Kano — Farmers from the north-western states have called on the Federal Government to review some of its agricultural policies and programmes with a view to encouraging commercial agriculture.
The farmers spoke yesterday at the just concluded Northwest farmers’ forum and exhibition organised by the Daily Trust newspapers in collaboration with Kano State Ministry of Agriculture, held in Kano.
The Chairman of Sweet Potato Farmers Association, Kano State chapter, Alhaji Abdullahi Bebeji, called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to review the guidelines for accessing loans under the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme with a view to attracting more farmers to the scheme.
Bebeji blamed the CBN for denying many farmers opportunity to benefit from the scheme, saying “we were asked to open accounts at the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and we have submitted our names to the bank but up till this moment, we have not heard from the CBN.”
Dr Sa’idu Abubakar said CBN should compel commercial banks in the country to invest in the agricultural sector, which employed over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s workforce.
“The apex bank should sanction any commercial bank that refuses to invest in the sector,” he advised.
Another farmer, Alhaji Tukur Nasarawa expressed disappointment with the scheme, noting that it was unfortunate that huge funds set aside for the scheme were still lying un-accessed in some commercial banks.
He said, “Financing is the major problem of agriculture in Nigeria. I am advising CBN to come up with an interest-free loan facility that will tally with the teachings of our religion so that many farmers can benefit.”
On his part, former Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Alhaji Sabo Nanono, placed most of the blames for the backwardness in agriculture on the Federal Government.
He said, “We do not have national pricing policy in Nigeria and this is one of our major problems as far as agriculture is concerned and it is only the Federal Government that can address it. The government must also address the monopoly in the business of fertilizer in this country if at all we want to make any progress in the sector.
“Next to the monopoly in fertilizer business, is the cost of production. Nigeria has the highest cost of production in agriculture in the world. Other problems affecting agriculture is transportation and processing.”
Hajiya Salamatu Abdulkadir called on the CBN to ensure inclusion of women farmers in its agricultural programmes, saying “women farmers are not given equal opportunities in most government’s agricultural programmes.”
Responding to the issues raised by the farmers, the Director, Development Finance Department of the CBN, Dr M. A. Olaitan represented by Muhammad Ali Baba, blamed farmers for defaulting to offset the loan given to them under the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme.
He cited example with the 4,405 Sokoto farmers who benefitted from the scheme but failed to pay back even though it had added value to their production.
He said: “The farmers sold wheat worth over N285 million after harvesting period but I can tell you up till this moment, we have not recovered up to N50 million out of the money we disbursed to them.”
On commercial banks, the director said CBN could not force any bank to invest in agriculture unwillingly, noting that “according to the arrangement, the CBN will provide 50 per cent, farmers 5 per cent and investors 45 per cent and the banks are expected to provide 7 per cent of the profit they have generated.
“So, tell me which bank can invest in this business while the farmers are not paying back loan? Until the business is economically viable, no commercial bank can invest in the sector,” he said.
Also, a CBN official in-charge of the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme in Kano, Alhaji Musa Umar Yar’Adua, said out of the N1 billion disbursed to 5,540 farmers under the scheme in the state, CBN has not recovered up to N3 million at present.
“Farmers did not show interest in the scheme until towards the end of the rainy season. It took me five months to convince them to accept the scheme. So, by the time the loan got to them the season was almost over,” he said.