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Starting with Kebbi State in 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) has been replicated across the 36 states with enlistment of rice farmer group in the scheme’s second phase using technology devise for its administration. ABDULWAHAB ISA reports

Rice is Nigeria’s leading number one food in all homes. Its importation using scarce forex has gulped fortunes in excess of $2 billion. This was prior to the launch of the ABP on November 17, 2015 – a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) agric lending scheme specifically tailored to address rice sufficiency.

A game changer in rice production, the programme was designed primarily to conserve scarce foreign exchange, which rice importation was inflicting on forex reserves.

To narrow the gap between heavy tonnes of imported rice and negligible tonnes produced locally, the CBN launched ABP in Kebbi state in 2015. The scheme was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari. For farmers to access the loan, the apex bank encouraged them to form cooperatives.

The bank has expended about N55 billion as loan grant to farmers on single digit rate.

Deadline on rice importation

The Federal Government restated its commitment to end rice importation by 2018 ending. In his new year message to Nigerians last January, President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria would end rice importation in 2018 to encourage local production.

“I am highly gratified that agriculture has picked up, contributing to the government’s effort to restructure the economy. Rice imports will stop this year. Local rice, fresher and more nutritious rice will be on our dishes from now on,” he said.

“By the same token, I am today appealing to enterprising Nigerians with ideas and unemployed graduates and other able-bodied and literate men and women with ideas, not to just sit and wait for employment from the government or the organised private sector.

“Great nations are built by enterprising people who turn their hands to anything that circumstances dictate.” Giving update on rice importation after the commencement of ABP, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development , Chief Audu Ogbeh, said there had been drastic drop in rice importation, adding that rice importation had dropped by 88.4 per cent last year.

Digitalising ABP

The CBN is not relenting in its effort to attain rice sufficiency mandate of the president. The bank has expanded Anchor Borrowers’ Programme scope beyond the state. CBN, last week, entered into strategic partnership with Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) with a view to empowering over 12.2 million farmers under the fully digitalised second phase of the ABP.

Speaking at this year’s dry season farming, CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, said the biometric information of the farmers had been taken, their farm mapped out and biometric cards produced for each farmer.

He said the device would identity them while collecting the inputs from the service providers. Emefiele said the FCT farmers would be used to try the technological innovation introduced into the ABP, adding that the process would spread  across 24 states participating under RIFAN-ABP dry season.

The bank said it would partner with other commodity associations such as maize, cassava, millet, sorghum and other staple foods to provide employment, reduce food import, boost export and earn foreign exchange. The governor was represented by his Special Assistant on Agriculture and Development Finance, Tunde Akande.

“The ABP started in November 2015. Under two years, we decided to upscale it. We’ve decided to collaborate with RIFAN but we’ll also partner with maize, cassava, sorghum, etc, using commody associations.

They have structures at all levels l he said. “We want to provide mentoring, extension services, etc to farmers through them. We can now provide tractorisation and all that. It’s about the loan being well utilised. “There is a guaranteed market for farmers under this programmme. We’ve deployed seamless technologies to them. We’ve taken their biometrics and we have their contacts.

Days of taking loans and inputs without accounting for them are over. In no distant time, we will attain food sufficiency and even export to earn foreign exchange.” Akande said all loans given to farmers under ABP, were mandatorily insured by the Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC). He added that each farmer got N250,000 to cultivate one hectare of land for the dry season farming.

CBN’s rice revolution

CBN is spearheading the revolution in rice production value chain. The success recorded by ABP at the states where it was launched motivated the apex bank to enlist private stakeholders. The enlistment of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) marked the second phase of ABP.

In his assessment of the programme, President of RIFAN, Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, lauded President Muhammadu Buhari’s support and launch of the ABP in 2015, describing it as a huge success. Goronyo said about five million farmers would cultivate 200,000 hectares of land for rice production under a pilot scheme. “For two years, the ABP worked successfully as CBN/ state governments’ programme.

Now, it has graduated from government- government collaboration to government-private sector collaboration,” he said. “We launched the pilot scheme in Gwagwalada, Abuja on Tuesday. Other states have launched. It is tagged the RIFANCBN model.

“This collaboration is to put Nigeria on the right track in agribusiness. Before 2015, it was operating on an analogue model, thus making monitoring and compliance very challenging. So, all that was done in agriculture was not recordno in details.

“But with this, we’ve 500,000 farmers under this season’s farming. From this figure, we’ve 200,000 farmers for the dry season. “With this new digitalised programme, I can, from my phone, reach all the farmers. It’s a global innovation. Farmers are now accessible, verifiable and the entire process reliable. Anyone coming to do business with us can access us and work with reliable data.”

He added that RIFAN had national working committees and six zonal offices and heads at both local government and ward levels. He also disclosed that 32 states were currently onboard the ABP, adding that Benue, Nassarawa, Enugu and Cross River states could not join this year’s farming season as they could not tidy up their application and documentation processes before the deadline.

Besides, he said that such states would be part of the next phase.

Last line

The zeal and commitment demonstrated by the CBN to change rice production narrative through ABP is not only a channel to self-sufficiency but also a game changer in the nation’s agriculture sector.

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