By Omodele Adigun
The apathy of the nation’s financial institutions towards agriculture came to the fore on Wednesday in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, when it was revealed that a paltry sum of about N96 million was given as loans to farmers in38 years.
According to Dr (Mrs) Grace Evbuomwan, Senior lecturer, Banking and Finance Department, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, who disclosed this during a workshop for finance correspondents and Business editors, sponsored by the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) ,the ineffectiveness of the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (ACGSF) floated by CBN could only service just 998,908 beneficiaries with about N96 million between 1978 and the end of December, 2015.
Evbuomwan, while speaking on the topic: ‘Financing Agriculture for Sustainable Economic Development,’ noted that the level of funding which the agricultural sector had received over the years has not been adequate.
“Both government and the financial institutions in the country have not given the agricultural sector adequate attention, despite the importance of the sector,” she added.
She explained that 225,613 or 22.6 per cent of the beneficiaries borrowed just N5, 000 and below.
On the other hand, she said large borrowers of above N100,000 were 212,665 in number and they took up N68,515,959.30 or 71.5 per cent of the total amount.
Evbuomwan, however, stressed that the least borrowers received an average of N322,1991.99 under the ACGSF over the years, which is quite instructive in terms of investment and working capital structure in the sector.
Similarly, available statistics indicated that loan disbursement by Bank of Agriculture(BoA) has been uneven and in some years not distrubed at all.
Recall that the ACGSF was established in 1977 and started operations in April 1978 under the management of the apex bank, while a board of directors was constituted for its policy making .
In a related development, the Ebonyi State Governor , Mr Dave Umahi, has commended the apex bank on its Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) and Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP). The Governor said the country would not need to import rice any more as the twin programmes are helping Ebonyi to improve and enlarge its rice production. He explained that the state is evolving an agricultural scheme called one man, one hectare so as to attain food security and for the nation.
In the same vein, the Chairman, Ebony Agro Industry Limited, Chief Charles Ugwu, also gave CBN a pat on the back for sustaining rice milling business in the country.
Ugwu made the commendation when finance correspondents and Business editors under the aegis of Finance Correspondents Association of Nigeria (FICAN) visited the mill in Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
Ugwu recounted that Ebony Agro Industry was one of the 17 rice mills intended to be established by the Federal Government in 2008 due to food shortage occasioned by the global economic meltdown. He added that due to policy reversal and challenges of infrastructure such as power, road and finance, only four of the Mills were eventually established.
He added that the stringent measures put in place by the commercial banks to obtain loans would have scuttled the project but for the intervention of the central bank. He commended the CBN for providing the start up funds through CACS and the Anchor Borrowers Programme which is helping farmers to realise their dreams.
The Ebony Agro Industry Chairman lamented the inadequate paddy and high cost of running the mill as major challenges. He said these challenges threaten the existence of the mills. He said rice mills become profitable when it runs continuously without interruptions or shutting down operations. Ugwu, however, expressed optimism that with consistency as well as instituting a policy restricting rice importation, more investments in rice cultivation and production would be made, and there would soon be a drop in the current market price of rice.
Umahi also commended the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, on his prudent management of the nation’s economy.
Passing a vote of confidence on the CBN Governor, the Ebonyi State Chief Executive said CBN was doing quite a lot as many states in the country would not have been able to pay salaries but for the intervention of the apex bank.
“We urged naysayers to desist from playing politics with national issues .The nation needs patriotic and God fearing People to succeed,” he said.
The Governor, who just came back from China on foreign investment tour, said, to ensure that Agriculture ventures in the state becomes profitable, a Chinese system of irrigation would be deployed. He added that recession presents opportunity to diversify the economy.