Since 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari has sunk in billions of naira into the agricultural sector, which has suffered lack of funding for many decades.
His administration came up with a number of schemes to promote domestic production of food and cut down import dependence, which saps the country of billions of dollars in foreign reserves.
Some of these programmes include the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI) funded from NSIA account; the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) and Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria; National Rice and Wheat Task Force; National Livestock Transformation Plan, besides many other projects co-funded with donor agencies.
However, some of these laudable programmes are enmeshed in corruption cases or have been hijacked by people who are not real farmers.
- Troops kill 5 bandits, recover arms in Kaduna
- Why traditional authority is key to sustainable peace – 110-year-old Sarkin Beli
Dark cloud over N1.9trn ABP
The Anchor Borrowers Program established in 2016 initially set aside N40bn to support farmers by offering single digit interest rate loans. Since then, over N1.5trn has been disbursed through mid-2022 from this program, with CBN providing a rising share of banking system agricultural financing.
The IMF puts the total figure at N1.9trn with only 25 percent of the fund so far recovered whereas N1.4trn yet to be recovered, according to a report on selected issues released last month.
The CBN, through its Acting Director, Corporate Communications Department, Dr. AbdulMumin Isa, however, disputed that claim, stressing that it has recovered about 52 percent of the funds.
Shortly after the launch of the programme in 2016, several commodities associations were formed by people who do not have reputation in the country’s agric sector just to access the fund. Some groups have numerous associations under one crop.
On March 16, 2023, the Lagos Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC arraigned Uche Chigozie Edwin, the Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN) over N1.4bn fraud.
The association is also a beneficiary of the CBN anchor borrower programme.
The commission in a press statement said Edwin and other officials conspired to use the sum of N1, 473,367,046.04 (One billion, four hundred and seventy-three million, three hundred and sixty-seven thousand, forty-six-naira, four kobo), property of the Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN).
Although he pleaded not guilty to the 11-count charge, the case beams a spotlight on many leaders of these commodities associations, including banks officials who administer these funds.
N5.6bn wheat project saga
The Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) was created to de-risk the agricultural lending system in the country.
However, allegation of financial misappropriation raised many issues regarding adjudication of loans, which cost some NIRSAL officials their jobs.
Daily Trust last year carried out an investigation on how N5.6bn wheat project loan guaranteed by NIRSAL for three investor companies for the cultivation of 20,000 hectares of dry season wheat in Kano and Jigawa was allegedly diverted by the companies in connivance with NIRSAL officials.
Presidential Fertiliser Initiative conundrum
In order to ensure domestic fertilizer production capability, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) in December 2016 to be implemented by the NSIA, through its subsidiary NSIA-NPK Limited.
The scheme, which was developed as part of Nigeria-Morocco bilateral agreement for raw material, came up with NPK 20:20:10 as a potential fertilizer to reach farmers on time and in advance of the wet farming season.
The program claimed to have made it easier for local producers to produce and distribute 1.5 million metric tons (about 30 million 50kg bags) of NPK 20:10:10 fertilizer to the farmers at the price of N5, 500.
However, allegation of corruptions in the system triggered several petitions of diversion of funds worth about N300 billion against some officials of FEPSAN, NSIA and NAIC under the scheme, forcing the federal government to restructure the programme.
For two years now, the programme has been a shadow of itself and fertiliser, far beyond the reach of many farmers as a bag is now above N25,000.
Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday on some of these programmes, the president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Architect Kabiru Ibrahim, said initially the Anchor Borrower Program was laudable until farmers began to complain that they were not reached directly and that the program was dominated by non-farmers.
“There were pyramids of rice and maize being launched in Abuja and some states to showcase the seeming success of the program but the food system still remains severely challenged showing that the scheme is not entirely successful and therefore needs reappraisal,” he said.
Arc Kabiru advised the incoming government to overhaul the scheme and ensure that it reaches the real farmers through AFAN, adding “all defaulters should be made to pay back the loan and any official found complicit in short changing the scheme should be held to account. The loan repayment is abysmal and therefore needs to be properly examined.”
On the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, Architect Kabiru said it started on a good note, adding that “farmers enjoyed the subsidy package directly and 20:10:10 fertilizers were sold at N5,500 in all the nooks and crannies of the country and the farmers were very happy. In 2020, when we suffered COVID-19, the fertilizer was further subsidized to N5,000 per bag as against N5,500 before COVID-19.
“In 2021 when the NSIA complained that it could no longer support the subsidy regime and insisted that the blenders should buy the constituents and sell the blends directly to the farmers, the whole thing changed and the farmers got the fertilizer at N11,300 and in some cases N11,500.
“In 2022, due to the Russia-Ukraine war, the fall of the Naira and transportation costs, the prices of all fertilizer blends skyrocketed to N25,000 and up to N30,000 in some cases,” he explained.
The AFAN president is of the view that the incoming government should ensure that the real farmers enjoy the subsidy directly by resuscitating the PFI and implementing the scheme properly and transparently.
Speaking on NIRSAL, he said “the scheme was mismanaged from the start by deviating from de-risking agric lending to claiming that it could give loans directly to the farmers. It was bedeviled by fraud and its MD was sacked and is facing investigation.
“The scheme should be put in a proper footing and managed properly as well as engage in its actual mandate of de-risking agricultural lending,” he said.
Incoming administration has a lot to do
The AFAN president said that the incoming administration has a lot of work to do to make Nigeria food sufficient and thereby ultimately attain food security by resuscitating the National Food Reserve Agency and implementing the National Agricultural Development Fund.
He advised the incoming president to appoint a Minister of Agriculture on merit and make sure the appointee knows what to do and ensure that “all agencies with cross cutting responsibilities in agriculture work in synergy instead of working at cross- purposes.”
He called for revitalization of the Commodity Exchange and to make it private sector led and implement AfCFTA (Africa Continental Free Trade Area) properly by incentivizing agribusiness on the continent so that Nigerian farmers will benefit more.
The AFAN president also said that “an all-year-round farming program should be encouraged by investing in irrigation, mechanization, smart Agricultural practices, and STI (Science Technology and Innovation) to attain the desired results by the incoming administration.”
Again, expert cautions farmers against panic planting
Dr Joseph Hussaini, Director, Technical Services, Gombe State Agricultural Development Programme (GADP), has cautioned farmers in the state against planting their crops early as the wet season approaches.
Hussaini gave the advice in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Gombe on Wednesday.
He said that the advice became vital in view of the increase in panic planting by some farmers on a yearly basis.
The director also said the advice was based on the huge losses they incur as a result of planting immediately after the first rainfall.
He said it was not safe for farmers to commence planting when the rainfall is once or twice in a week.
Hussaini said the nature of the soil in some parts of the state may not sustain moisture for three or four days before the next rainfall.
He also said that the right time to plant was when rainfall becomes well established and “by established rainfall, I mean when the rainfall is three times per week.
“The onset of rain comes in several locations in different months, according to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) prediction; the rains might start around March in the Southern parts of the country.
“In the Northern parts, the rain will be established in late May and early June.
“So, I don’t advise farmers to rush into planting until the rains are well established because those who rushed to plant with the early rains, end up planting again.
“Some farmers do panic planting, saying now that the rains fell, let’s plant early; they gamble with the rainfall and sometimes it favours them.”
Hussaini said with the impact of climate change, it had become challenging to predict the exact period for farmers to embark on planting.
He said that farmers do not get enough returns on investments because they spend more money in replanting after failed first attempt at planting.
Hussaini advised farmers in the state to embrace the use of certified seeds as approved by the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), to boost productivity and improve their incomes.
“In view of the short rainfall in the state, I advise farmers to go for extra early maturing seeds which take 60 to 70 days to mature or the early maturing ones which take 90 days,” he said.
He commended the state government for providing funds for agricultural researches to improve the sector.