Crusoe Osagie and Obinna Chima
With the gradual extension of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) to 26 states in the country, the federal government yesterday disclosed its plan to end the importation of rice in the next one year.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said this during an assessment tour to the Coscharis Farms Limited which has nearly 3,000 hectares of land cultivate different varieties of rice in Anambra State.
This is just as the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, confirmed that a total of N15.7 billion had been disbursed under the ABP.
Continuing, Ogbeh stressed that unless Nigeria is able to feed itself, the country cannot be said to be truly independent. According the food importation bill of the country which stands at between $2 and $3 billion which is unacceptable.
“This is amazing, I have seen similar things in Kebbi and I can see this big one (the rice farm), and I am very proud of Coscharis and the effort the Anambra State governor is making to support him. In another one year, we will have no need to import one grain of rice into this country.
“In fact we may stop rice importation sooner than that. It is final word I am telling you, because Nigerians have proven that they can do it and I am proud that I can see this thing in Anambra State.
Because people who don’t know the state do not even know what potential exist for agriculture.”
Emefiele however, said the central bank was spurred to raise its support to the agriculture sector because the country ran into a situation where its reserves had been badly depleted.
The central bank governor wondered why Nigeria, despite its vast arable land would continue to import rice, tomatoes, and even milk.
He said 26 states have shown interest in the ABP, adding that the Ministry of Finance as well as officials of the CBN are currently on assessment tour of the state that had shown interest in the project which is aimed at ensuring that Nigeria becomes self sufficient in food.
Furthermore, he said the Kebbi State governor, the state where the pilot phase of the ABP was carried out, had been mandated by President Muhammadu Buhari to head all the state governors that would be involved in the ABP.
Emefiele explained: “We have been importing milk for over 60 years. There is a company that has been producing milk for 60 years, and I say it is time those kind of companies began to produce our diary in Nigeria. We like to encourage and congratulate Coscharis. We are congratulating him because this is a man that for over 30 years has been in the business of machines, spare parts, and car importation.
To this end, Emefiele disclosed that the Committee of Governors of CBN on Wednesday gave approval for Coscharis Farms to set up a mill as well as an irrigation project.
The Chairman of Coscharis Group, Mr. Cosmas Maduka, stated that Coscharis Farm Limited would provide full time employment for about 3,000 people as well as drive ancillary industrial growth in the state when all the phases of the investment are complete.
He said the farm phase of the business currently employs over 250 people, adding that the rice mill and irrigation components of the investment for which the CBN has given approval in principle to finance, will significantly enhance the capacity of the business to create more jobs and boost economic activities.
Maduka however called on other arms of the federal government to be more responsive to requests from the private sector to enable them achieve their set business goals in good time.
He commended the CBN for agreeing to provide financing for its rice mill and irrigation, while also thanking the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for the decisions to allow the company use its silos for the storage of grains harvested from the farm.
Recalling how he took the decision venture into agriculture, Maduka said the plan began about 29 years ago but only became tangible two years ago, commending governor Willie Obiano for his intervention in the land dispute with the host community which had stalled the venture for almost three decades.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State said: “We are hoping to catch up with Kebbi. We are currently doing 210,000 metric tonnes. We call on CBN to support Coscharis Farms and other small holder farms because they are structured here. Through the agro-intervention funds we got N1.5 million and disbursed it and now we want N5 billion. There is much money in farming- you feed yourself and sell others.”
His Kebbi State counterpart, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, who was also at the event said: “We are happy that since last year when the president launched CBN’s anchor borrowers scheme in Kebbi, the state governments have been keying into the project. This shows that the president’s call, with the support of the Minister of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria was heard. With these developments, it is obvious that we are on our way to rice sufficiency.”