By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As Nigeria’s agricultural sector continues to grapple with several challenges to boost food production and attain self-sufficiency along various value chains, the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Izegbuwa Farms Limited, Chief Patrick Eholor, weekend, accused commercial banks as a major frustration to farmers’ productivity.
Eholor made the claim during an interview with Vanguard, where he lamented that most farmers are kept at the level they are due to conditions commercial banks have deliberately given to them, which the nation is yet to attain self-sufficiency along several value chains as the country is yet to be a net exporter of most of her agricultural produce abroad.
He also lamented and alleged that policies of the government in the agricultural sector are not favourable to farmers, because there is no support from the government to ameliorate the plight of farmers.
He said: “The federal government has been saying it is going to provide money for the farmers and assist them including fertilizers, then the government discouraged them that fertilizer is not going to be given because terrorists have mastered how to use fertilizer in manufacturing explosives to cause havoc.
“For me it gets complicated but I am not confused about it. If the government was responsible for the loan they are giving to farmers, the farmers would have been able to access it and Nigeria would have become a country that exports organic food to every other country because we are blessed with good land.
“We still have the opportunity to kick-start our economy if people are encouraged to go back to their farms legitimately and if assisted, and the money given to those who are in need.
“I think the people who are problematic to our agricultural sector and farmers are the commercial banks because they hoard the money and put it on interest yielding accounts, which they loan their cronies at the detriment of genuine farmers and that is why we are having the problem we are having today.
“The banks are the ones frustrating farmers in this country because they hoard the money meant for farmers by not giving them loans including those with capacity, and the All Farmers Association of Nigeria is not also doing their job because it is a cartel because they know farmers in Edo and others are not accessing loans.”
He also alleged that only 15 per cent of farmers in the southern part of the country have accessed Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers loan facility compared to 85 per cent of farmers in the north who have accessed the loan and benefited.
“As a farmer with my collateral I have applied four times to access the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers loan, even written to the Minister of Labour and Productivity including President Muhammadu Buhari and other relevant government agencies to cry out that the money through Anchor Borrowers Programme is not getting to genuine farmers.
“I applied and I didn’t get it and I have evidence to prove it, and I have been to Abuja eight times to write petition that they are scheming that no money was given to farmers through the scheme.
“The northerners are the farmers benefiting from the Anchor Borrowers Programme that did not make them bad people to me but it should not be so because the records have it that 85 per cent of the northerners have been able to access the loan and I can tell you that not up to 15 per cent of southerners have been able to access the loans. I have the records and can show them”, he alleged.
According to him there are many aggrieved farmers who have been declined from accessing the ABP’s loan facility, and said will mobilise them to protest their grievances if their issues are not addressed.
“My call on aggrieved farmers is that they should approach my Foundation; One Love Foundation and register their frustrations and we will take up their matter against whomever that is depriving them to access the loan as we will beam our searchlight and expose them and their fraudulent activities.
“I will mobilise leaders of farmers in Edo State to collectively talk on this, and from all I can gather from them I will take it from there to either embark on protest or will write the CBN and Minister of Agriculture to unveil those who are behind these fraudulent activities affecting farmers’ performance, and I am going to do that”, he stated.
However, he made it known that he incurred huge losses during and after the lockdown occasioned by the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, “ but never received assistance from anywhere despite monies were released to assist farmers like us, and I kept paying my workers, and I didn’t receive any assistance from government, and when I couldn’t pay my workers I have to lay-off my workers because I didn’t have money from anywhere to pay their salaries, and I was sad.
“And had it been I had any support from banks or government I would not have let them go because they were hardworking and industrious.”
“I even went on to approach a commercial bank to acquire N250 million loan from them with my collateral denied me and said my land does not have a modern property on it and declined me. I went to another commercial bank to give me a loan to the tune of N1 billion about three years ago on a mutual fund.
“Those frustrating farmers should immediately desist from it or face the wrath of the people and God”, he said.