President Muhammadu Buhari recently launched the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) initiated Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), expressing high hopes that the scheme would lift thousands of minor farmers out of poverty and create millions of employments for jobless Nigerians.
The President, though frowned at the huge sums of money spent by Nigeria on the importation of food items that could be produced locally, stressed that the N1 trillion importation bill was not sustainable. This he said during the launch of the ABP and flag-off of the 2015 dry season farming season in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State on November 17, 2015.
He recalled the pride of place that agriculture enjoyed in the country’s economy, as the current reality in the global oil market has left Nigeria with no option than to diversify into other sectors. The President also emphasized that the implication of falling oil prices to Nigeria’s foreign reserve underscored the need for Nigeria and Nigerians to diversify the productive and revenue base of the country’s economy and conserve her foreign reserve by curbing the appetite for imported goods that can easily be produced locally.
Similarly, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, commended the CBN initiative and promised to improve on the successes recorded by his predecessor in office, by bringing on board innovations and attracting the nation’s youth to get involved in the agricultural sector.
Subsequently, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, said the bank was concerned about the huge foreign exchange spent by Nigeria importing food items that could be produced locally. According to him, the allocation of foreign exchange to the importation of items such as rice, wheat, milk and fish, among others, had contributed greatly to the depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves, especially in the face of low oil revenue resulting from falling oil prices.
He revealed that the rising unemployment and escalating food imports prompted the bank, under his leadership, to shift from concentrating only on price, monetary, and financial system stability to act as a financial catalyst in specific sectors of the economy particularly agriculture, in an effort to create jobs on a mass scale, improve local food production, and conserve scarce foreign reserves.
Over the years, the importation of rice had become one of the major factors that affect Nigeria’s economy. Though blessed with both natural and human resources, the country still spends about $5 million on the importation of rice on a daily basis. This is one of the major reasons behind the presidential launch of the dry season rice farming which is aimed at empowering farmers towards the cultivation of rice.
The Governor at an interview said “Nigeria had the capacity and capability to cultivate wheat and rice for the nation’s consumption if the programme would be adequately sustained, and that there were over 70,000 farmers in Kebbi State that benefitted in the programme with over 500,000 direct jobs created”.
States like Kebbi State have begun to reap the gains of the Anchor Borrowers Programme (APB) initiated by CBN with the disbursement of a total sum of N4,936,321,400 to raise their capacity in farming activities. Accordingly, strategy for employment and a strategy for feeding Nigerians with rice and wheat is the main focus and Kebbi State intends to make sure that in one year they can show the world that they are serious.
At this time of foreign exchange scarcity, it is commendable to fashion out alternatives to the importation of these two products that have become some of the biggest consumers of foreign exchange. At a point, Nigeria was the largest importer of wheat from the United States. Even when we fell to third position in 2010/2011, we were still the most consistent customer of American wheat producers when we imported 3.5 million tons of wheat in the first quarter of that year. Nigeria is one of the largest importers of rice in the world. Therefore, while we applaud the government’s goal and its efforts, we cannot but entertain some fears.
There has always been a disconnect in this country between laudable policies and their implementation. Our archives are laden with once celebrated but long forgotten policies. Making state governors the fulcrum of the committee could become a problem because they have more than enough on their plates already.
A National Task Force to drive the production of wheat and rice was recently inaugurated in Abuja with Kebbi State Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu as its chairman. His state, Kebbi, is expected to play a pivotal role in the program along with Kano and Ebonyi States. Other committee members include Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, Minister of State for Agriculture, President of Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria and President of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria.
At the committee’s inauguration, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said that the move was necessary to consolidate government’s diversification policy. “What we are trying to achieve is to make agriculture our mainstay and we are trying to evolve a strategy for the economy.
He noted that rice and wheat is our main focus and we intend to make sure that in one year we can show the world that we are serious.” The committee is mandated to fix production targets for rice and wheat among the states taking part in the programme. It will also determine the scope, markets and government’s commitments necessary for success. Also listed among the terms of reference is the removal of deficiencies in the value chain and facilitating farmers’ access to support facilities such as CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.
In this goal, we must take serious note of the country’s climate. While rice is a tropical crop and almost all states in Nigeria can produce it, same cannot be said of wheat which needs low temperature, a lot of water, a lot of fertiliser, a lot of pesticides and many other difficult requirements. It is well to recall that in the late 1980s, President Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime introduced the Accelerated Wheat Production Programme to wean Nigeria off massive wheat imports as part of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). The program later failed and was abandoned.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t try again because of past failures. We must however learn from previous mistakes and not to commit them again. The Bagudu Task Force should set realizable targets and eschew over ambition. Nigeria could establish a competitive edge in rice production, being a tropical crop but we may have to restrict rice imports while we pursue our production targets. We must also straighten out some of the policy ironies of the Jonathan regime, including allowing rice millers to import husky brown rice at a concessionary duty, only for them to turn around and import fully polished rice. The Nigeria Customs Service is still trying to recover 21 billion naira in unpaid duty from the rice importers that exceeded their quotas.