James Emejo writes that if properly managed and sustained, the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) could turn the magic wand that will put an end to tales of widespread hunger by crashing the already high price of rice, create mass employment opportunities as well as preserve the country’s foreign reserves through import substitution of agricultural produce
It all started as comic relief, but the grim reality was quick to manifest across different parts of the country. In separate scenarios, there were reports of miscreants, who patiently waited and watched their neighbours cook their meals only to snatch the pots of the cooked food from the stoves and disappear into thin air.
The rather alarming incidence showed the extent of hunger in the country and had drawn the attention of those in authority, prompting the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, to recently reinstate the determination of the federal government to end tales of hunger across the country through a set of critical interventions.
With rising unemployment , worsened by recent job cuts, particularly in the private sector, high inflation and interest rate, foreign exchange volatility as well as dwindling oil fortunes, agriculture, which is the greatest employer of labour, is largely considered key to reversing the country’s current macroeconomic woes.
Regrettably, agriculture had been relegated to the background for decades, driving the country’s annual food import bill to about N1 trillion, a situation which had exerted undue pressure on the country’s foreign reserves, as every naira must be backed up by the US dollar to have its value.
It is in this vein that one of government’s bold initiatives to reposition agriculture as major driver of the economy through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) in all the geopolitical zones, had received widespread accolade.
Worried about the huge foreign exchange spent importing food items, which could ordinarily be produced locally, through the allocation of forex for importation of rice, wheat, milk and fish, among others, a situation which had contributed greatly to the depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves, especially in the face of low oil revenue resulting from falling oil prices, the CBN had launched the ABP scheme to reverse the ugly trend and salvage the economy.
Essentially, the ABP aims to create economic linkages between over 600,000 smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilisation of integrated mills.
A recent assessment of the rice plantation in Minna, Niger State under the ABP attested to the fact that the national food sufficiency target of the federal government wasn’t farfetched going by the huge success stories in the CBN initiatives across the country.
The ABP in Sunti, Niger State already had 1, 600 farmers from about 57 cooperatives in active participation in rice and cotton production while 14,000 farmers were said to have been supported under the scheme in the state.
Speaking during the inspection of the project, CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, alongside Ogbeh and the Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Bello, disclosed that close to N2 billion had been disbursed under the ABP.
The apex bank boss also expressed satisfaction at the progress so far recorded in the state.
He said, “I want to really thank the Governor of Niger State as well as the minister of agriculture for all the support we have received. The governor of Niger State particularly because he has been able to work with the community to put them together. If he wasn’t able to put the community together, it’ll have been difficult for the CBN to come in under our micro small and medium enterprises to give the support that we did under the Anchor Borrower Programme.
“I understand There are over 14,000 farmers that have been supported under this scheme in Niger State and we’ve disbursed close to N2 billion under the ABP. The state government itself has also applied for the state intervention to support the farming community and I can assure you that this will receive speedy processing and will also be approved in due course.
“I am happy because the land mass of Niger State, I understand is more than three times the entire land mass in the South-eastern part of this country and I can see that the topography is so excellent for different types of agricultural produce; rice, soya beans, millet, maize, corn, cotton and the rest of them.”
Continuing, Emefiele noted: “So I think we will try as much as possible to focus on Niger state given the opportunity that they have. No doubt there are challenges. For instance, the governor also told us that as a result of what we call excessive rain or flooding, some farms were lost, some rice lost through the flooding, but we will see how we can also support them once they put the proposals together about how can we build some dykes that’ll support and make sure that the incidence of flooding destroying agricultural produce will be a thing of the past.
“I will say Niger State is now even competing with Kebbi State in giving us about one million metric tonnes of rice this year. This is just the raining season farming; we would work with the community to see to it that during the dry season farming, the challenges that they anticipated: providing the water pumps, fertiliser and seedlings, we will provide everything to see to it that we are able to achieve the objective of ensuring that this country is able to feed its people so we can stop importing agricultural produce.”
On his part, Ogbeh, who was overwhelmed by the determination of the farmers towards the success of the ABP promised more government support in the areas of machinery to harvest the produce as well as irrigation and knowledge support to improve the yields in the area.
He also assured that going by what had happened, the high price of a bag of rice would soon be brought down as harvest season approaches.
According to the minister, “If the reapers don’t come before the middle of November, the next season, you will not harvest your rice manually. We are already planning for the dry season farming. In future, we would hold seminars here, after rice, you plant something else, that is, crop rotation.
“Sometime in the future, after soya, you can grow some cotton, I will put more nutrients back into the soil, then the next season you go back to rice. About 907 farmers only for cotton and for soya beans, we have 7,300 farmers.”
On the milling machines and support for irrigation, he said, “They are already in the country anyway; we would fix them; we have to get some power supply so you start milling your rice with parboiling units and so on. We have a scheme coming for lakes and dams but we are also looking at solar pumps. A farmer comes to the farm, spreads his solar cells outside and then he drives water the whole day, no diesel, no kerosene; some samples have been brought and we are testing them now-that’s the ultimate solution, the sunlight is good and saves them all the problems of diesel and kerosene. Anything to save cost and increase profit.
“I just want you to extend our greetings to all the farmers, greetings from the president; because when we come here and see how you are working; you are working harder than the people in the city and you are the ones feeding Nigerians now and so may Almighty God bless you.
“The president is very happy because this year, people are complaining that the price of rice is too high now, we are growing rice and in another one year, we don’t need to import rice from anywhere. So continue working and we will always be behind you.”
Meanwhile, Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Bello, further praised all stakeholders for contributing to the success of the ABP in the state.
According to him, “I think all has been said, like the chairman said, there are great potentials here and we are going to work tirelessly to see that we increase the numbers of farmers and cooperatives. The locals have been very helpful and cooperative here and like the chairman also said, if we work very hard, Niger State can feed the entire country.
“So we are determined to support the farmer and local people to improve and increase production and with the offer you gave regarding the rice mills, it will go a long way towards boosting the production of rice.
“So as we wait anxiously for the rice mills, we will continue intervening. I think we need to interface and get the right structure of how the rice mill will be run. Maybe we should start that now so that when the rice mills come, we will just get to work.”
“Maybe I will let the committee come up with the template of how they want to install the rice mill. Definitely, the people here are very happy with the CBN and let me use this opportunity to thank the CBN and the minister for all the support.
“He’s been very helpful and this has created a lot of job opportunities to communities around and I hope with time, we will continue to partner with the CBN and the federal ministry of agriculture to do more. We have almost 90,000 square kilometres and less than 10 per cent is being utilised at the moment. Another area I hope the CBN and federal ministry of agriculture can help us is towards providing pumps for dry season farming,” he added.