President Muhammadu Buhari says Nigeria cannot continue to spend huge sums on the importation of food items that the country can produce.
He made the comment recently in Birnin Kebbi at the inauguration of the 2015/16 Anchor Borrowers’ Dry Season Rice Planting Programme.
Anchor Borrowers’ Programm is an initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) aimed at creating an ecosystem to link out-growers (small holder farmers) to local processors.
It will boost banks’ financing to the agricultural sector, enhance capacity utilisation of agricultural firms involved in the production of identified commodities, increase the productivity and incomes of farmers.
It also aims at building the capacity of banks in agricultural lending to farmers and entrepreneurs in the value chain as well as reducing commodity importation.
Under the programme, the apex bank is setting aside more than N20 billion for disbursement as loans to boost rice and wheat production in 14 participating states at 9.0 per cent single digit interest rate per annum.
The states are Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Admawa, Plateau, Lagos, Ogun, Cross-Rivers and Ebonyi.
Buhari opined that the importance of agriculture in the economy could not be over emphasised.
He recalled that prior to the advent of oil, the country survived on agricultural production with huge economic potential from our palm oil, groundnuts, cotton and rubber plantations.
``During this period, the economies of our sub-region were built on agricultural activities and our Gross Domestic Product grew steadily.
``The discovery of oil was expected to complement our agricultural productivity, but we allowed oil to almost completely replace it.
``The current trend in the international oil market has brought to the fore the urgent need to diversify both the productive and revenue bases of our economy and conserve our foreign reserve by limiting our appetite for importation of goods that we can easily produce locally.
``This means there are limited resources available to government at all levels and hence economic diversification is no longer an option for us as a nation; it is the only way to reclaim economic momentum and the drive to prosperity.
``One way to do this is to go back to land and develop our agricultural production,’’ he said.
The president said that Anchor Borrowers’ Programme could create millions of jobs for the youth across the country, expressing optimism that the scheme would uplift the quality of life of peasants and small holder farmers in the country.
``I am hopeful that the programme will be a way that small holder farmers are financed across the country.
``In 2014 total demand for rice was 6.1million metric tonnes. Out of this number, 2.6 million metric tonnes was produced locally while the rest were imported.
He, nonetheless, pointed out that while focusing on agriculture, there was the need to adopt improved varieties that would guaranty better yield and improved nutrition to enhance the standard of Nigerian farmers.
Buhari promised that the government would provide much needed enabling environment, policies and incentives for private sector investments to unlock the potential of Nigeria agriculture.
``Youths will be attracted to the block businesses along the entire agricultural value chain --farm, storage, processing, financial services and logistics,’’ he said.
He also appealed to traditional rulers to encourage rice farming as part of efforts to diversify the nation’s economy and discourage over-reliance on oil revenue.
He said the monarchs; as custodians of culture and close to the populace, especially rural farmers, should ensure rice farming was embraced to assist the government in diversifying the economy.
According to him, the project is aimed at diversifying the dependence on oil to generate revenue for the development of the agriculture, education and health sectors.
He also said the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria would ensure the successful implementation of rice farming.
The president said the Federal Government would ensure that the scheme would provide food security, boost revenue generation, employment and end reduce poverty.
Pledging support for the programme, the Emir Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar, assured the president that he would support the rice project, especially as it would improve the economic status of the rural farmers.
Addressing the farmers, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, commended his immediate predecessor, Prof. Akinwunmi Adesina, for the innovations he introduced into the nation’s agricultural system and promised to deepen the innovation.
He, however, noted that in spite of the good intentions of the former minister, ``corruption still crept into agriculture under him.
``People supplied sands as fertiliser while fake seeds were sold to farmers and there were companies with no traceable addresses’’.
He observed that many farmers lost their investments due to corruption, insisting that the present administration would not give room for such situations.
Throwing more lights on the programme, the Governor of CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele, said that the apex bank was concerned about the high foreign exchange spent on the importation of food items that could be produced in Nigeria.
He said that the bank had set aside more than N20 billion from the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund for disbursement as loans to farmers.
``The programme will advance the status of many small holder farmers to commercial or large growers with attendant increase in agricultural productivity or farm income.
``The top four income commodities in Nigeria, which include rice and wheat, consume over one trillion naira exchange annually.
``Relying heavily on food importation fuels domestic inflation, depletes foreign reserves and create unemployment in Nigeria.
``The anchor programme will link rice farmers with reputable millers for off-take of every grain of paddy produced,’’ Emefiele said.
To add value to the initiative, the Kebbi Government assured the president of the success of the pilot programme by distributing quality seeds to the farmers.
Dr Nababa Adamu, the Permanent Secretary in the state’s Ministry of Agriculture, noted that more than 10,000 bags of wheat seedlings had been distributed to the farmers.
According to him, the distribution is part of the state government’s commitment to the success of the programme aimed at boosting commercial wheat farming in the state.
He also said the state government had obtained the assurance of wheat millers to buy the commodity at market rates from farmers.
The permanent secretary said the state government would also provide vital farm inputs such as fertiliser, insecticides, herbicides, irrigation machines and funds, to further motivate the farmers.
Agriculturalists, nonetheless, urged the Federal Government to involve the private sector in the implementation processes of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme to ensure its sustainability.
They also propose that indigenous and multinational companies operating in Nigeria should be made to set aside a certain percentage of their profits for the programme’s funding.