Apathy, distrust hamper Anchor Borrowers Programme, say North Central farmers

• As CBN accuses farmers of loan default

• FCT farmers lament lack of support

• Jos rice farmers, CBN say programme successful

• We’re still repaying loans guaranteed by former govt’

• Kogi farmers, CBN disagree over price inflation

Rather than boost agricultural production as designed, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) has yielded a harvest of complaints and failed opportunities in the North Central Zone of the country.

Farmers in the region blame the failure largely on poor implementation of the scheme launched in 2015 to boost food production, reduce importation and conserve foreign exchange.

North Central Zone, which is home to lush and arable farmland and popularly referred to as the food basket of Nigeria, is made up of six states: Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, Kwara, Kogi and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Most farmers’ associations in the zone told The Guardian that the programme is yet to make an impact. Indeed, some of them claimed they were yet to access the fund.

IN the FCT, home to the apex bank headquarters, the story is not different as farmers called for restructuring of the programme to make it more accessible. They accused the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) of refusing to facilitate their quest for the ABP credit, describing the scheme as a complete failure in the territory.

The Guardian gathered that the Minister, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, after monitoring how farmers defaulted in loan repayment in other states, refused to guarantee agric loans in the region, forcing Abuja farmers to depend on private agricultural firms and international organisations.

It was learnt that private firms could also register farmers under the scheme, provided they were ready to undertake a guarantee for them on repayment. The hitch, however, is that the FCT has few agricultural processing firms, which are not willing to take risk on behalf of farmers or use their equipment as collateral for farmers.

To compound the situation, The Guardian learnt there had been rancour between the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the apex bank, as the former feels the CBN is usurping its primary roles and responsibilities in managing farmers and processors in the country.
A senior ministry official, who spoke with The Guardian anonymously, said: “It is rather unfortunate that the apex bank has refused to carry us along in all its intervention programmes for farmers. If they had done that from the inception, it will not become difficult for them to recover some of these loans from farmers. But since they are the ones printing the money, they have a say on how they spend it.”
The President of Maize Farmers Association of Nigeria, Abubakar Ibrahim, who expressed disappointment at the implementation of the programme, said he was not sure if the association would participate in this year’s ABP.
The President of Farmers Empowerment Association in the FCT, Obaje David, equally dismissed the programme as complete failure. He stressed the need to review it by reducing conditions, suggesting that it should be done in such a way that farmers could be reached directly without going through processors.

Faulting the manner cash and inputs were given to farmers at the commencement of planting season, he suggested that inputs and mechanisation services should be given to farmers in stages, starting with the provision of mechanisation services to prepare land for farming; followed by herbicides, seeds and others.

The National President of Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN), Dr. Edwin Uche, however, hailed the programme.

He said: “The programme has really improved the lives of our farmers, it has created employment, it has created an opportunity for our people, it has empowered our youths and women. It is a programme that has impacted positively on the lives of our people, it has also taken people out of poverty.”
He disclosed that in 2020, about 50,000 members of the association received about N9 billion for mechanisation services and farm inputs and stressed the need for extension workers to monitor the activities of farmers participating in the programme.

Uche said the feat was achieved despite the COVID-19 pandemic because they were able to get the support of the apex bank after meeting stated requirements, including plans to pay back the loans.
On how much each member got, he said the CBN did not give cash directly to farmers as the loan was provided in terms of services and farm inputs.

In his opinion, with the Nigerian Incentive Risk Sharing for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) providing 70 per cent Credit Risk Guarantee (CRG) for them, the CBN should not make the process cumbersome by asking farmers to secure guarantees from state governments, aggregators or processors that would off take the produce. He expressed the need to deal directly with farmers, and engage extension workers to monitor the process.

He blamed the failure to repay loans on the absence of extension workers to monitor farmers and guide them, where necessary.

He added that many farmers still perceive the CBN loan as national cake, thereby refusing to pay it back, even after making profits.
FCT Minister, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, confirmed to The Guardian that the FCTA does not guarantee the ABP Credits to farmers in the territory, explaining that farmers source their loans and inputs through commodity associations in the territory.

Speaking through the Director, Planning, Research and Statistics in the FCT Agriculture and Rural Secretariat, Yahaya Useni, the minister, who explained that commodity farmers deal directly with commercial banks, said: “I am aware that Rice Farmers Association (RFA) are involved, they started Anchor Borrowers Scheme last year but all we did was to encourage them to approach the CBN and assisted to facilitate their funding. It is really not an FCT affair, I’m also aware that the FCT Maize Association applied for the Anchor Borrowers Programme for their farmers. The programme in FCT is purely private sector driven.

“All we do is to ensure that farmers who have access to land, productive land are provided with all the required support through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) credit facility as clusters capable of producing designated commodities, for the year 2021, we are already working with the six area councils that make up the territory to generate the lists of farmers in clusters of say 100 bases where the farmers are ready to go into the production of rice and maize.’ ’

FARMERS in Jos, Plateau State, however, acknowledged the ABP support.
The Secretary of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) in the state, Mr. Dauda Aku, said in Jos that about 6,670 rice farmers received seedlings, pesticide, water pumping machine, fertilisers, herbicide and other farming implements from the CBN.

Aku added that the beneficiaries were drawn from all the 17 councils that make up the state.

“The 6,670 beneficiaries were chosen from the three senatorial zones of the state, while about 36 trucks, each loaded with 600 bags of fertilizers, were allocated to rice farmers and the state,” Aku said.

The Head, Development and Finance Office of the CBN in Jos, Mrs. Helen Temtsen, also revealed that 5,016 maize farmers benefited from the programme through the CBN.
He said: “In general, we have supported 18, 140 farmers in the state to improve the production of rice, maize, cotton and sorghum. For this year, the interest has gone down from nine per cent to five per cent because of COVID-19.”

The branch Controller of CBN in Jos, Mr. Yusuf Duniya, warned beneficiaries against diversion, saying anyone caught selling inputs would be delisted.

He said: “This is a loan and not a grant. So, I urge you to pay back as and when due. Don’t sell the inputs, but use them judiciously because we are expecting the proceeds from you after harvest.”
KWARA State Government, like the FCT, no longer guarantees loans for farmers.

The Technical Assistant to Governor AbdulRazak on Agriculture, Abdulqawiy Olododo, in a chat with The Guardian in Ilorin, said the governor is now defraying the loan assessed by his predecessor, Abdulfatah Ahmed.
He said: “The government of Governor AbdulRahaman AbdulRazak pays a sum of N35 million on monthly basis as repayment of the Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) over the Anchor Borrowers Project embarked upon by the immediate past government in the state. Therefore, it will not be wise on our part to go on another loan when we are still servicing the outstanding one.”

However, Olododo said the state government had created an alternative to the ABS, under a scheme, the Self Sponsored Input Subsidy Program (SSISP). He said the programme subsidises to the tune of 50 per cent of items under the schemes to willing farmer groups in the state. It covers such inputs as seedlings, fertilisers and mechanisation.

The Chairman of Kwara State chapter of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Mallam Ahmed Saba, gave three reasons some farmers failed to repay the ABP loans.

Saba told The Guardian in Ilorin that many beneficiaries of the loan, running into billions of naira, saw it as political patronage rather than a lifeline with conditions attached to it.

He also observed that channels for repaying loans were not clearly spelt out.

The indebtedness, according to him, has made it difficult for many farmers to obtain more loans. Saba said the operators of the loan now deal with only viable farmer associations in the state.

He said: “The state, for now, can’t facilitate another loan under the scheme because of the existing debts incurred by earlier beneficiaries, but associations within the state are immensely benefiting. If we deny this, then we are not being fair to the system.”

IN Nasarawa State, some farmers claimed that since 2019, they have not benefited from the APB, blaming the situation on the alleged politicisation of the scheme.

The Secretary of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Nasarawa chapter, Abdullahi Mohammed, who made the claim, lamented that no member of his 5,000-strong association benefitted from the scheme.
According to him, some farmers benefitted secretly because of their affiliation with some politicians in the state.
However, there is hope on the horizon as plans are on to attract at least N10 billion for farming activities this year in the state. Already, the state government is collaborating with the Rice Farmers Association, with plans already concluded to attract N10 billion investment to assist rice farmers in the state, under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) ABP scheme.
Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule, disclosed this while flagging off the sale of fertiliser and other agricultural inputs for this year’s rainy season, at Andaha, in Akwanga Local Government Area.

THE programme in Kogi State is marred by suspicion between beneficiaries and the CBN. Farmers accuse the apex bank of inflating the cost of agricultural inputs, thus making repayment a challenge for farmers. The farmers even called on the state government to institute an investigation into what they describe as a scam.
Trouble allegedly started when a group of dry season rice farmers could not repay the cost of inputs earlier collected from the ministry. This is viewed as a serious problem because it would prevent others from benefiting.
According to a farmer in the state, Abu Nasir, who is one of those engaged in dry season rice farming in the state, the group’s inability to pay for the inputs was caused by a lack of commitment by the state government to the farmers.
But a ministry official told The Guardian in confidence that the farmers thought the loan was a grant.

“They thought it was business as usual. In the past regime, they would collect the inputs and would not pay back, as they would say it is their own share of the cake. We will use available legal means to collect the inputs back no matter the intrigues and blackmail. They have to pay for the inputs.

“The allegation of overinflation of the cost of inputs was not correct because representatives of the farmers, CBN, BOA, the ministry and the suppliers of the inputs met and agreed on the prices. Nobody was coerced to accept the inputs. They all willingly collected the inputs but introduced a twist when it was time for repayment. ”

THE scheme in Benue, according to farmers associations, is nothing to write home about. They accused the CBN of not adhering to the tenets of the scheme.
The Guardian learnt from some farmers that though about 38,000 were enlisted in the scheme to produce rice, cassava, maize, beniseed, cotton, only 10,000 of them got the facility.

The farmers also complained that the few that got the loans were disappointed as off-takers of the product failed to show up as promised.

Speaking on the failure of the scheme in the state, the AFAN Chairman Saaku Aondongu, told The Guardian that due to insecurity, farmers in the state were not profiled this year.

Saaku said: “Again, in 2019 and 2020, we profiled our farmers in Benue but nothing was done by the CBN. The CBN deceived us that we were to go through NIRSAL for better implementation but we waited in vain and nothing was done.

“Inputs and seedlings were not given to us, and no explanation was given till the time for cropping season elapsed.”

He lauded the scheme as a good initiative but faulted the planning and implementation.

The AFAN chairman suggested that the programme be supervised by the private sector to ensure the release of inputs in time.

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