By Jimoh Babatunde
Farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector have demanded that the planned integration of non-interest credit facilities into the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, ABP, the Targeted Credit Facility, TCF, and other agricultural credit schemes by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, should be exclusively opened to genuine farmers through their associations.
They warned that impostors and politicians should be prevented from hijacking the scheme meant for real farmers to boost food production and reduce poverty amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The apex bank and other stakeholders had recently launched an initiative to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the country by increasing food production by about 10 million metric tonnes within a year.
The joint venture, in partnership with the private sector through some out-growing schemes, involves farmers and off-takers to ensure value chain development of the crops, boost farmers’ income through access to improved inputs.
The CBN had disclosed that the job and food increase expected from the scheme would be achieved through zero-interest inputs financing options such as fertiliser, seeds, seedlings, pesticides and other farm inputs in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
Speaking with Vanguard, the stakeholders noted that CBN’s intervention, if handled well, will create jobs and reverse the rural-urban migration.
A former Regional Coordinator of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored Cassava: Adding Value for Africa, CAVA, Professor Kolawole Adebayo, expressed satisfaction about the zero-interest scheme.
He said: “If implemented to achieve the stated objective, it will be great. The impact on Nigerian food systems will be immense.
“I truly hope that all the ancillary requirements to ensure that farmers make the best use of the fund will also be concurrently addressed.”
Also, a cassava value chain agronomy specialist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, Dr Richardson Okechukwu, said it is an “excellent way to facilitate agricultural enterprises that have for long been neglected.”
He added that the government should ensure recipients are linked to off-takers and utilise improved seeds of good varieties along with quality inputs. He also suggested mechanisation as important to agriculture.
“A shift from hoe and cutlass is long overdue. This intervention, if handled well, will create jobs and reverse rural-urban migration.
“Beneficiary farmers should endeavour to repay their loans, which luckily, are interest-free, to ensure the facility is extended to other farmers.”
Project Manager, IITA, BASICS-II and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, FUNAAB, Professor Lateef Sanni, also commented on the scheme.
He said: “This is a laudable programme that has the potential of helping over 2 million farmers between July 2020 and October 2021 in the first instance, and may snowball into helping over 5 million farmers from 2021 onward.”
Sanni added that the non-interest facility would remove the aspect of five to nine percent of the economics of production from the fund to be loaned to farmers by CBN.
If farmers have access to quality seeds, agricultural inputs like herbicide and fertiliser and apply good agricultural practices, he said there is an assurance that such farmers would get a double yield of cassava, maize and rice harvest.
“Production cost will also be lowered, thereby, earning more income per hectare,” he said.
Chairman of Oyo State chapter of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, RIFAN, Mr Samuel Akinade, said the scheme is a good start, adding that experience had shown that avoidable food imports do take away a bulk of the country’s foreign reserves.
His words: “If this is properly channelled, it will encourage the smallholder farmers to stay on the farm. They will feel the sense of belonging as their operations are recognised as important.”
The rice farmer added that the country would be able to use the available reserves only on very essential items that the country could not produce locally and, as time goes on, it would earn more for the nation.
For Kebbi State Chairman of RIFAN, Mr. Augie Sahabi, the initiative is a welcome development, saying “I hope that steps will be taken to ensure that only true farmers will be registered to benefit.”
He said the removal of interest from the loan would attract more Muslim farmers who hitherto avoided bank loans with interest due to religious prohibition.
Uchegbu Chijioke, Chairman, Poultry Association of Nigeria, PAN, Imo State chapter, added: “This is a welcome development so far as it will target farmers in their areas of comparative advantage.
“Example of this is for the government to look into geopolitical agricultural advantaged products such as poultry fishery, cow, piggery, fruits and vegetables, maize, tomatoes and potatoes among others.
“This should be driven by the commodity associations in collaboration with agricultural development programmes of each state. Unless we strengthen these associations, no funding will reach the target farmers.”