By babajide komolafe
In a bid to reduce foreign exchange spending on food importation through enhanced funding for agriculture, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has approved funding for additional rice mills in the country. Meanwhile the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh has said that the federal government may soon stop importation of rice into the country given the increased rice production across the country facilitated by the CBN backed Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP).
The duo spoke in Awka, Anambra State, alongside, Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano and Governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar Bagudu while fielding questions from journalists during inspection tour of the 2,600 hectares rice plantation of Coscharis Farms.
The rice plantation is one of the rice projects funded through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the CBN, which is aimed at boosting food production in the country. Under the programme, the CBN has provided N15.7 billion loan to 76,251 smallholder farmers producing and supplying rice to five private anchors (rice millers) in five states.
Emefiele while commending Cocharis Farms, said: ”We started this with him, almost about two years ago when we granted him a N2 billion Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS). With his own resources, he added to it and that is why he is where he is today. Those are the type of things we need to continue to encourage. And about a month ago, he came to the CBN that we need to come and see what he has done with the CACS fund we gave to him.
“I must say that I am delighted that he has used the money well. And when he came, he requested for more money because he wants to have the capacity to produce rice all-year round, which is three harvests in a year. To do so, he needs irrigation and he needs his mill.
And I am happy to say yesterday, the Committee of Governors of CBN gave approval for him to set up a mill here and also set up his irrigation. That is the kind of support we would give people who have shown interest, because there is no foreign exchange to import food, when we can produce food in the country.”
Ban on rice imports
Ogbeh commented on the Coscharis rice plantation saying, “As we go round we began to have great confidence in our country. I think Nigeria’s independence is just beginning to be established because unless a country can feed itself and feed well, every other dream can’t be fulfilled. This is amazing. I have seen similar things in Kebbi and I am seeing this big one.
I am very proud of Coscharis and the effort the Governor is making to support him. In another year, we will have no need to import one grain of rice into this country. In fact we may stop rice importation sooner than that. It is final word I am telling you, because Nigerians have proven that they can do it and I am proud that I can see this thing in Anambra.
“The rice sector alone will take care of two million people before we began to satisfy our needs of 8 million tonnes. This is heavily mechanised, the smaller farmers don’t have all these machineries but they contribute immensely. So jobs, jobs and jobs, the millers are there, the marketers, the transporters, the distributors, all of them will be part of this business, just for rice.
We have not even talked about cassava, or maize, or sorghum, or millets, beans, yams so the future is huge, the jobs are there.” The Chairman of Coscharis Group, Mr. Cosmas Maduka, in his remarks, stated that Coscharis Farm Limited will provide full time employment for about 3000 people as well as drive ancillary industrial growth in the state when all the phases of the investment are complete.
He said the farm phase of the business currently employs over 250 people, adding that the rice mill and irrigation components of the investment for which the CBN has given approval in principle to finance, will significantly enhance the capacity of the business to create more jobs and boost economic activities.
Maduka however called on other arms of the federal government to be more responsive to requests from the private sector to enable them achieve their set business goals in good time.
“Although the government is providing support, a lot more assistance is still required from the government. Government should respond to our needs and requests faster to help us meet our investment goals. For example, we have made a request for waivers for the importation of our farm equipment and it has been lying there for over a year without any approval. The government should respond faster,” he said.
He commended the CBN for agreeing to provide financing for its rice mill and irrigation, while also thanking the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for the decisions to allow the company use its silos for the storage of grains harvested from the farm.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra stated, “We are hoping to catch up with Kebbi. We are currently doing 210,000 metric tonnes. We call on CBN to support Coscharis Farms and other small holder farms because they are structured here. Through the agro-intervention funds we got N1.5 billion and disbursed it and now we want N5 billion. There is much money in farming- you feed yourself and sell others”
On his part, Governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, said: “We are happy that since last year the President launched CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ scheme in Kebbi, the State governments have been keying into the project.
It is evidenced again when Mr Cosmas Maduka told us how the State governor intervened on the brewing controversy over the land, which he acquired 29 years ago. He also told of the state government’s support with infrastructure. This shows that the president’s call, with the support of the Minister of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria was heard. With these developments, it is obvious that we are on our way to rice sufficiency.”