By Ali Abubakar Sadiq, Kano
A few months back I was invited, as a journalist, by Bashir Tofa under the auspices of KCCI to attend a meeting which comprises of the leadership of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, The Manager of NIRSAL in Kano and some other seasoned Bankers and academicians.
The Director of RIFAN KANO complained that from last season Anchor Borrower program of the Buhari Administration they have disbursed about 10 billion Naira to their members in Kano state and so far they were only able to recoup 100 million (that is a meager 1%).
The program was marred by politics considering the real farmers are not really the beneficiaries, as politicians send their cronies to collect the implements which are sold immediately after collection at half their value.
A Professor in the meeting informed us that he knew of a warehouse in Kano that is full to the brim of those products acquired by an individual from the beneficiaries. He cited an example that a pumping machine being released at 38 Thousand Naira under the scheme is sold at mere 14 thousand Naira. Tell me, how could the original beneficiary ever repay the loan he squandered on the day he acquired it? Why would government continue to waste tax payer’s resources in a program that proved wasteful and counter- productive?.
If all the calls in the past to wake up from our over-dependence on oil fell on deaf ears, the Covid-19 Pandemic should be a wake-up call and knock some sense into us to realize that our salvation as a country lies in agriculture. We had been giving this sector lip service for too long and our history should have been a yardstick for us to revert back to agriculture. When the colonials came, the first thing they concentrated on was developing our agricultural base and pushing it to be the number one forex earner for the country. The discovery of oil made us abandon agriculture and relies solely on oil as we continue to operate a mono-economy to the detriment of all sectors.
Agriculture is an industry of value chain and to maximize its impact we must refocus on streamlining our agricultural value chain as soon as possible if we are to survive the post covid world. Our policy makers have failed to truly realize our security goes hand in hand with agriculture which in recent years has been threatened by the insurgency of Boko Haram, farmer/herder clashes and banditry. In 2014 and 2018 both the Jonathan and Buhari administration released 1 billion dollars each to beef up security and ironically we have never been so insecure as in those times.
If government had allocated one billion dollars into the agricultural value chain, I bet our socio-economic insecurity would been lower than what is obtainable. We have been missing the roadmap which is so clear and we must go back and implement it if we are to wiggle out of our current economic crises. With the border closure for months, all the hardship we and our neighbors had been subjected to will come to naught if we don’t invest in agriculture the right way.
Unfortunately the government is embarking once again on another wasteful expenditure that may go the way of the Anchor Borrower program as recently the Federal Government approved a loan of $1.2 billion Dollars for Agric mechanization. Even though mechanization is a key link in the agricultural value chain we need to realize that one must build from ground up not the other way.
The agricultural value chain must be addressed if not holistically but from ground up i.e from the basics.
No country in the world jokes with its subsidy in farming, as America can go to trade/combat war with the whole world if need be, rather than compromise its farming subsidy. Here in Nigeria we need farming subsidy not anchor borrower program or tractor lease (the latest plan). Government should create farm markets in all farming hubs location and sell directly to farmers fertilizers, seedlings, insecticides/pesticides at a very subsidize rates. As that is the only way to cut farmers cost and made their farming sustainable.
We also need to look at our lands that are arable and create the needed infrastructure around them. For instance the Northern region is blessed with tens of Dams and multiple river systems that are lying idle for generations, we must open up channels and create clusters of hectorage around all those dams and rivers systems. That way we can not solely relies on rainfall for our agricultural products. Every region has peculiar cash crops that could be farmed all year round.
The next stage is to map out a clear policy under River Basin development authorities and other agencies to ensure that land around the dams and river system is allocated to real farmers on merit and first come first serve.
We must steer away from Anchor borrower and similar program and instead empowers BOA (Bank of Agriculture) and NACB (Nigerian Agricultural Cooperative Bank) to administer one digit loan (not more than 5%) directly to any farmer that is willing to borrow and finance his farming. We must make loan easily accessible to any farmer and make them responsible for their loans repayment as is done in any commercial bank, it is the standard practice the world over.
NIRSAL should continue to be funded enough to provide loan for mechanize farmers to buy implements and machinery under the same rate. With adequate funding of Nirsal, government can open branches in all the 774 local government and farmers can access loans for mechanization directly instead of borrowing $1.2 billion to buy tractors and build processing plants.
That should be an undertaking from private or public-private-partnership not government.
NAIC (Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Company) should insure all farmers in the country and make it a requisite for assessing loans by farmers. That way, farmers that took loans are covered in case of natural disaster in a way that they can repay back their loans.
Government must create a sort of marketing board that should be responsible for the provision of seeds and seedlings, grain reservoirs in every farming hub and to be responsible for buying stocks directly from farmers. This stage of the chain will be one of the most important as it will be liaising with institutes in procurement of seeds and seedlings that can give maximum yield to farmers as well as stabilization of prices in the market by buying off farmers and reserving the grains in government silo’s (which are slowly fading away from government ownership).
With adequate grain reservoirs across the country filled with ,grains reserve we will be heading towards price stability and food security which is the number one security that paved way for other securities.
Considering the uproar that the ranching system generates in the polity when it was mulled, the Federal Government should bring out incentives for state governments that wish to implement the policy, as the ranching industry has the potentiality to generate billions of dollars for each state that adopts it.
If our governors could create PPP around the ranch system, it could easily replace the petro-dollars in a few years, beside the opportunity to stop herdsmen migrating perennially to the south (their children able to attend schools in the ranches), create thousands of jobs in diary and meat processing industries, opportunities to create factories around the ranches for packaging of perishable products like tomatoes, onions, fruits and pepper.
If one visit Challawa Goje Dam, the largest in Kano, one could cry for the sheer wastage despite the crude poverty in the area. You cannot see a single boat or canoe ploughing the vast expanse of the dam catching fish. Imagine the tonnage of fish that could be harvested year round in this dam and all it needed was the will to invest in fish farming on this and similar dams. The northwestern region of this country with tens of dams, could supply the whole African continent with fish all year round if only there is the right investment in fish farming. How long are we going to continue to wallow in poverty atop these God-given treasures? China today, after exhausting all their dams and ponds in farming fish, are now embarking on fish farming in a grander scale unheard of. Yes, they are now creating football field size fish ponds and transported to high seas as the sampling were left in the natural environment to grow and be harvested and it made them the largest producers of fish in the world with 62%.
Covid-19 should be our wake-up call to stop wasting our resources for the benefit of few. The $1.2 Billion should be channeled to the value chain and starting from the basics as outlined above. With proper implementation, in a year or two we will definitely see result but the tractor rental is bound to fail in a few season considering our nepotic and corrupt tendencies in looking at whatever that is provided by government as part of our national cake, just as the Anchor Borrower program re-iterates.
We need to invest in a system that would be sustainable not something we know is bound to fail. As a seasoned farmer Sir, you know better than most of us what it takes to make agriculture successful at a personal level, thus we expect that experience and commitment translated at the national level and hope in a few years we can look back and thank our stars that a farmer given the opportunity has turned around agriculture in our country.
Ali Abubakar Sadiq
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