South East, left out in federal government’s agriculture plans
May 1, 2023138 views0 comments
By Saby Elemba, in Owerri
VITUS AYO ENWEREM, chairman, All Farmers Association (AFAN), Imo State, in this brief interview with Business A.M., tells SABY ELEMBA that the South East has conveniently been forgotten by the federal government in all its agriculture programmes
How much has the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Imo State, benefitted from the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria?
Thank you very much. For the purposes of introduction, my name is Doctor Vitus Ayo Enwerem, the state chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Imo State Chapter. In Imo State here we have more than 10,000 registered members in AFAN in the 27 local government areas and wards. AFAN is an umbrella organisation that oversees the farmers in Nigeria and has branches in all the states and in all the local government areas.
The Imo State branch which I am in charge of, we have really organised ourselves very, very well in commodity associations, in cooperatives in readiness to benefit from any government agricultural venture, be it federal government or state. Unfortunately, we have not been lucky enough to benefit from the several agricultural programmes from the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Why is this the case? What could be responsible?
It is not that we are not trying to get [into the programmes], we are trying our best; sensitising our members, letting them know how to benefit, but unfortunately, the programme is not getting to the South East. [It’s] not only Imo State, because all the state chairmen exchange ideas and we discovered that the South East is not benefiting from the federal government programmes on agriculture.
The Anchor Borrowers Fund you talked about is a horrible thing. I think it is meant for a set of people. The Rice Farmers Association (RiFAN), which is under AFAN too, Imo State chapter, did everything to benefit from the Anchor Borrowers Programme but couldn’t benefit. The Maize Farmers Association also, they were given something but the problem is that, you know the way the Anchor Borrowers is designed in such away that farmers are not given money but inputs, the maize seed or rice seed, but did not come in time for the farmers to utilise it at the right time. You know that farming is timely planned. If you don’t plant when you are supposed to plant there is a problem.
What happened to the one given to the maize and seed farmers?
The one the Anchor Borrowers gave to our maize farmers and rice farmers was a huge failure because they didn’t bring the inputs at the right time. The rice seeds were not brought at the right time, the fertiliser was not brought at the right time. And so the output was damn too low.
And they wanted the farmers to pay back because they determine the cost of delivery, they determine the cost of labour, at the end of harvest they put these things together and expect the farmers to pay back the humongous amount of money they spent. So, you find out that the farmers were not able to meet up with the banks’ demand and loan. So, because of that, the Anchor Borrowers pulled out entirely and refused to deal with other farmers that are on the queue, the other farmers associations – the cassava farmers, the yam farmers, etc. So, it was a failure here, the Anchor Borrowers Programme did not succeed here, and other federal government’s agriculture programmes were not.
What about the Imo State government, tell us how much this chapter of AFAN has benefitted from it?
I want to say that the present government of Governor Hope Uzodinma, initially and, substantially, tried to support farmers. In fact, when he came in, seven months after assuming office, he brought fertilisers in the nick of time when farmers were asking for fertilisers to buy and nowhere to get fertilisers.
I don’t know, [but] that prompted the governor and he brought fertilisers to farmers, shared them to all the local governments without collecting any kobo from the farmers.
AFAN was given allocation of that fertiliser and we gave it to our registered members in every local government. And that year, we had a bumper harvest and that was why we did our World Food Day, 2021, to showcase what we did with that fertiliser and farmers from all the local government areas brought their outputs from their farms.
And from there we were able to know which local government areas that have crops as competitive advantage.
Now, as AFAN chairman in Imo State, can you tell us what each local government can boast of in terms of competitive advantage?
Right now, if an investor comes and says; I want to invest in, say, a pineapple processing machine or factory or on any other crop, we know the local government, we have a database on that. If an investor comes to Imo State and wants to invest in cassava processing, we know the local governments; we will advise him to go there and open his factory because there is abundance of cassava production there. Where we have abundance of raw materials, we will say, that is where they have comparative and competitive advantage.
Was this done in every local government?
We did it in all the local governments, and we were able to know any local government that specialises in any crop. But it doesn’t mean that they will not plant any other crops, but at least, they have comparative advantage over that. And from there we know the crops Imo State has as a general comparative advantage over others in the country.
About how many crops?
We have selected about three crops which Imo State has competitive and comparative advantage.
Something like cassava, Imo State ranks about number four in the whole country. Palm oil, Imo State is also ranking high after Edo State. Again, we are coming up with pineapple production. So, these are the crops we have comparative advantage and we have translated it to every local government. So every local government has its own crop that it has a comparative advantage in.
As we are into the cropping season, could you tell us what the association needs most?
Well, before you came, I was preparing to meet the honourable commissioner for agriculture.
This is the cropping season; what the farmers need now is very, very important. We don’t have much land mass in Imo State, so we crop on our farm almost every year, we do not do shifting cultivation. So we need a lot of fertiliser to increase the nutrients of the soil to enable it to continue to produce. The first input is fertiliser, we need fertilisers.
And we have advised the government to give the farmers organic fertiliser rather than all these fertilisers that are actually in the long run destroying our soil. The organic fertiliser will help us replenish the nutrients in our soil. That’s the most important thing we need.
Are there other inputs that farmers need most?
We need other inputs, seedlings, cassava cuttings. There are highly varied cassava cuttings since Imo State ranks high in cassava production. We need improved varieties, new discoveries from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, National Roots Crop Institute, Umudike, Umuahia. We need new varieties that are resistant to pests, the ones that have short gestation that you can harvest in six or seven months’ time.
If you come to seeds, we need seeds from seed companies instead of our farmers going to the market to buy locally. If you go to our farms you will see that our maize farms are being attacked by insects. We also need extension advice to farmers. Also farmers need some money because labour is very intensive and expensive.
When you talk about money , do you mean free money to farmers?
We are not asking for free money, we are asking for some revolving loan for farmers to produce, sell and pay back with interest.
Do you organise some programmes where farmers could be trained?
Yes, last year the commissioner for local government affairs, that woman – there is a very good woman, chief Rubby Emele. Last year, they collaborated with us on capacity building to train all the farmers in the local government areas. She spent a lot of money to train these farmers from the 27 local government areas. They came to Owerri here for a three-day capacity building and workshop where we trained them on various aspects of agriculture.
We brought experts from Umudike, from universities and so on to come and train the farmers on how to apply fertilisers, how to identify pests etc. And at the end, some of them went home with bags of fertiliser, free. Again, last year, the governor approved, through the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), a programme where our farmers were also trained and were given inputs like fertiliser, cassava cuttings, free. So, this governor has been very magnanimous to farmers.
Are you now saying that you are satisfied with what the governor is doing for the farmers in the state?
Not that we are satisfied, what he has done is just like a drop of water in the ocean.
There are many other farmers in the local governments. We want the government this year to organise programmes at the local government level so that many more farmers can participate in the training. They can go round the 27 local governments to train these farmers on how to use these inputs.
Fertiliser is good but if you don’t know how to apply it very well you destroy the soil and you destroy your plant. You must also know how to use improved inputs because if for instance you are given improved cassava cuttings, you must know the distance between one cassava stand and the other. If you don’t know those things, you will plant and the thing will not do well.