Unarguably, the development of a strategic action plan for agricultural sector -Agricultural Transformation Agenda – remains one of the efforts of the Federal Government at boosting food production in Nigeria.
Developed by former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the programme recognises the need to target areas that have potential for increased agricultural activities to boost food production.
One of the outstanding components of the programmes is Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) aimed at eradicating corruption in the fertiliser sector by eliminating the middlemen in the sector.
Supported by Electronic Wallet System, GES allows smallholder farmers to receive electronic vouchers for subsidised seeds and fertilisers directly on their mobile phones and enable them to pay for farm inputs from private dealers.
This initiative notwithstanding, President Muhammadu Buhari recently observed that Nigeria had great potential for expanding food production but the agricultural sector faced numerous challenges.
He noted that the challenges included low yield growth of major food and cash crops and land degradation.
He also said inadequate infrastructure such as electricity, roads, scarcity of required farm inputs, storage and need for productive and profitable agricultural business, among others, were parts of impediments to adequate food production.
He assured Nigerians that his administration would focus on enhancing the sector through sustainable programmes to enable farmers to acquire necessary farm inputs.
He promised to ensure sustainable supply of fertilisers, farm chemicals, storage facilities, tractors and other modern farming tools and technologies, including irrigation, high yield seeds and access to funds.
Further to the promise, Buhari visited Kebbi last November to inaugurate N20 billion Anchor Borrowers’ Programme – a financial window set aside by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for rice farmers across the country.
At the inauguration, the President said: “Prior to the advent of oil, our country survived on agricultural production with huge economic potential from our palm oil, groundnut, cotton, and rubber plantations.
“During this period, the economies of our sub-region were built on agricultural activities and our Gross Domestic Product grew steadily.
“Our first generation state-sponsored banks and investment companies were financed with incomes from farming surpluses.
“The discovery of oil was expected to complement our agricultural productivity but we allowed oil to almost completely replace it.
“Current trends in the international oil market has brought to fore the urgent need to diversify both the productive and revenue base of our economy and conserve our foreign reserve by limiting our appetite for importation of goods that we can easily produce locally.
“It is the only way to reclaim economic momentum and drive to prosperity. One way to do this is to go back to the land and develop our agricultural production.
“That is why I have high hopes about the prospects of the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme and its potential to create millions of jobs and lift thousands of smallholder farmers out of poverty.”
The president said the programme had been designed as a one-stop solution for the agriculture value chain by creating economic linkages between farmers and processors.
He said that the programme would ensure increased agricultural output and reduce dependence on imported foods.
He expressed the hope that the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme would be a model in the way smallholder farmers are financed across the country.
In his opinion, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele said the bank was concerned about the huge foreign exchange spent by Nigeria to import food items that could be produced locally.
He said that the programme would be implemented in Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Adamawa, Plateau, Lagos, Ogun, Cross River and Ebonyi, for rice and wheat farming.
According to him, the objective of the programme is to reduce commodity importation, conserve external reserves, reduce the level of poverty among smallholder farmers, create jobs and assist rural smallholder farmers to grow from subsistence to commercial production levels.
He observed that the programme would also facilitate the emergence of a new generation of farmers and entrepreneurs.
“The programme will empower 600,000 farmers in rice farming, 100,000 in wheat, fish and palm production each, 200,000 in their respective value chains in the next five years. “It is also expected to create more than1, 000,000 direct and indirect jobs in the processing segment of the value chains of selected commodities,’’ he said.
He identified lack of mechanisation, low quality inputs and poor funding as major hindrances to rice production in Nigeria, promising that the programme would solve the problem of finance.
He explained that farmers would be thoroughly trained on the global best agronomical practices, insisting that: “The farmers must be a member of a validated cooperative before applying for the loan.
“We will find out how much it will take to produce one hectare of rice to determine the amount that will be given to each individual; the idea is to enhance efficient management of the resources.”
Economists believe that the stimulation of rice production through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme will lead to increase in production of rice in all rice-producing states where the programme will be implemented.
They note further that the inauguration of the programme in Kebbi is commendable because of the state’s history in the production of rice, maize, wheat, barley, cowpeas, onions, tomatoes, sweet and Irish potatoes, among others. Mr Oladele Idowu, an economist with a private firm in Ibadan, nonetheless, advises stakeholders in agriculture to ensure the success of the programme.