From Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin Kebbi
From a meager 700 metric tonnes per annum to over four million metric tonnes per annum of paddy rice produced in Kebbi State within five years, the story of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) has changed the narrative of rice production in Nigeria.
Out of the 21 local government areas in the state, 15 are major rice producing areas because of their closeness to the river, while others engage in wet season production. The predominant rice producing councils are Argungu, Augie, Birnin-Kebbi, Bunza, Bagudo, Dandi, Kalgo, Jega, Maiyama, Suru, Koko-Besse, Ngaski, Shanga, Yauri, and Wara.
The consistency in the annual turnover of paddy rice has also resulted in 200,000 metric tonnes of the produce assembled as rice pyramids in Zauro town, Kebbi State, ready to be sold to 18 out of 40 rice millers operating in Nigeria.
Five years ago, precisely, November 17, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the ABP in the remote town of Zauro, a village in Kebbi State, then uncertainty and apprehension surrounded the programme. People doubted whether, it would yield expected results or not. To many critics, the programme would become another pipe dream like some other government policies.
Despite the apprehension, the Presidency’s anchor borrowers’ programme, designed to diversify the Nigeria economy, with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as the financial arm, through Bank Of Agriculture (BOA), in collaboration with Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), has not only created employment for thousands of citizens but also re-enacted the famed groundnut pyramids of Northern Nigeria.
Five years after, 77,000 rice farmers who started the dry and wet season rice cultivation have increased tremendously with civil servants, businessmen, women and philanthropists joining the new trend of rice production.
Speaking on how the journey started, the chairman of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kebbi State chapter, Alhaji Muhammed Sahabi Augie, while addressing students on excursion from six different schools to observe the rice pyramids in Zauro town, explained that Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State played a vital role to ensure that uncertainty became reality.
According to him, “Before, more than 80 per cent of the rice we consumed was imported from China, Thailand and other countries into our country. Despite the fact that we have enough land, enough farmers to produce rice internally for our consumption, we were buying foreign rice and paying import duties.
“And this is a kind of setback for our economy. Nigeria as a whole, agriculture is the background of our economy. Unfortunately, government before this one didn’t have political will like what we saw in President Muhammadu Buhari. So, when the government was sworn in, as the chairman of RIFAN, I knew that our governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, contacted our national association and enquired from us what were the challenges bedevilling rice farming in Kebbi State despite all the potential we had.
“We told him that we were facing challenges of fertilizers and other inputs to produce rice. He was devastated about our challenges and promised to give us all the necessary support to ensure we have good rice farming in Kebbi State. He organized a national meeting of RIFAN and we discussed generally about our challenges. Thereafter, he took our requests to President Buhari, who invited the CBN governor. Most of the farmers involved in rice cultivation then were rural farmers, who didnt have income, because of the nature of rice farming, it is capital-intensive in nature. You need fertilizers, water pumping machines, insecticides and other agro chemicals for rice farming.
“So, anchor borrowers was born from out of this background on November 17, 2015, President Buhari was in this town, Zauro, to launch the programme, which was supported and sponsored by the state government with about 77,000 farmers. All the farmers were given the inputs in terms of fertilizers, water pumps, agro chemicals, seeds, and even fuel to be fueling the water pumping machines.
“Before the anchor borrowers, our output in Kebbi State was just about 700 metric tonnes. But the first year of implementing the programme, we recorded 1.4 million metric tonnes in the state. From that time on, our yields have been rising up so that we are proud of producing four million metric tonnes per annum. So, that is the history of ABP in Kebbi State from 2015 till now.”
While speaking at the fifth anniversary celebration of ABP in Zauro, Governor Bagudu noted that the investments in the programme were paying off, with the multiplier effects on the economy and Nigeria’s food security.
He said: “RIFAN is today displaying these successes and gains of the last five years by showing this massive array of rice pyramids. This is a great testament to the happy journey so far in spite of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, flood disasters and other issues.
“Our hardworking populace has been supported by good economic policies by President Buhari, economic institutions like the CBN, other agencies and commercial banks. Nigerians have been resiliently at work, hence, we are celebrating these achievements recorded in the last five years. The last five years have given us great hopes that agriculture will continue to produce the desired results.”
Bagudu, who commended CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, for displaying good leadership, noted that the apex bank had taken a risk by showing commitment and pumping more money to small-scale farmers, a situation that was never seen in Nigeria.
According to Bagudu, that was a great achievement under President Buhari. He stressed that “with the right support and policies, Nigerian farmers can favourably compete with their colleagues from across the world.”
In his remarks at the celebration, Emefiele described the programme in Kebbi State as a dream that came to reality. He explained that Nigeria was naturally blessed to meet its food requirements and had no reason to continually repeat mistakes of the past of neglecting agriculture.
“The rhetoric around neglect of previous years will remain part of our history and the best time to correct those mistakes is now and all stakeholders must contribute their quota to guarantee the realisation of these national targets. COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns globally have shown that nations only export out of their reserves. Let us start building our own reserves now,” he said.
Emefiele, who explained tha the ABP, in the past five years, had been characterised by huge successes, learning points and challenges, noted that a total of 2,923,937 farmers, cultivating 3,647,643 hectares across 21 commodities through 23 participating financial institutions, had been financed in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory till date.
He also disclosed that the banks, under the 2020 wet season CBN-RIFAN partnership, financed 221,450 farmers for the cultivation of 221,450 hectares in 32 states.
“The North-West zone with 85,261 farmers that cultivated 120,218 hectares represented 38.5% in total number of farmers and 54.3% in total number of hectares financed,” he said.
He added that the massive pyramids being launched in Kebbi were harvests from various fields across Kebbi State and a confirmation of the positive outlook of the ABP.
Emefiele, who said that the partnership between the CBN, the Kebbi State Government and RIFAN was aimed at strategically complementing the Economic Sustainability Plan of the Buhari administration, disclosed that the President had approved the resuscitation of the Nigeria Commodity Exchange (NCX). He said there was commitment of the sum of N50 billion by the CBN and other stakeholders. This, he said, would create a vibrant commodity exchange that would enhance post-harvest handling, guarantee effective pricing for farmers, minimize the adverse effects of middlemen and ultimately transfer the gains from primary production to other modes of the value chain.
Emefiele revealed that CBN and RIFAN both target cultivation of one million hectares of rice farms, which is over 350% increase from the 221,450 cultivated in 2020. He said the bank and RIFAN equally nursed an ambitious two cycles of production in the dry season, which would trigger a continuous drop in the price of rice in the country.
The chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, said: “We are here to show solidarity with the magician, our brother, the governor of Kebbi State.”
Fayemi also stated that ABP had increased the capacity of Nigerians to “produce what they eat and eat what they produce, in line with the directive of Buhari.”
Also, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, commended Bagudu for making Kebbi one of the flagship states of the All Progressives Congress ( APC), and noted that, “Bagudu is now the governor of all governors and not only Kebbi State.”
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, also extolled the achievements of the programme, sequel to the unwavering commitment of President Buhari, Bagudu, Emefiele and other stakeholders.
The sultan stressed the need for leaders in the country to be just and accountable, saying, “lack of food is lack of everything and without food you can’t do anything, even worship.”
President of Republic of Benin, Mr. Patrice Talon, who was represented by four ministers, led by the Foreign Minister, Mr. Aurelie Agbenonci, said:“ This is celebration of hardworking and commitment by Nigerian farmers; this is a dream come true and a vision actualized. We have seen it all, and we are going to establish a partnership in milling and produce rice together to feed the whole West African sub-region.
“Our commitment as a republic is to learn and tap from each others’ experiences as well as to put mechanism together to produce rice mutually in order to stop the importation of foreign and toxic rice into our countries; and we believe we can do it. Anything that will destroy Nigeria, will destroy Benin Republic. Our President has also promised to ban any product that is banned by Nigeria”, Talon said.
The national president of RIFAN, Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, commended President Buhari for his commitment to food security and visionary ideals in the initiation of the programme five years ago.
“We would never forget the President’s emphatic and realistic statement when he said that we must feed ourselves. He came to the state five years ago here, at the same spot, flagged off the programmes, and now, we are here today to witness successes of the programmes. The pyramid flanked here attest to the fact that the call to feed ourselves had been answered by our farmers, and the farmers will sure feed this nation,” he said.