The growing number of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s rice pyramid projects across the country validates the success of the apex bank’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), writes TONY CHUKWUNYEM
Although the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s unveiling of its rice pyramids in Ekiti State, last Tuesday, was clearly not the first time the apex bank was holding such an event in the South West geo-political zone of the country, Ekiti’s hosting of the unveiling still seemed to have attracted a lot more attention than usual. Ordinarily, given that the rice pyramids display is one of the achievements of CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) – arguably the best known of the regulator’s intervention programmes – they tend to get a lot of attention from stakeholders. Perhaps, the Ekiti event (unveiling of the 2020 wet season harvest aggregation and flagoff of the 2021 wet season input distribution in the South-West geo-political zone under ABP), was different because it took place against the background of criticisms in some quarters that CBN’s interventions in the agricultural sector were tilted in favour of a certain section of the country. Indeed, CBN’s response to the criticism, through its Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele’s speech at the event, grabbed the headlines.
Interventions not tilted
in favour of any region He said: “Only a few weeks ago, I read in a newspaper that our agriculture intervention is targeted at a particular section of the country. This is an unfair statement to make. For record purposes, southern parts of the country have been massively supported by our interventions. “Of between N600 billion tand N700 billion disbursed via ABP, over N300 billion was disbursed to companies operating in southern parts of the country. Over N10 billion disbursed to Lagos State for 32 tonnes per hour rice mill. Lagos, Kogi, Niger and Kwara have been supported to produce rice paddies to feed the mills. We’re also supporting cocoa and other crops in the South.” He described ABP as a game changer for financing smallholder farmers, noting that the programme would ultimately help in achieving some of the goals of the Federal Government’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP). He disclosed that the implementation of ABP in the past five years had led to significant improvements in agricultural outputs as well as increase in incomes in the nation’s rural communities. “From inception till date, we have financed 3,107,890 farmers for the cultivation of 3,801,397 hectares across 21 commodities through 23 participating financial institutions in the 36 states of the federation and FCT. “The achievements recorded have also helped to show that Nigeria can indeed achieve selfsufficiency in the production of staple food items within the shortest possible time. The positive impact of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme can be seen in all our agrarian communities as it has brought hope to the farming population through the timely delivery of agricultural inputs and the provision of a guaranteed market for their outputs at a market determined price. ABP has been able to support some of our macroeconomic objectives by enabling more employment opportunities, driving financial inclusion and improving access to finance in our rural communities,” Emefiele said. Continuing, he said: “Under the 2020 wet season Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN)-CBN partnership, we financed 221,450 farmers for the cultivation of 221,450 hectares in 32 states. The pyramids being unveiled today are part of the harvest from the various fields from the South-West and other neighbouring states to demonstrate the spread of the movement and provide evidences that rice production is viable in all states of the federation. “Beyond RIFAN, we have also supported a number of prime/ private anchors. Omoluabi Farms (Ekiti), Time Sellers (Ogun), Truechem (Ogun), Wems Agro (Ondo) and many more awaiting disbursements for the 2021 wet season.” The CBN governor, who noted that the implementation of ABP, like any other smallholder financing programme, had faced a lot of challenges, such as prolonged poor productivity per hectare, poor adoption of modern agronomic practices, lack of adequate mechanisation support services, post-harvest losses, among others, however, said the apex bank and its partners had continuously improved on their learning experiences and “now have a clear line of sight that these challenges are surmountable with proper planning, timely execution of plans and synergy among all stakeholders.” According to him, “we have added several layers of control to improve on transparency and accountability among all stakeholders and what you are witnessing today is a demonstration of our growth and a strong indication of the enormous potential in the country’s agricultural space. It is important to note that we are still a far cry away from achieving our desired objective, but the growth process reaffirms our belief in the potential inherent in our agricultural sector.” In fact, the consensus among stakeholders is that although CBN has introduced several intervention programmes to boost the country’s agricultural sector in the last few years, none has been as impactful as ABP. Launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 17, 2015, ABP was aimed at creating a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers of the required key agricultural commodities, including, cereals (rice, maize, wheat etc.); tree crops (oil palm, cocoa, rubber etc.); legumes (soybean, sesame seed, cowpea etc.); roots and tubers (cassava, potatoes, yam, ginger etc.); cotton, sugarcane, tomato, and livestock (fish, poultry, ruminants), among others. New Telegraph had reported that in his speech in March this year, during the flag-off of the 2020 wet season harvest aggregation and 2020 dry season input distribution in Kebbi, organised by CBN-RIFAN as part of the fifth anniversary of ABP, Emefiele had noted that ABP highlighted the need for all stakeholders to sustain current efforts spearheaded by the apex bank to galvanise agricultural production towards meeting the requirements of the country’s growing population. He emphasised that Nigeria was naturally blessed to meet her food requirements and had no reason to continually repeat mistakes of the past, especially with respect to the neglect of agriculture. He said: “The rhetoric around neglect of previous years will remain part of our history and the best time to correct those mistakes is now and every stakeholder must contribute their quota to guarantee the realisation of these national targets. “COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns globally have shown that nations only export out of their reserves. Let us start building our own reserves now.”
Similarly, commenting on ABP in a chat with journalists in March, the Director, Development Finance at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Yila Yusuf, revealed that 3.8 million farmers had so far benefited from ABP. He said: “We have to commend President Buhari for putting ABP in place. Over 3.8 million farmers have so far benefited from the programme. The multiplier effect on the economy is huge. ABP has helped farmers improve their yields. For maize, we now do five metric tonnes per hectare and for rice, we’re improving from four metric tonnes to 10 metric tonnes per hectare. “Apart from jobs that have been created, there is also productivity, which is important to CBN. We also look at how we can keep prices stable because food security is very important. A lot of countries went into protectionist mood due to COVID-19, if we did not have this programme, we would be in serious trouble.” Analysts point out that prior to the introduction of ABP, Nigeria used to be the biggest importer of rice from countries such as Thailand and India. However, the programme has not only resulted in the nation’s rice import quantity declining by 3.7 million metric tonnes, it has also made Nigeria the biggest producer of rice on the continent, according to the Director-General of the Africa Rice Center, Dr. Harold Roy-Macauley. CBN reports also indicate that ABP has added over six million metric tonnes to rice supply in the country and created millions of direct and indirect jobs
However, the consensus in financial circles at the weekend was that while the rice pyramids in different parts of the country are an indication that ABP is boosting agricultural productivity, the programme is seriously threatened by the inability of the Nigeria Customs’ service to stop the inflow of banned food imports as well as the insecurity challenge that is scaring farmers away from their farms.