Emefiele as Nigerian Farmers’ Best Friend, By Jackson Ugbechie

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When in May, this year, President Muhammadu Buhari reappointed Godwin Emefiele as Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the loudest commendation came from Nigerian farmers. It was not for nothing. Emefiele has through the Anchor Borrowers Programme, ABP, launched in November 2015 byPresident Muhammadu Buhari re-written the sour narrative on local agriculture.

ABP is a low-interest loan scheme which gives ample room and flexibility for payment. Interest was as low as 9 percent but with the advent of the Covid-19, the interest has been adjusted to as low as 5 percent. The loans are disbursed through any of the Deposit Money Banks (DMBs), Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) and Microfinance Banks (MFBs), all of which the programme recognises as Participating Financial Institutions (PFIs).

Through the ABP, the CBN governor did not only change the script from the old unimpressive order, he gave force of action to its performance. He has thus become the best friend of the Nigerian farmer who hitherto had struggled for lack of funds to expand operations.

The ABP was to provide farm inputs in kind and cash to small-holder farmers (SHFs) to boost agricultural production which had been neglected through years since Nigeria discovered that huge cash comes from crude oil. The whole scale dependence on crude oil receipts by successive Nigerian governments created a very unhealthy balance of payment between the country and other nations. The ABP was therefore aimed at reversing the negative economic trend aside achieving food security.

Categories of farmers captured under this programme include those cultivating cereals, cotton, roots and tubers, sugarcane, tree crops, legumes, tomato and livestock. If there is one sector that the Buhari administration has scored the bull’s eye, it is in agriculture. It’s revolutionary and the indices speak for themselves.

Because of this new push by CBN in the area of agriculture, the nation has witnessed a leverage and quantum leap in agricultural produce. Rice, yam, sundry grains, poultry and livestock among others have enjoyed increased production with some farmers exporting their produce. With this has also come a significant improvement in the value chain. More and more farmers have upped their game by producing in the farm and processing for the table.

Thus when Emefiele was reappointed, it was the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), the umbrella body of farmers in the country, that was among the most vocal voices that commended President Buhari for his faith in the CBN governor. AFAN said the reappointment of Emefiele portrays the President as `agriculture friendly’.

Chief Daniel Okafor, the National Vice President of the association, while commending the President for the re-appointment, appealed to Emefiele to continue with the Anchor Borrowers Programme and to ensure that all agriculture commodities associations benefitted from the scheme in his second tenure.

He appealed to the CBN governor to ensure the reduction of interest rates on agriculture loans to between three and five per cent. He wants Emefiele to initiate other agriculture-friendly programmes as well as support the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) with funds to enable farmers access agriculture loans.

Without a doubt, farmers want the Anchor Borrowers Programme to continue, stressing that CBN has been agriculture friendly since Emefiele’s tenure.

Expectedly, CBN under Emefiele is already thinking ahead. Emefiele himself is an unrelenting crusader for backward integration. On several occasions at different meetings with stakeholders including the media, he has never shied away from making a case for local production. The CBN ban on the importations of scores of goods, some of which can be describedas low-hanging products for Nigerian entrepreneurs, and Emefiele’s determination to follow the ban through showed the character and the will of a central banker committed to rescuing his local economy from the treacherous vagaries of a globalized marketplace.

To make good its determination to push beyond the limits in the pursuit of food security and economic sovereignty, the CBN said it would fund 1.6 million farmers across the country in the 2020 wet season through the ABP.

CBN’s Director, Development Finance Department, Yila Yusuf, disclosed this during the flag-off of Farm Inputs Distribution for cotton farmers for the 2020 planting season in Kwali, Abuja . He was represented at the event by Ayoola Quadri. According to Yusuf, the bank would finance the farmers under the bank’s 10 focal commodities which would cut across the value chains.This, he said, would help to create an impact that would guarantee food security in the country.

Through the ABP, CBN had already engaged 256,000 farmers in cotton production for the 2020 planting season, besides other farmers. The CBN commitment to cotton production way back in 2018 is already yielding results. One discernible result, according to operators in the nation’s textile industry, is that in 2019, textile industries had enough supply of cotton produced within the country for their raw materials with some still lying in their warehouses.

“CBN is trying to bring back the glory of textiles of those days where the industry used to employ 10 million people across the country.

“In the 80s, we lost that glory because of smuggling where our country was turned to a dumping ground of textiles materials. It is an unfortunate situation, about five billion dollars was spent annually on the importation of textiles,” he said. Ordinarily, this is money that would have been ploughed into the development of infrastructure.

But Emefiele and his team are working hard to reverse this economic hemorrhage by ensuring that the entire value chain in the industry was funded for the benefit of the people and the country. Many Nigerians have lamented the total neglect of the textile industry. Before the introduction of the ABP, most of the textile factories across the country had closed shops. Some had both the factory floor and their numerous houses converted to car lots by car dealers; some as warehouses for imported rice and other exotic products.

In the aspect of growing local rice, the impact of ABP has been outstanding. Conservative estimates by international agencies place Nigeria’s annual rice production at 3.2 million metric tonnes. However, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RiFAN) claims it has established that Nigeria now leads local rice production in Africa. RiFAN President, Aminu Goronyo, insiststhat Nigeria has two rice farming seasons in a year. In each season, 4 million metric tonnes of rice is produced. RiFAN says a good 12 million Nigerians are engaged in the production of the 8 million metric tonnes.

By extrapolation, it means that in the rice value chain, about 12 million Nigerians have been positively impacted by rice production alone. These same people still have other engagements in farming aside rice production.

For clearer understanding, the rice value chain actors includeinputs dealers, farmers, paddy traders, parboilers, millers, milled rice marketers and consumers. A study on value chain analysis of rice in Kano River Irrigation Project (KRIP) Kano State, by Isma’ila Yunusa Ilu explained the true essence of the rice value chain to include both male and female, literate and the illiterate. The study covered an average farm holding of 2.6 hectares withyield of about 2.9 tons/ha.

Further breakdown of the study outcome showed that more than 80 percent of the estimated 189,630 tons of paddy produced in the study area was sold. The remaining was used for home consumption and seeds. About 156,000 tons of paddy wasinjected into the market through wholesalers (65%), rural assemblers (15%) and rural retailers (2%). The paddy moved to the millers for milling. The milled rice is sold to both urban and rural wholesalers. This is how a typical rice value chain looks like. It is a wide network of gainful employment for different categories of persons. This is the sense in which the 12 million persons engaged in the rice value chain is feasible.

Aside the statistics, the reality in the markets speaks to the rice revolution. For the first time in our history, Nigerian rice are sold in neighbourhood open markets and in mega stores. For the first time, our local rice gets to the market well packaged and properly branded. Rice millers are not ashamed to emblazon their names and addresses on rice bags. For the first time, a functional and effective value chain has been created. Rice distributors are busy. And retailers are confidently urging consumers to buy local rice.

Nigerians must not overlook the contribution of CBN. Emefieleand his team at CBN have set the nation on the path to self-sufficiency. Not yet Eldorado, but if the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, Emefiele and his team have paved the path for the nation. The next is sustenance to ensure that locally produced agricultural goods are readily available, accessible and easily affordable.

… Ugbechie, a Public Affairs Analyst wrote in from Abuja.

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