Ecobank restates commitment to empowering youths for agribusiness development

By Adebayo Obajemu

Ever since the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came to power, it has made heavy investments in agriculture with the aim of making the country achieve self-sufficiency in food production and to conserve foreign exchange. The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has in the past six years pump about N200 billion in the sector.
But whether the investments have succeeded in tackling the country’s food shortages and hunger is another thing as media is awash with reports of rising hunger in the land.

On last week, the Presidency once again said that it was taking another step in the direction of strengthening the agriculture sector; as it stated that more than 2.2 million farmers will receive about N12.3 billion agricultural subsidy from the Federal Government in the coming weeks.

President Buhari also launched the National Livestock Programme in Katsina, the first of the six pilot schemes to replace the grazing reserves and Ruga.
This is even as presidential aide and other officials confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier already approved a N6.15 billion agricultural subsidy for the first batch of 1.2 million farmers.

This development was conveyed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Agriculture, Andrew Kwasari, who said that the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) had validated the first batch of beneficiaries.

Kwasari said the 1.2 farmers would start getting their alerts soon, adding that another batch of over one million beneficiaries would also receive about N6.15 billion agricultural subsidy.
“The President has approved subsidies for 1.2 million farmers in Batch A and the NIBSS has validated their bank accounts and BVN (Bank Verification Numbers) as farmers. We have another batch of over one million and NIPSS has also validated their details and it will be sent to Mr. President for approval.
“NIBSS validates every BVN tied to any account and can tell you the owner of such accounts in this country.”

On the actual amount of subsidy to benefit farmers, the presidential assistant on agriculture hinted that the funds would come in batches of about N6.15 billion each, adding that the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the NIBSS had received the details of those to benefit from the subsidy scheme.

“The first batch is N6.15bn and we are preparing Batch B and it may be up to that amount also. The file has moved from my office right now and it is with the Accountant-General of the Federation and NIBSS for payment.”

Kwasari further revealed that the Federal Government had captured over 6 million farmers across the country, stressing that the data of these operators were in his office.

Not everyone is clapping for the federal government. Recall that a few days ago, the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN) disputed the Federal Government’s claim of registering about 6 million farmers for its agricultural subsidy programme as its National President, Kabir Ibrahim, stated that the association was not aware of the programme.

According to Ibrahim what should be of importance to the government was how to address rising food prices caused by insecurity, which has kept farmers away from their farms and endanger most of the investment by the CBN in the Rice Anchor Borrowers scheme.

In spite of these investments in agriculture hunger is still endemic in Nigeria, especially in the Northern part of the country, ironically, the region that has benefitted most from Buhari’s agricultural interventions.

According to Action Against Hunger, an international NGO, the number of food-insecure people in Nigeria increased to 3.8 million, in Northern Nigeria, and 1.1 million women and children are in need of immediate nutrition services or treatment for malnutrition.

It is estimated that more than 1.2 million people, including 971,000 in Borno State and 244,000 in Yobe State, are in areas that are inaccessible to international humanitarian organizations.

In 2019, Action Against Hunger reached more than two million people across Borno, Jigawa, Yobe and Kano States through nutrition and health interventions. The NGO stated that in 2020 it made intervention in some states in Northern Nigeria.

“At the heart of our work are both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programs. We implemented an integrated WASH Nutrition strategy as well as food security and livelihood interventions to fight the root causes of hunger by addressing food production, access, and income issues through emergency, recovery and resilience programming, cash assistance to vulnerable people in Borno and Yobe, and much required policy initiatives around social protection.

Recall that in June last year, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono said the federal government had earmarked N600 billion to enhance farmer access to agricultural financing in the country.

Nanono said then that about 2.4 million farmers were targeted to benefit from the interest free facility, designed to encourage application of modern technologies in rice and cash crop cultivation.

The minister made the disclosure at the inauguration of the 2020 wet season rice cultivation support programme at Tofai community in Gabasawa Local Government Area of Kano State.
Nanono said the initiative would support farmers to achieve improved productivity, enhance self-sufficiency and food security in the country.

He said: “We have commenced farmer registration exercise to capture their information, number of farmlands and locations. Also, the beneficiaries will be monitored to ensure effective utilisation of the facility, and mobilise participation in subsequent programmes.”

Yet, inspite of these, hunger still stalks the land.

Professor Olu Atteh of the Department of Agriculture, University of Ilorin told this newspaper that “Whatever investments and gains of this administration in the area of agriculture has been wiped out by insecurity and the behaviour of herders who continue to destroy farmlands and kill farmers with impunity. Yet, government has not been able to properly get a handle on the crisis.

This effort is aside many Central Bank’s agricultural interventions scheme.
Weather patterns in recent times have become less favourable and increase the volatility of crop yields, according to a research by McKinsey Global Institute.
Also, the State of the Climate in Africa 2020 Report noted that the changes are threatening food and water security, and socio-economic development in Africa.
For instance, the report noted that under the worst climate change scenario, there will be a 13 per cent reduction in crop yield in West and Central Africa, 11 per cent in North Africa and eight per cent in East and Southern Africa.

This climatic factor, coupled with the insecurity that has kept farmers away from their farms in the northern parts of Nigeria, has been blamed for the hike in food prices.

Livestock farmers not left out
The fate suffered by crop farmers did not spare their counterparts in livestock farming.

Bolaji Omoniwa, a fish farmer in Mopa- Muro Local Government Area, Kogi State lamented how he was jobless for nine months with more than a dozen mouths to feed. He said he had never benefitted from any of the interventions.
The father of four children said he barely survived the lockdown because things were tough for his family.

“That time, we stayed at home, we did not move for nine months. No Sunday, no Friday,” Omoniwa said.

Asked if he was able to access loans or reliefs, he responded in the negative. “Nothing. Ten kobo, we did not get,” he retorted, saying his farming activity stopped.

Another livestock farmer badly hit during the pandemic is Akin Ojo, also from Mopa-Muro.

He said things are tough for his family. The pandemic has made it worse to continue farming but is now compounded by the “herders attacks. See we can not go to farm. The federal government should go beyond subsidy for us, they should also provide security.”

Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political economist told this newspaper that all these interventions will have no meaning unless the federal government address the more urgent Insecurity that makes it impossible for farmers to access their farms, stop the destruction of farmlands by herders.

He noted that inflation is rising around the world as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, “and while Western central bankers say it is only temporary, the soaring prices are having dramatic consequences in countries like Nigeria.

“Africa’s most populous nation with 210 million inhabitants, Nigeria competes with India for the largest number of poor in the world”, he said.

“But battered by the double economic impact of low global oil prices and the pandemic, the World Bank estimates Nigeria’s soaring inflation and food prices pushed another seven million people into poverty in 2020. Food prices have increased more than 22 percent since the start of the coronavirus crisis, according to official statistics.
For many people feeding the family has become a daily challenge.

“Every day, during consultation, there are five or seven children that suffer from malnutrition,” says Ogunsola, head of the nutrition department at Massey Street children’s hospital in a poor district in Lagos Island. “I bet in a few months or a year, more children will be malnourished.”

Even before the pandemic and the surge in food costs, Nigeria’s nutrition figures were alarming: One in three Nigerian children suffered stunted growth due to bad diet; one in 10 is wasted.

As a result, close to 17 million children in Nigeria are undernourished, giving the country the highest level of malnutrition in Africa and second highest in the world
Before the pandemic, Nigerians were already spending 60 percent of their income on food, says Tunde Leye, an economist at SBM Intelligence risk consultancy. But inflation has pushed that higher on average.

“You can bet that today on average people spend more than 60 percent, maybe around 70 or 80 percent of their income on food,” the economist says. “When people spend that much amount on food they cannot do nothing else, paying for a rent, health care, education. And now farmers can no longer access their farms because of Insecurity.”
Nigeria’s inflation and hunger is not driven by global factors alone. Each year 40 percent of Nigeria’s total food production is lost or wasted, according to the World Bank.

Widespread bandit attacks, ethnic clashes and kidnappings for ransom in rural areas have added to a sense of “creeping insecurity”, which experts say has kept people from working in the fields in many agricultural regions of the country.

Shortly before the 2019 Presidential election, the presidency detailed the president’s initiatives in the agricultural sector since he assumed office in 2015.
In the Aso Rock Newsletter published by the Presidency Office of Digital Engagement (PODE) , the presidency listed five of the initiatives of Buhari’s government that Nigerians should know about.

From the Anchor Borrowers Programme, to the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, and the much-publicised Food Security Council, here are the initiatives the presidency wants you to know about (replicated exactly in their own words):

1. Anchor Borrowers Programme:

The Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), established by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) on November 17, 2015.

It is intended to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers (SHFs) of the required key agricultural commodities.

The ABP provides farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to small holder farmers to boost production of these commodities.

At harvest, the SHF supplies his/her produce to the Agro-processor (Anchor) who pays the cash equivalent to the farmer’s account.

CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, February 2018: “Since commencement of the (Anchor Borrowers) Programme in November 2015, the CBN in partnership with state governments and several private sector groups, have disbursed a cumulative sum of N55.526 billion to over 250,000 farmers who cultivated almost 300,000 hectares of farmland for rice, wheat, maize, cotton, soybeans, cassava, etc.

“Two years into the implementation, the programme has contributed to the creation of an estimated 890,000 direct and 2.6 million indirect jobs.”

2. Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI):

PFI was launched in December 2016 as the outcome of a partnership between the Governments of Nigeria and Morocco, and implemented as a Public-Private Partnership in Nigeria, led by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and the Fertilizer Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEPSAN).

3. Youth Farm Lab:

The Youth Farm Lab is an Initiative of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with Synergos, to train Nigerian youths on livestock production and sustainable urban agriculture.
It seeks Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 35 years who are passionate about Agriculture and believe in its profitability potentials.

4. Presidential Economic Diversification Initiative (PEDI):

Launched in July 2017, the Presidential Economic Diversification Initiative (PEDI) supports the revival of moribund industries (especially in Agro-processing) by facilitating new investments, reducing regulatory bottlenecks and enabling access to credit. PEDI has made breakthroughs in the agribusiness sector in Imo and Ondo States.

5. Food Security Council:
The Council, to be chaired by the President, was inaugurated on Monday, March 26, 2018.

It has as its members: Governors of Kebbi, Taraba, Plateau, Lagos, Ebonyi and Delta States; Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Chief of Staff to the President; National Security Adviser; Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development; Finance; Interior; Industry, Trade and Investment; Water Resources; Environment; and Budget and National Planning; Chief of Defence Staff; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Directors-General of the Department of State Services and the National Intelligence Agency; and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service.

The broad objectives of the Council include developing sustainable solutions to the farmers-herdsmen clashes; Climate Change and Desertification and their impact on farmland; grazing areas and lakes, rivers and other water bodies; oil spillage and its impact on Niger Delta Fishing Communities; piracy and banditry; agricultural research institutions and extension services and the problem of smuggling. The Council will also take interest in regional and global policies and trends that bear implications for food security in Nigeria.

“But so far, these interventions have had little effect as hunger is endemic and there is spiral in food prices.
Even the borders closure didn’t lead to rising food production but achieved the opposite. Look at price of rice in the market”, Dr. Olufemi Omoyele, an economic analyst told this newspaper.


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