By Omoyemi Olatunde

THE best of Nigerian editors gathered in Abuja last month for the 17th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference, ANEC. The theme was, Media in Times of Crises: Resolving Conflict, Achieving Consensus.

It was all about national security, including food security, energy security, among others. Managing Director/CEO of the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, NIRSAL, Aliyu Abdulhameed, was one of the resource persons. He spoke on Accessing Capital for Alternative Career Development for Editors.

But it was more than speaking. It was an eye opener for Nigerian editors, some of whom are already fiddling with farming but largely on a low scale due to dearth of capital. It was, therefore, fitting that NIRSAL was on hand not only to encourage editors to look to agriculture for a better tomorrow but also to use their respective platforms to tell Nigerians the good news of a new lease in agribusiness under President Muhammadu Buhari.

For emphasis, NIRSAL was launched in 2011 and incorporated in 2013 wholly by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. It is not a direct money-lending financial institution like commercial banks but it acts as guarantor of loans.

It is the unseen hand behind the agriculture revolution that has come to define the Buhari government, a revolution evidenced by the jump in the number of employments created in the agribusiness sector through a deepening of the agribusiness value chain.

The statistics are in your face. By the second quarter of this year, the contribution of agriculture to GDP stood at 23.78 percent, followed by Information and Communication at 17.92 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS. Over 12 million Nigerians are today actively engaged in the agriculture value chain.

The rice dunes in Kebbi, the busy rice mills in Ebonyi, Edo et al, speak of a new dawn in Nigeria’s quest to achieve food security. Add to the list, the revival in cocoa farming and export, the rubber plantations and latex production; rice, cassava, palm produce and many others including poultry that constitute a staple in Nigeria are being produced in commercial quantity with value addition in a manner never before seen.

In a world roiled by climate change, insecurity, hunger and poverty, delivering and deepening the agriculture value chain is touted as the most sustainable strategy for achieving food security which will ultimately reduce poverty and ship more people out of the breadline.

The World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, among other relevant bodies have continued to advocate for more people to be mainstreamed into agriculture especially among developing nations. This, they argue can be achieved through structured financing that would reduce loan risks and ensure inclusivity of more players in the value chain.

This is what NIRSAL is doing in Nigeria: Facilitating and de-risking loans. Under Abdulhameed, it has improved the nation’s agribusiness, making the ‘farm-to-fork’ mantra a reality. Statistics showed that NIRSAL has facilitated investment to the tune of N165.4billion; created over 590,000 direct employment; impacted over 3.5million lives; provided guidance on the establishment of Risk Sharing Facility, RSF, models for African countries under the aegis of the African Development Bank, AfDB. This is an international endorsement that the Nigerian model of agribusiness risk-sharing model is not only working but a worthy example for other African nations.

On account of the roaring success of the Nigerian model, NIRSAL recently concluded the setting up of the Togo Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, TIRSAL, locally popular by its French acronym, MIFA. Other African nations including Ghana and Benin Republic are on the queue to benefit from the Nigerian model.

The success of NIRSAL points to a glorious tomorrow for Nigeria, nay Africa, in the march towards food security. Nigeria, especially, is endowed with vast arable land capable of growing an assortment of crops. But the challenge has been the lack of funding for agribusiness. This has also been the challenge of many journalists and other professionals who desire strongly to venture into agriculture on a commercial scale.

But Abdulhameed successfully assuaged the anxiety of editors over availability of funds when he said that so far over N134.64 billion loans and investments had been facilitated by CRG; over 760 projects guaranteed, over N1.4 billion interest draw back paid; and N4.6 billion claims paid to date with N4.09 billion recovered. His presentation outlined the various opportunities and entry points within the value chain where editors can take advantage of and participate actively. And NIRSAL is willing to do more; he assured.

For instance, he said Nigerian editors can be a part of NIRSAL’s Agro Geo-Cooperative Formation, AGC, initiative by participating in the AGC formation process. The AGC helps to dimension the agribusiness value chain from production to marketing, making it possible for players to play more than passive roles in the value chain.

Benefits of the AGC initiative include: Mechanisation, improved inputs, exposure to modern agricultural technologies, mentorship and monitoring, governance and positive peer pressures with concomitant peer review, secure supply for markets (quality and quantity), controlled loan repayment, among others.

Simply put, editors in Nigeria can form their cooperative for the sole purpose of accessing loans and sundry benefits that accrue from the NIRSAL initiative. It gives the editors a stronger platform for negotiation. It makes them competitive and avails them the opportunity to build production as well as marketing synergies.

Abdulhameed wants Nigerian editors to take advantage of the inherent opportunities in the nation’s agricultural value chain and NIRSAL’s agriculture/agribusiness finance facilitation and de-risking value offerings. He is inviting editors to become agribusiness people, playing active roles in production, processing and marketing of agriculture produce.

The invitation was handy. It came at a time Nigerian editors were pondering and tinkering with survival strategies for life after the chair; how to still live a good, productive life outside the newsroom.

NIRSAL has evoked huge interest in agribusiness among Nigerians, particularly among editors. And the opportunities and focus are as diverse as the natural diversity of the nation. Opportunities abound in fruits and vegetables, hibiscus (this is beyond flower, it’s money wrapped in beautiful red petals), sesame, cashew, ginger, shea nuts (collection and processing), rice, beans, cotton (including processing to thread), livestock(poultry, beef, dairy), maize, soya, potato (sweet and Irish), aquaculture, wheat, sugar cane farming and processing..

It is a long list and it speaks to the unsearchable riches of the Nigerian soil. Those riches beckon on Nigerians, on editors, doctors, engineers, lawyers, etcetera. The strong hand of NIRSAL is outstretched to help them turn potential to produce.

Abdulhameed was all smiles when he extended an open invitation to Nigerian editors, and indeed to other Nigerians. His message was: Take advantage of NIRSAL and let’s turn your dream to reality. The ball now rests invitingly in the court of editors.

Olatunde, a farmer,  wrote from Abuja

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