Supporting Nigeria’s Quest for Food Security

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Judith Obaze highlights the contribution of Heritage Bank to Nigeria’s quest for food security

Unarguably, the Nigerian agricultural sector has gone through a chequered history. The uninspiring performance of the sector in terms of its contribution to the country’s revenue has also been a source of concern to successive governments. This had led to the creation of various initiatives aimed at taking the agriculture sector out of the doldrums.

Unfortunately, despite various policies that were created in the past, the sector’s contribution has remained insignificant. But with Nigeria’s dwindling revenue profile as well as the threats to global food security, more attention is being paid to agriculture.

Nigeria, just like most countries and institutions have continued to push for large-scale agricultural transformation as part of efforts to achieve increased growth and reduced rural poverty.

Based on the fact that the country is blessed with favourable climatic conditions, vast arable land and fertile soils, it has never been in doubt, the significant role agriculture should play in the nation’s quest to achieve sustainable development.

That is why Heritage Bank has continued to support various initiatives aimed at enhancing agricultural activities in the country.

In Nigeria, with access to finance still a major challenge, agriculture remains underdeveloped with majority of farmers in the rural areas still practising subsistence farming.

However, to increase funding for the agricultural sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in line with its developmental functions and in collaboration with the federal government and banks established various agricultural schemes as a way of bridging the funding gap. Such interventions include the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), Commercial Agriculture Development Programme (CADP), the Interest Draw-back scheme, Agricultural Credit Support Scheme as well as the recently introduced Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP).

The broad objectives of most of the schemes are to fast-track development of the agricultural sector by providing credit facilities to commercial agricultural enterprises at a single digit interest rate; enhance national food security by increasing food supply and effecting lower agricultural produce and product prices, thereby promoting low food inflation; generate employment and diversify revenue base.

Heritage Bank’s Intervention
In complimenting the efforts of the federal government, Heritage Bank Plc, under its Chief Executive, Mr. Ifie Sekibo, has continued to finance critical agricultural projects in the country.

Heritage Bank has not only encouraged both governments, corporates and individuals (including young people to embrace optimal productivity and greatness in this sector), it has taken the front seat in the drive to support them in the attainment of noble agricultural virtues by funding various agricultural projects in several states in the country, especially in Oyo, Kaduna and Zamfara states.

Sekibo recently vowed that the bank would not relent in its efforts at boosting the agriculture base of the nation, affirming that Heritage Bank would continue to make farming profitable to stakeholders and attractive to the youth.
The bank, he said, would remain focused in supporting agribusiness through financing the purchase of modern technology, as it would bring about transformative development to the economy in general.

He, however, noted that the bank would support the drive for cash crop commodities that would boost Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings, which the President Mohammad Buhari’s administration has always been cautious given the dangers the continuous reliance on imported food items pose to its efforts to create jobs as well as develop and diversify the economy.

Some of the bank’s intervention in the sector includes its collaboration with the CBN to provide N2 billion long-term facility under the CACS to Triton Aqua Africa Limited(TAAL).

TAAL known as Triton Farm accessed the CACS through Heritage Bank, which was used to set up aquaculture businesses; nursery/hatchery to produce fingerlings and brood stock in Ikeja and earthen ponds for catfish and Tilapia in Asejire, Iwo and Gambari towns in Oyo State.

Under the arrangement, TAAL will also help small-scale farms increase their fish production by making fingerlings available to them. In fact, the loan was expected to help Triton double its current production capacity of 25,000 metric tonnes with a projection to scale it up to 100,000 metric tonnes in five years.

The bank also has thrown its weight behind Globus Resources Limited, a subsidiary of Triton Group, to flag off the second phase of afforestation programme in Oyo state.
 Nigeria’s current demand capacity for fish is estimated at 2.7million metric tons and the country currently produces 800,000 metric tons.

In addition, Heritage Bank in partnership with the Oyo State government, supported the Oyo State Agricultural Initiative (OYSAI), a programme designed to revive agriculture, boost agro-allied businesses and massive empowerment programme for both youth and women across the state through the creation of thousands of jobs in the sector.

This project spread across 3,000 hectares of land in 28 of the 33 Local Government Areas in the state.
Furthermore, the bank also supported thousands of small holder farms in Kaduna and Zamfara states to benefit from the bank’s financial support for rice and soya beans production under the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP).

Sekibo said the bank’s drive to support rice production was borne out of the conviction that agribusiness is profitable and act of patriotism to achieve food security and sufficiency in the country.
On Heritage Bank’s involvement in the ABP, the bank provides on-lending funding to aggregated farmers to grow various produce that will serve as raw materials to the processors, thereby ensuring market linkages and access to market as well as reduce importation and conserve Nigeria’s external reserves.

In 2016, the sums of N54,892,728.00 and N248,413,350.00 were sourced from CBN and disbursed as loans to 185 rice farmers and 414 soya bean farmers respectively in Kaduna State.

In 2016, N37,995,300.00 was disbursed to 259 rice farmers via 11 cooperatives in Zamfara State.
The bank also executed several partnerships with NIRSAL in 2017 which were in poultry farming, maize cultivation, cassava cultivation, among others.

Also, as part of support for the sector, Heritage Bank Plc signed a N232 million pilot phase of out-growers agreement with Biase Plantations Limited (BPL), and its joint venture partner, PZ Wilmar Limited to produce best-in-class palm oil, using the ABP model.

The first tranche of N113million had been received and disbursed accordingly.
The pilot scheme covers 45 farmers, grouped into four co-operative societies with a land mass of 150 hectares, and the funds to be administered is from BPL.

Youths are also encouraged through the bank’s partnership with CBN under the Youth Innovative Entrepreneurship Development Programme (YIEDP) to start young and create wealth, adding that from available statistics, 80 percent of applicants under the youth empowerment programme choose agriculture as the preferred sector.
It was in recognition of the bank’s track record in this regard that apparently influenced its selection by the CBN as its pilot partner for the execution of the N3billion YIEDP.

The programme is aimed at creating sustainable wealth and employment in the country with focus on dependable job creating sectors such as agricultural value chain (fish farming, poultry, snail farming), cottage industry, mining and solid minerals, creative industry (tourism, arts and crafts), and Information and ICT. The financial institution also supported NatnudO Foods, a food processing company in its determination to make poultry affordable and accessible for the people.

“We have been playing strongly in the education and SMEs. This project syncs with our mission and vision as a bank. The age bracket of 18 to 40 years for the beneficiaries also aligns with our corporate goal, just like the key sectors which include agriculture, ICT and creative industry, identified for the project are pivotal for economic growth,” Sekibo said.

Undeniably, most of the ventures in the agriculture sector fall within the MSMEs of the economy.
These feats will empower the people in addition to boosting Nigeria’s economic revival and leading the country’s foray into modern and sustained industrialisation.

The many innovative supports by Heritage Bank across the country for growth of the productive sector in the agriculture, SME, entertainment and numerous spheres, point to Nigeria’s hitherto untapped rich human potentials.
To sustain this, capacity development has been prioritised these past four years through sound corporate governance, which is not only to churn out competent pool of hands who will ensure sustained proper management of the system, but also an endless supply of confident citizens who will excel anywhere in the world.