For a decade running, a maize farmer in Bwari, an Abuja suburb, Abubakar Bello, never operated beyond subsistence farming, despite investing heavily in it.
Yearly, he records bountiful harvests but sells them immediately after harvest at a giveaway and even almost at a loss. This is because Bello only sells when there is already a market glut, since he lacks modern storage facilities to warehouse his farm products especially grains for off-season sales.
Narrating his ordeals in a chat with Daily Sub, Bello said: “I have been farming in the past 10 years. After completing my secondary education in Kebbi State, I relocated to Abuja to trade. But, since I didn’t have enough capital, I began working for people on their farms and from there I also leased some acres of land to farm by myself.
“Every year, I sell my maize cheaply and quickly or else, I will terribly be at a loss. Some schools come to buy my produce at a very cheap rate. Whether they resell or not, I can’t tell. If I don’t sell on time, the maize dries up and weevil will attack them. I will then lose heavily. So, I sell off the proceeds as quickly as I can,” Bello told Daily Sun.
Painfully, he has been detained in this traumatic farming pattern for years and frustration almost propelled him to venture into other businesses before succour came his way.
Through the help of friends and the media, he learnt of Sterling Bank’s partnership with the commodity exchange to provide warehouses where harvested produce could be exchanged for a token, rather than sold at a loss in the market. Already, World Bank estimates annual post-harvest losses in Nigeria to $9 billion.
Recalling how he has benefited from the succour from Sterling Bank, he said: “With what Sterling Bank is doing, I can take my goods to their warehouse and sell to the commodity exchange. I can use my produce to even secure a loan. It’s that good.”
Bello’s pathetic story is not exclusive to him. Magdalene Bishi, who experienced the same agony of frightening post-harvest losses recorded yearly, explained that the intervention changed his farming dynamics.
“I am into millet and sorghum farming. I can’t even say I am making profit because I sell only at peak seasons even as millet and sorghum are eaten all year round. But there was no storage facility for farmers at my level to store my harvest?
“Where is the access to major markets? What of the cost of transportation? Once I manage to move my goods to Dutse market from Madalla, I will sell quickly at very cheap rate. A huge bag is N40,000 but these wholesalers will resell at N50,000.
“At off-peak season, it is sold at N60,000 per bag but we the farmers are not part of this. It is for those that stored theirs that enjoy this bounty. Now that we have this commodity exchange, we thank the bank. We can now sell whenever we want or at least exchange our goods for a token,” she stated.
At a recent agribusiness workshop in Abuja, the Managing Director of Sterling Bank, Abubakar Suleiman, said that the bank has partnered with a commodity exchange called AFEX and a digital platform known as Binkabi to unveil a product called SABEX, which provides storage for farmers’ produce and sold as and when due to mitigate yearly losses.
He said the move was a strategic effort of the bank to guarantee food security in Nigeria, adding that the bank understood the importance of agriculture to the diversification of the economy, hence it committed about N55 billion in the last seven years to the sector.
“The bank went into partnership with AFEX commodities exchange and digital platform called Binkabi, which is based on block chain operations. What they have delivered is a way to decentralise commodity trading and reduce intermediation in trade, while distributing profits more widely across the value chain.
“The platform will be able to tokenise commodities and cash, so that the two can be exchanged instantly irrespective of where the farmer is located. Based on that, they can access financial services like bank loan either to buy inputs, sell when the time is right or essentially continue to live their lives.
“To get on the platform, prospective players have to link their bank accounts with Sterling Bank, or any other partner banks. They will be directed to provide some more details about themselves and their businesses before they can start trading.
“The biggest gain is avoiding the post-harvest losses farmers usually suffer because farmers are compelled to sell their produce cheaply and immediately after harvest,” he explained.
Suleiman added that the bank had also moved its intervention in the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme from rice to other commodities, revealing that there are other special funds the bank has put together for lending to farmers.
“There is also the Nigeria Incentive-based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) guarantee scheme, which allows the bank to lend to farmers because of the special guarantee on the loan, irrespective of where the farmer is, or whether he is buying input, like fertilisers, tractors or equipment,” he noted.