricultural inputs including seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides among others. Widening the funding window, the National Council of State (NCS), a body of former Nigerian leaders, governors of the 36 states of the Federation, ministers and top government appointees with the endorsement of President Muhammadu pushed up the agriculture intervention fund from $200m to $1 billion to deepen the diversification efforts.
This juicy package has long been utilised by farmers across the country especially in the northern geopolitical zones aided by massive additional support rendered by their state governments to ease access to these interventions. However, the same cannot be said of ease of access to the federal support initiative in the southwest region as the governments there appear laid back in exploring their potential in agriculture to strengthen their economies domestically and create viable employment avenues for their population.
According to findings, greater testimonies of the fund application are easily identifiable in the northern states of Kebbi, Gombe, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano compared to the southwest states of Oyo, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun or Lagos, which are equally endowed in the production of certain key crops and with advantage of balanced temperature for growth.
Under the ABP, the CBN in July approved N660 million loan for 3,479 farmers in Gombe, encompassing first and second batches of rainy season farmers who applied for the funding, Sani Chobe, head of development finance, Gombe office of the CBN said. Meanwhile, 35,000 rice farmers were equally being qualified to get farm inputs.
Earlier in March, well above 40,000 rice farmers in Kebbi and Zamfara states were deemed fit in a biometric data capturing exercise to receive federal government’s farming inputs such as organic fertilizer, seeds, herbicides, NPK and urea fertiliser, sprayers and pumping machines for dry season farming.
Similarly, 14,000 sorghum farmers in Kano, 1,500 rice farmers in Daura, Katsina state have also benefitted from the scheme in recent months.
Apparently, these testaments are scarcely visible in the southwest with just few examples to show for the governments’ zeal to promote agriculture.
In mid 2017, about 10,000 poultry farmers received 1,000 birds each under ABP through a broiler out-grower scheme, Natnupreneur in Lagos. Afterwards, farmers have incessantly struggled with accessing these funds with weak state backing to encourage their quest.
The most prominent area where farmers access have received intervention is Ekiti where over 174 rice farmers got N80 million farm inputs from Anchor Borrowers Programme to cultivate 400 hectares of rice farms, with expected yield of over 1600 tonnes.
What has happened in Ogun and Oyo states have been promises of CBN empowerment to 10,000 youth farmers and maize farmers respectively but without real action.
Babafemi Oke, the chairman of All Farmers Association, Lagos, in an interview with business a.m. expressed disenchantment about the seeming exclusion of farmers from a robust scheme as the ABP.
Farmers, he explained, were caught in the web of helplessness as their immediate home governments have occasionally displayed indifference in ensuring their pursuit of expansion sails through as being practiced elsewhere.
Oke further regretted that Lagos, for instance, has comparative advantage in producing coconuts than any other state in the country, apart from its fish farming strength but the industry has been left to swim in solitude while other raw produce loaded off in large quantities to neighboring states for processing.
“We have been talking about what support means to farmers for long a time and not so much has improved. About five months ago, when we learnt about the $1billion finding window opened to agriculture by the federal government, we put our house in order and ensured that our members met the criteria. But before we can access the loan, the government needed to endorse us. That was where we got stuck. We held several meetings upon meetings and we were not approved.”
Akin Agboola is the president of Hope Concept Investment Cooperatives and Credit Union, a cluster of farmers who operate on several hectares of land in Abeokuta, Ogun state. Its close-to- a thousand farmers armed with the criteria of biometric verification numbers, tractor- able farmland and technical expertise have independently pursued the ABP for long to offset their maize farming for the season, but since the funding and the raining season was gradually walking by, the state government offered a political help of 10 percent support in exchange for the glory claiming full funding of the project.
At the state level, little or no effort has been made to expedite the process of acquisition of the ABP loan in due time. And when business a.m. contacted Adepeju Adebajo, the commissioner for agriculture, Ogun state, she simply quipped: “I will prefer not to comment. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
But the Oyo state government made a defensive case on the accessibility of the Anchor Borrowers Programme to its farmers, saying farmers have been supported by government to benefit from not only ABS, but FADAMA I, II, & III and Rural Access to Agricultural Marketing project.
Oyewole Oyewunmi, the Oyo State commissioner for agriculture, natural resources and rural development, in a conversation with business a.m., said having adopted the disbursement approach, the scheme has been facing severe challenges from failure to refund.
However, it had adopted a private sector approach for which the pattern of support is such that cassava farmers are linked up with processors to off-take their produce.
“The attitude towards the fund is that it is government money and as such it shouldn’t be refunded and that is the major obstacle facing the northern states now. So we are doing it in such a way that the farmer who is interested will bring a kind of guarantor, they will be linked up with the bank, and they will have a direct link with the off-takers not with the government so that the refunding will not be placed on government. We are monitoring the private sector based one, which is moving successfully.
We have introduced the farmers to them and we have a delegate who will be representing the government in their decision making so that the refund will not be weighty on the farmer.
We are also working with the private sector to make the loan easier to fund by the farmer,” Oyewunmi explained.
However, the consensus among private sector stakeholders on the unevenness in the access to the federal government intervention funds is that the challenge does not end with the lip service
promotion of agriculture as certain critical structures of standard agronomic practices were still absent, because the sector is underfunded.
“In the southwest, we are not well informed and it’s not a function of the government. We don’t just have functional structures. The farmers are not in cooperatives like the north. You have many visible farms that can be identified in the north. And the way the Anchor Borrowers Programme is structured is that you must have a farm, you must be in a cooperative, you must be having meetings, they have to do geo-mapping; and these are the structures lacking here. Through the ABP, you can reach as many farmers as possible in the north,” said African farmer Mogaji, a vastly experienced farmer and co-initiator of Farmcrowdy, a digitical platform for agriculture sponsor- ship.
“Also, the farmers in the north are more committed. They adopt higher level of mechanization which many farmers in the south west don’t use, except for Oyo state. The anchors themselves are willing to work because there is a lot of work in get- ting the farmers to put in, provide their BVN; but in the southwest here, because they are not together and they are extremely scattered, anchors don’t want to put in money and time required to be able to leverage,” he added.
He further pointed out that due to the dearth of existing functional structures to fund agriculture extension initiatives or effective outlets for agriculture commodities trading, the southwest is lagging behind as ABP is a structured programme to catalyse growth.
“Agriculture is the only thing the southwest governors have to reach out to 70 percent of their people and yet they are not funding it and southwest is the closest to any market. We have access to the market but it is people who will drive hours to us that are doing our agriculture. For instance, if you are bringing tomatoes from Gombe, it takes almost two days for tomatoes to get here; while the farthest is five hours to anywhere in the southwest,” Mogaji explained.
The southwest is one of the prime regions of high agricultural commodities consumption in Nigeria, due to its large population and huge base of individuals with high purchasing power.
In Lagos, for instance, the value of daily food consump- tion is estimated to be worth at least N3 billion while N1.6 billion worth of livestock is consumed daily.
This suggest that food and cash crops, where the south-west states have comparative advantage, like plantain, cassava, cashew, cocoa, cotton, rubber and timber as well as other areas of food needs, could be developed along with their value chains to fix local demand, cut import and raise the revenues of operators.