Many Nigerians are celebrating President Muhammadu Buhari’s five years in office for obvious and various reasons. One constituency that is most impacted, overhauled and reinvigorated is the agriculture. Though there are strides in other sectors of the economy, that of agriculture is the one Buhari blazed the trail most and visibly impacted on millions of Nigerians living on the lower wrung of the socio-economic ladder of the society.
In the last five years, it is expedient to state that Buhari led a revolution that saw millions of Nigerians being salvaged from the fangs of poverty and squalor. These Nigerians are farmers: the hitherto forgotten majority and silent majority of our 200 million population.
Buhari’s revolution succeeded not because his predecessors had not tried. There are various agricultural policies over the years – all aimed at helping the Nigerian farmer. There were Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, the Growth Enhancement Support (GES), the Agricultural Implements and Mechanisation Services (AIMS), among others. They all failed to achieve their mandates partly because they were elite-centric. They mostly excluded the real farmers, who are in rural areas. For instance, the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of President Goodluck Jonathan administration was elite-centric, used urban-based mechanisms such as mobile phones to distribute fertilizer and other farming requisites to the farmers who are scattered across the width and breadth of Nigerian rural areas. The e-wallet system for fertiliser allocation and distribution introduced by Jonathan’s administration fed fat the voracious middlemen business men and unscrupulous government officials. The real farmers who are in the grassroots were craftily and systematically shortchanged.
On the other hand, President Buhari had studied all the failed past attempts to revive agriculture and understood the kernel of the situation. He identified adequate financing and access to these financing by rural peasant farmers as a cog in the wheel of progress of the country’s agricultural development. Without any delay, the president coopted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Under the efficient and dynamic leadership of Mr Godwin Emefiele, the apex bank understood the president’s body language and swung into action. In keeping with his promise to run a central bank that would serve the growth and development needs of the country, Emefiele ensured that CBN becomes a strategic driver of economic growth of the country. The CBN under him has introduced various initiatives for concessionary funding of agriculture, which is widely recognized as the sector that has the potential to drive economic growth.
Emefiele’s CBN initiatives and intervention schemes were broadly classified under sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, micro, small and medium scale enterprises, power and energy and banking. But nowhere have these interventions yielded more quickly as in the agriculture sector where rice production has received the most focus. There is no gainsaying that the CBN development finance initiatives such as the Agricultural Credit Guaranty Scheme, Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme and Anchor Burrowers programme (ABP), among others have tremendously helped to reposition the agriculture sector in the country. The chief among these initiatives that became the epicenter of the agric revolution is the ABP, which was launched by President Buhari on November 17, 2015 to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers of the required key agricultural commodities. The programme has focused primarily on rice production.
CBN Governor Emefiele recently said in line with President Buhari’s directive, the bank would boost provision of improved seedlings and access to finance for rural farmers in the agricultural sector, across 10 commodities: Rice, maize, cassava, cocoa, tomato, cotton, oil-palm, poultry, fish, and livestock/dairy. “Our choice of these 10 crops is driven by the amount spent on the importation of these items into the country, and the over 10 million jobs that could be created over the next five years if efforts are made to expand the cultivation and processing of these items in Nigeria,” Emefiele said.
So far, RIFAN has over 12.2 million members who are involved in Rrce farming, Milling, Storage and Management, Trading and Marketing, Export, Research and Training and Allied businesses. The strategic partnership to be executed under the Economic of Production (EOP) in which loans are given to farmers (not in cash but through farm inputs) and to be paid through paddy and uptake by RIFAN. Many Nigerians under the age of 40, only associate pyramids with the great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Those who are opportune got to read about Nigerian Pyramids only in academic circles when studying the colonial and post-independence agro-economic development of Nigeria.But Buhari’s silent agric revolution is reincarnating the Nigerian pyramids all over the country. Recently, the biggest pyramid in Nigeria was unveiled in Kebbi State. This pyramid is a rice pyramid. It was unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari. Before that of Kebbi, other rice pyramids were built and unveiled in Taraba, Kano, Zamfara, Plateau, Cross River, Sokoto, Nasarawa, Lagos, Katsina, among others.
Unlike the missing pyramids of the defunct Marketing Boards days were those of groundnuts, cotton and cocoa, which were restricted to certain regions of the country, the new emerging pyramids are made up of rice – the staple food of the country that defies ethnic, sectional, cultural or religious dichotomies. Rice is the staple food of the rich and the poor Nigerian. It is the staple food of the rural and the urban dwellers. It is the staple food of southerners and northerners. In the last five years, the journey is bearing beautiful fruits. As statistics from the CBN show that the ABP has added six million metric tons to rice supply in the country annually and created nearly six million direct jobs in a year. Official data from the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) reveals that about two million direct jobs are created every cropping season. And Nigeria has three cropping seasons in a year, all of them fully funded by the CBN. These jobs are restricted to only the production value chain of rice, and not include millions other jobs created in the processing, packaging, transport, marketing sectors of the rice ecosystem.
The ABP has so far saved Nigeria a whooping sum of N369 billion per annum, while the country consumes N1.5 billion worth of rice every day. This breakthrough has saved the country the challenge of sourcing forex or devaluing our currency to finance this monstrous import wage bill. It is noteworthy to state here that though the World Bank Managing Director for development, Mari Pangestu, recently said developing countries in the world are facing food insecurity and malnutrition due to the coronavirus pandemic, a drop in foreign exchange earnings, export restrictions and the breakdown of supply chains, among others. The senior World Bank chief, in remarks to an online meeting of agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 major economies, said this underscored the need for global cooperation to avert food crises in the most vulnerable countries.
Despite all these challenges, Nigeria under Buhari, is safely immune from food shortage. Despite global lockdown, Nigeria is still eating the food produced by its farmers and even exporting to other African countries. It is therefore gratifying to say that Nigeria is still able to feed itself in the midsts of the COVID-19 pandemic courtesy President Buhari’s agric revolution, which was further strengthened with the closure of Nigerian land borders.
Despite all these accomplishments, it is worthy to draw the attention of Mr President to the activities of these middlemen who are bent on killing our local fertilizer blending plants by working in cahoots with some unpatriotic government officials to get presidential approval for the import of fertilizers. This is coming after they have recently failed to coerce the President into kowtowing their selfish interests of reversing the policy of food importation. Nigerians are happier that Buhari’s agric revolution is working for them.
• Aminu Goronyo is the President of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria