This past week, Kebbi hugged the headlines. Not for evil, but for good. Kebbi played host to Nigerian dignitaries and members of the international community. It was an occasion to mark the 5th anniversary of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, initiative: The Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, ABP. It was also a fitting moment to launch the 2020 wet season harvest aggregation and the 2021 dry season input distribution under the CBN-Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) ABP.
CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, was among the dignitaries. He wore a broad smile. He caught the image of a happy man. He was ensconced among other happy men. There was a pervading sense of joy. The reason for the joy of the moment was writ large. Pyramids of rice arrayed in carefully created dunes. Evidence that will can pave a path; that water can still gush out of crusted flint. The rice dunes of Kebbi is proof that the ABP launched five years ago is a worthy public-private venture. Evidence that President Muhammadu Buhari has kept his promise to take local rice production beyond the rhetoric and sloganeering of yesteryears.
So, why Kebbi? It’s the state with the highest rice production quotient. The first state to exploit the entire value chain in rice production, turning it from subsistence to commercial farming. Its fertile alluvial soil supports rice production. Local governments like Argungu, Birnin Kebbi, Augie, Kalgo, Bunza, Suru, Dendi, Koko/Bese, Jega, Ngaski, Bagudo, Tsanga, Yauri, Wara and Myamama are the chief rice production hubs. Kebbi farmers have created economies of scale with rice-millers and off-takers setting up shops in the state. The ceremony of last week was rhapsodic.
Kebbi Governor, Senator Abubakar Bagudu, and his Ekiti counterpart, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is also chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), were effusive with laudation for Emefiele for birthing a concept to reality. Bagudu attributed the nation’s exit from recession in two quick successions to the revolutionary momentum ABP gave to farmers and agriculture at large. For Fayemi, the CBN intervention represents a new thinking outside the orthodox paradigm of growing the GDP.
President of RIFAN, Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, was himself a merry heart. Gushing with unvarnished ecstasy, he thanked Buhari for his vision to make Nigeria produce what she eats and eat what she produces. Goronyo had kind words for Emefiele for proving to the world, with tangible evidence, that true agricultural revolution is possible in our time.
Launched in November 2015 by President Buhari, the ABP was conceived as a low-interest loan scheme which gives ample room and flexibility for payment. Interest was as low as 9 percent but with the advent of the Covid-19, the interest was adjusted to as low as 5 percent. The loans are disbursed through any of the Deposit Money Banks (DMBs), Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) and Microfinance Banks (MFBs), all of which the programme recognises as Participating Financial Institutions (PFIs).
Through the ABP, the CBN governor did not only change the script from the old all-talk but little action- order, he gave force of action to its performance. He has thus become the best friend of the Nigerian farmer who hitherto had struggled for lack of funds to expand operations.
The CBN-powered ABP is the reason we now have locally-produced rice boldly displayed and sold in major supermarkets across the country. It’s the reason Nigeria has saved forex in millions yearly from importation of rice. It’s the reason a state like Kebbi has enjoyed relative peace and security despite sharing border with Niger Republic from where migrant criminals flood Nigeria. Kebbi is peaceful because Kebbi is busy; busy producing rice, busy milling rice and busy shipping same into markets nationwide. It’s the reason the President of Benin Republic, Mr Patrice Talon, represented by his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Aurelie Agbenonci, had to make a sortie to Kebbi to witness the occasion. Talon dispatched a team of about four ministers to Kebbi. And he promised to do in Benin Republic the beautiful work being done in Kebbi including establishing a partnership with Nigeria in milling to produce enough rice to feed the whole West African sub- region. In simple language, Kebbi farmers took the Beninese president through a rice-production masterclass.
Emefiele says the CBN and RIFAN have targeted to cultivate one million hectares of rice farms, which represents over 350 per cent increase from the 221,450 cultivated in 2020. That’s ambitious.
From launch date in 2015, a total of 2,923,937 farmers cultivating 3,647,643 hectares across 21 commodities through 23 participating financial institutions have been financed in the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The current rice production output shows that as a nation, we can if we will. If we muster the will, we can achieve enduring success. Not yet Eldorado in rice production, far from it, but we have started a journey to the mountain top. We have reached a point of no-return. The Buhari success story in local rice production cannot be reversed. Any government that attempts to undo this feat is a clear enemy of the people.
Nigeria is still far from self-sufficiency in rice production. She is not even among the top nations of the world. China leads the log of top 10 rice producers with an intimidating annual volume of 148.5 million metric tonnes in 2018-2019 production cycle, according to Statistica.com. India follows with 116.42 million metric tonnes. Thailand, the biggest beneficiary of Nigeria’s fiendish craze for imported rice, is 6th on the log with over 20 million metric tonnes. Smaller nations like Vietnam, Burma and the Philippines have done well enough to occupy respectable places in the global top 10. By last evaluation, Nigeria now produces over 8 million metric tonnes of milled rice in a year, bettering the output of Egypt and other nations on the continent. This is a significant leap forward.
Conservative estimates by international agencies place Nigeria’s annual rice production at 3.2 million metric tonnes. But RIFAN claims it has established that Nigeria now leads the class in Africa. RIFAN insists that Nigeria has two rice farming seasons. In each season, 4 million metric tonnes of rice is produced. RIFAN says a good 12 million Nigerians are engaged in the production of the 8 million metric tonnes. This means that in the rice value chain, about 12 million Nigerians have been positively impacted by rice production alone.
But we must not dwell on statistics alone. The reality is that through the ABP, Emefiele has given Nigerian farmers fresh wings to fly. With over 20 farm produce profiting from the ABP, the contribution of agriculture to GDP can only get better. Much more, the nation’s march to food security becomes more assured. This is the real sovereignty – a nation being able to feed herself. If tomorrow Nigeria achieves food security, history would be fair to Emefiele as the man who laid the cornerstone for such national milestone.