The Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) is a federal government initiative to actualise the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). It is also aimed at subsidising the costs of major agricultural inputs, such as fertiliser and seedlings for farmers. Adebiyi Adedapo assesses the scheme
Although it may be too early in the day to evaluate the successes or otherwise of the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) given that it has barely been implemented for two years, however, reactions from various stakeholders in the agricultural sectors are pointers to a step in the right direction.
Major players in the nation’s agric sector who attended the 40th regular meeting of the National Council on Agriculture (NCA) held recently in Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital and those who were present at a public hearing on agriculture-related bills pending before the House of Representatives in Abuja, have spoken extensively on the implementation of the GES scheme, its successes and shortcomings.
The programme started in May 2012, and has so far registered about 14 million farmers throughout the federation for direct redemption of farm inputs through the e-wallet system. The ministry of agriculture and rural development disclosed that about 4 million farmers were registered in 2012, while over 10 million were registered in 2013.
Under the scheme, registered farmers receives 50 per cent subsidy on their farms inputs from the federal government with the support of the state governments.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, boasted at the public hearing to have returned dignity to the Nigerian farmers through the e-wallet system.
With this system, farmers receive SMS alerts on their mobile phones and proceed to the nearest agro-dealers to redeem the inputs with 50 per cent value of the inputs price. This, according to the minister, has put an end to the age-long queue by farmers only to secure a bag of fertiliser for a group.
He noted that high level of corruption and insincerity in the previous input distribution strategy saw a major failure in the system, adding that low level of the use of fertilisers and improved seeds reduced farmers’ productivity.
According to Adesina, less than 11 per cent of Nigerian farmers benefited from the old system while political elites diverted bulk of the inputs purchased by the federal government to neighbouring countries.
“There was a major failure in our policies; low level of fertiliser and improved seeds reduce productivity, the supply of improved seeds to farmers were woefully low; the old system was inefficient and fraudulent; there was a leaking pipeline where inputs went to political elites and outside the country, while less than 11 per cent of Nigerian farmers benefited,” he said.
Adesina also disclosed that the old system totally displaced the private sector players in the supply chain, and thereby gave room for the supply of fake inputs. “Contractors deliver 50 per cent sand and 50 per cent fertiliser, farmers were being cheated and the environment was being damaged; the system lacked actuality and transparency,” he added.
In less than two years of its implementation, the GES scheme, according to the minister, has increased the number of farmers who benefit from the federal government largesse from 11 per cent to 60 per cent. The minister said about 1.5 million farmers benefited from the GES scheme in 2012, and the farmers were able to produce 8.1 million metric tonnes of food. i.e. a 70 per cent sharp increase from the food production level in the past.
The minister observed that farmers’ apathy was a major challenge to the success of the GESS in 2012, as he said only 61 per cent of expected beneficiaries turned out to redeem their inputs. He also identified low density coverage of agro-dealers as a challenging factor. This, according to him, may not be unconnected to inadequate loan facilities for the dealers as the N60 billion NISER fund has not been accessed.
“Farmers thought it was scammers at work when they received the text messages; so many of them did not turn out to redeem their inputs,” he said.
The GES Scheme is being heavily criticised by some farmers. A cross section of farmers at the 40th regular meeting of the National Council on Agriculture (NCA) in Abeokuta identified poor database management, late arrival of inputs to redemption centres and shortage of inputs as a major impediment to the success of the programme.
The farmers also complained that the programme did not effectively capture the interest of medium-scale commercial farmers, as inputs provided by the government were too small to make impacts on their yields.
The All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) through its financial secretary, Dr. Tunde Arosayin, explained that the agro-dealers saddled with the responsibility of distributing the inputs were faced with various challenges, adding that the farmers captured in the registration exercise in 2012 could not find their names on the database for 2013.
“If we are saying that we have captured about 3 – 4 million farmers initially and those names did not reflect for this year’s farming season. I think it is a step backward. Most of the agro-dealers are facing a lot of challenges because those who are newly captured for this year, that were being given inputs were been disturbed by the old registered farmers who could not get their names on the list.
“Also, those who have five hectares, 10 hectares of farm land have been excluded by all the programmes that are on ground; even the commercial farmers have also been excluded. What will a farmer who has one hectare of land do with two bags of fertiliser, you need a minimum of six to eight bags and at the end of the production year, they are expected to go to the market with those that have taken 50 per cent subsidy on farm inputs and those who went to the parallel market,” he said.
Some of the farmers also complained about the quality of rice seedlings distributed in the year 2012.
Call for Inclusion
The farmers attributed some of the hiccups to non-inclusion of local farmers at the policy implementation stage.
“At the initial stage we were talking, unfortunately, mid-way, we don’t know what happened and AFAN was sidelined, that could be a major pointer to some of these hiccups, because if we had been involved at every stage, we would be able to highlight some of these challenges and we would be able to proffer some solution ahead of time,” they added.
Thrust of Scheme
The minister, through the Special Adviser on Media and Strategy, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, explained that the concept of GES Scheme was to enhance the capacity of poor farmers who could not afford to buy even a bag of fertiliser and seedlings on their own. Oyeleye said the policy thrust did not capture medium-scale and large scale farmers in its conception.
He also explained that the logistic problem being encountered with the GESS database was caused by farmers who registered in groups with only one telephone number.
“One of the problems is that the system does not allow more than farmer to register with a telephone number, so in the situation that a family of group of farmers register with more than one telephone number, only one person’s data will be captured as being registered, and that explains why some names are missing on the database,” he said.
The House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture unanimously lauded the GES scheme and urged the Minister to ensure continuity of the scheme without misplacing its priority.
Also, Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, at the public hearing commended the Minister over the improvement in the inputs distribution system to the farmers. The Speaker, who was represented by the Deputy House Leader, Hon. Leonard Ogor, said the GESS was a major achievement of the minister in office.
“Let me use this opportunity to say that the House appreciates the level of improvement in the distribution of fertiliser to farmers, which is one good achievement of the ministry of agriculture, compared to previous distribution system,” he said.