Embittered southwest maize farmers under the Hope Concept Investment Cooperatives and Credit Union have said they will resort to pursuing a court action against the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture Lending (NIRSAL) to seek redress on the damages accrued from its refusal to completely disburse the N342 million approved by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for its 2018 wet season farming operations.
The cooperative also asked that the federal government deploy the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the activities of the body, especially its seeming ineptitude at reducing the risk of farmers.
Akin Agboola, speaking during a tour of the Cooperative’s large span of farmland at Odeda, Abeokuta, Ogun State, to counter the claims of NIRSAL that some unqualified and dishonest groups with no real farmlands were trying to access the loan, said apart from the fact that the burden of loan repayment was increasing, the original off-taker, Flour mill Nigeria (FMN) has opted out of the arrangement due to the alteration introduced by NIRSAL into the terms of agreement.
“After the press conference, NIRSAL said we are not qualified farmers that we don’t have farms and things that are required to give us loan. We have over 1,000 hectares of tractorable lands,” Agboola said, adding that some NIRSAL officials attached to the project have visited the farms.
“Even while we were coming into the farm, the Ogun state NIRSAL manager called me, asking me to send him the pictures of our planter, the broom sprayers, harrowing and other pictures of farm equipment.
Agboola explained that they have incurred about N18 million to get part of the farmland cleared in anticipation that NIRSAL will pay them and work would start.
“As at yesterday Flour Mills was telling me that they are sure they are going on with this programme with us. I asked them why and they said NIRSAL has cut down the price of all the inputs, which three of us agreed in the cost of production. NIRSAL was calling me yesterday that they are bringing inputs for us and I said the inputs from where. I said the agreement says that Flour Mills will supply us input,” he added.
Last Monday, the cooperative held a press conference and a protest, demanding the disbursement of the funds and maintenance of the status quo on agreement. The farmers accused NIRSAL of upturning the rules of engagement, displacing the FMN as off-taker and introducing a new one.
The president said: “We have paid 5 percent counterpart funding of N16 million. We have done the legal signing and agreement with NIRSAL. So the next thing is to pay our money. Now from the agreement (NIRSAL) does not have the right to nominate any supplier of input, even a buyer for us. It has to be project management team (PMT). What we are expecting is that NIRSAL should release the money to the input supplier (FMN) and for the mechanization so that we can at least participate in this farming season.”
But the following event was an indirect response from NIRSAL in advertorial describing non-genuine farmers who failed credit checks.
“It has come to our notice that some persons and groups who claim to be stakeholders or participant in various agricultural projects are currently orchestrating a vicious and well-funded campaign of disinformation and blackmail against NIRSAL. In an effort to make their bogus claims with invesnted credibility, these elements have been making the rounds of media houses with false claims that NIRSAL, itself a CBN owned entity, is holding up funds released by the CBN under the Anchors Borrowers Programmes (ABP),” the advertorial reads.
“Our investigations reveal that among these elements are so-called “leaders” of farmers’ groups who did not meet with relevant criteria for participation in the ABP through the NIRSAL PFI window, by filling up registers of cooperatives they formed with fake names and unidentifiable persons. In this category also, are so-called “farmers” who do not have farmlands,” the statement said.
According to business a.m. findings in a report published early in July, a CBN credit advice note dated 18th and 19th July with the reference no MDC1820000099/BNK reads “BNG RELEASE OF FUNDS FOR 1ST TRANCHE DISB IFO HOPE CONCEPT MAIZE FARMERS IN OGUN THRU NIRSAL UNDER ADP, DFD/ABP/GEN/INT/006/058 DD170718.”
According to a CBN source, the conditions precedent to approval of the fund had been met by the cooperative and it was unnecessary for NIRSAL to prolong the release of the money.
“We have done town-hall meetings. All those are conditions precedent. Town-hall meetings, farmers’ verification, BVN verification, land verification and even factory inspection of the person who is off-taking to be sure that he/she even has a factory. What NIRSAL is doing is just a waste of time. It is the CBN that is the head of the project management.
“So whatever they are doing now and are not bringing CBN in just shows that they are doing what is not right because everything has been met. If they were not met, the CBN will not release the fund.
“These people have a cooperative structure already and it’s a self-governing organization. By now they should be applying pesticides and herbicide on the farm. The off-takers are also monitoring this project because there is a certain time that they are supposed to off-take. These big companies do planning for their procurement and if the maize does not get out at the time they had planned, they will have to buy in the open market, which damages their confidence about the cooperative,” the source added.
So far, farmers have been disappointed by the way NIRSAL has handled its de-risking mandate as lamentations are increasing sprouting from different quarters especially the southwest zone. Some other victims of NIRSAL non-release of funds are farmers in Owerri, Delta who have kept mum on the issue of timely release of funds.