Jun 18, 2021

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Southeast farmers score Anchor Borrowers Programme low

Late release of agricultural inputs and long protocol required to access loans under the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) are major factors for poor performance of the scheme in the Southeastern region of the country.

These are some of the claims by farmers in a survey conducted by The Guardian in the five Southeast states of Enugu, Imo, Abia, Anambra and Ebonyi. They blame some of the setbacks on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) even as the apex bank blames farmers and their local facilitators for the woes.

Investigations revealed that the programme, which began in 2015 and aimed at financing production of rice, maize, cassava among other crops for increased local consumption and commercial purposes, had not made significant impact in the region.

Farmers accuse operators of the scheme of continual miscalculation regarding the appropriate farming season for different crops grown in the region as against those grown in the north.
IT was observed in Enugu State that some farmers have carried on with the programme despite challenges while others pulled out completely, citing inability to “continue to invest without profits.”

Mr. Ikechukwu Nneji, the Cluster Chairman for Akpugo Multi-Purpose Cooperative, told The Guardian that the cassava farm his group cultivated last year did not yield any dividend, following frustrations suffered in the hands of the implementers of the programme.

He stated that aside attacks by pests, they had to grapple with late arrival of inputs and fire outbreak that destroyed their farms.

The group, according to him, received over N20 million, with each of the 91 members of the cooperative collecting N220,000. He explained, however, that apart from the N20,000 cash released for weeding of the farm, the rest of the money was converted into inputs supplied directly by the managers of the scheme.

He said: “The amount was supposed to be N270, 000 but they did not give that to us, rather they gave N220,000. From the N220,000, they made some deductions. We asked why the deductions but did not get answers. It was in fact messed up.

“We planted cassava. They were to supply us the cassava stems early, but it arrived late. Before it arrived, weeds had already taken over the farms. We started making contributions on how to weed the farms because the N20,000 was not enough. Instead of sending cassava stems to us first, they sent fertiliser. We discovered that herbicides they gave to us did not work. It could not control the weeds and before they could change it, the weeds had taken over the farms. We started making more contributions to get the farms weeded. These contributions are different from the money we spent to acquire the land, cultivate it before the planting proper.”

The situation, he said, was compounded by the fact that an insurance company that was expected to mitigate the losses abandoned them.

“They did not pay us compensation. NIRSAL officials working with us did not also tell us anything; hence our members started losing interest in the programme. As I speak with you now, we are not up to 15 members left in the cooperative. Many have left and said they would not return. A good number invested more money and did not make anything as profit. Personally, I invested about N500,000 and I did not make a kobo.”

The failure, it was gathered, made repayment of loans impossible.

He also alleged that NISAL officials that supervised the harvest failed to disclose the amount realised.

Another farmer, Ifeanyi Eze, who leads a group of 65 young farmers under the aegis of Enugu State Young Farmers Association (ESYFA), stated that efforts to key into the scheme were rendered unsuccessful by difficult conditions.

He recalled that 65 hectares of cassava farm his members planted last year was destroyed by cows.

“It is this kind of thing that discourages people even with all the time we put into that farm. We ran to state government for assistance, through the Ministry of Agriculture, and as we speak, nobody has come to our rescue. We have met and we are trying to plan ahead. The first thing is to secure land anywhere and begin afresh since there is no other means of livelihood available to us now than farming,” he stated.

But Daniel Chidiebere, a leader of another farmers’ association told The Guardian that 60 members in the rice farmers association received about 40 per cent of the loan for the current season. According to him, they will receive N300,000 each, while others were in the process of receiving inputs

The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Mathew Idu, said the state government was not involved in the programme but that farmers in the state were into the scheme and improving their agricultural yields.

He confirmed late arrival of agricultural inputs as a major challenge, saying: “Certain crops do not grow at the same time. That is why some persons, who got the input during off-season ended being unable to repay the loans. In such cases you have it as bad debt.”

MEANWHILE, a CBN official in Enugu has said the apex bank should not be held responsible for alleged delays farmers experience in receiving approved inputs.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that the bank had continued to aggregate and approve crops for farmers in the various states based on crops with comparative advantage over others, stressing that it was in line with the objectives of the programme. He attributed delays in receiving inputs to the inability of farmers and agent banks in sorting out issues relating to the process.

He said: “We don’t give cash to farmers and we don’t supply those inputs directly. We reach them through various commercial banks we are working with at any given time. What we normally do is to direct the release of the funds to the banks, who will now administer the inputs. So we are always ready and waiting for them to tell us that the affected farmers have met all the requirements and were ready to go to farm.”

He added that delays come through the programme window operated by various states. He said in cases where farmers were operating the public sector model, where the state government owns up the scheme, such funds were received by the government who would take the inputs to farmers. He disclosed that where the programme was a prime anchor model, it was the individual or an off-taker who took responsibility to supply the farmers in the value chain with the inputs after meeting the requirements.

“There is also the commodity association window whereby those with capacity to provide the commodities come together. What we normally do is to release the funds and they take the inputs. So in a nutshell, it is not the CBN’s making. The farmers have their series of challenges with the agent banks. We don’t release money unless the inputs are supplied and it is through the banks that we get approval for the release,” he said

He said that since 2016 when farmers in Enugu state embraced the Anchor Borrowers initiative, the bank had used only two windows – Commodity Association and Prime Anchor Initiative.

He stated that so far, the bank had worked with over 10,000 farmers in the state since the programme started, adding that repayments had not been regular as expected “but we are encouraged to continue because of the impacts and the objective to feed ourselves”

He said that rice farmers, cassava growers, maize farmers and poultry farmers are currently benefitting in the state.

He listed the banks as NIRSAL, Unity bank, Bank of Agriculture, Eco Bank and Access Bank.

Enugu State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mathew Idu, stated that farmers should not entirely be absolved of blames over late arrival of inputs, stressing that some of them have continued to act “without knowing that farming is seasonal.”

“Out of greed they also accept off-season crops as if they do not know that without water and other implements, you cannot farm here.” he said.

He said that the state government had continued to monitor their progress by ensuring that “whatever is needed to benefit from the programme is given to them”.

Imo State Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Dr. Vitus Ayo Enwerem, blamed the failure of the programme in the state on late arrival of inputs, among other factors.

He noted that while interventions of the Federal Government through the Anchor Borrowers in Kebbi, Niger and Nasarawa might be working, it failed in Imo because while comparative advantages in crops were applied in the execution of the programme in the North, it was not applied in the Southeast.

“Imo is number two in cassava production but cassava was not keyed into Anchor Borrowers. Imo is number one or two in oil palm production. Oil palm is not is not in the programme.

“Rice and maize inputs were accessed. 559 farmers benefitted in maize production in Imo in the scheme. The inputs supplied are maize seeds, fertilisers, and agro chemicals. Unfortunately, most farmers did not get complete inputs. Those who got had challenges; they came late after wet season and it affected harvest.”

He also disclosed that 200 rice farmers received inputs in seeds, fertilisers, agro chemicals and water pumps. Also, they were faced with a fungal disease challenge.

He lamented that inputs released to farmers were far below the number of persons that applied, saying: “When 100 people apply for seeds, they will supply for 30. The seeds will not go round even as they came late. At times they will send the seeds when the planting season has gone.

“These are difficulties farmers face, which are very serious. Yet they are booked to pay back the whole loan.”

Farmers, according to him, have to pay back the full loan without receiving stipulated inputs.

“Information on our table indicate that even those approved to get this money did not get it entirely, yet they pay upfront money to the association, they are expected to pay registration, cost of different fees and they pay upfront, yet they do not get the money. Now the input they promised them will not come on time and if it comes at all, not all of them will get it.

He suggested that loans be given directly to farmers to enable them explore cheaper options of inputs through bargaining.

“Give farmers the money, then they will go to where they can get seeds cheaper. We have reputable seed companies farmers can go to and bargain. They buy and impose inputs on farmers. That is where this Anchor Borrowers Programme is having a lot of problem.”

Asked to release figures of loans granted to farmers in the state, he said only the CBN could do that.

“We don’t have the figures. The Central Bank is keeping it. What they do is that after processing, they now credit the accounts of agents. Money doesn’t pass through us. They give directly to the beneficiaries through agents.

“I am sure the CBN should have the information. Some of these things are shrouded in secrecy. I don’t know why Central Bank is not making these things public. What stops them from publishing those who benefitted,” he queried

On the way forward in the state, he urged managers of the agric facility to give priority to cassava and oil palm in the state. Cassava, according to him, is of great value to the state because it is needed by many industries.

“But cassava did not enter the rollout of anchor borrowers. Oil palm, our indigenous plant here, which Malaysia came here to pick, is not also in the list. If you go to the north, you find that all their grains with comparative advantage are given emphasis.

“Agriculture is about timelines, bring the chemicals and input at the right time. If you are giving the money for labour, give them the complete money as agreed. The failure to observe these rules has contributed to the low rating of the programme in Imo State,” he said.

The challenges, according to him, have affected the repayment of loans by farmers, besides natural disaster and other factors.

The Imo State Chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Arch Nwankwo, explained that farmers were made to commence repayment of loan at the point of accessing inputs, with 25 per cent equity.

“There was 25 per cent equity before collecting inputs. So repayment starts from that point. In terms of quantifying the loan value, no cash was given, it is the CBN that has that record.

He could not however give the number of his members in the state that applied for loans and the number that got the facilities. He insisted that he would only get the numbers from the association’s regional or national leaders. Even with repeated clarifications that the numbers he was asked to provide concerned only his state where he leads as the chairman, he maintained that only regional and national leaders had the figures.

IN Abia State, there are about ten farmers associations. They major in cultivation of maize, rice, cassava, ginger, cocoa, cashew, sweet potato, and oil palm.

About 5,500 commodities farmers were registered in the state. Chairman of the state Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MGPMAN) Mr. Clement Uhie, told The Guardian in the presence of the Vice Chairman, Mr. Chris Ikpo, and Secretary, Mr. Chibuzo Nwankpa, that 2,041 members of his association accessed N182, 000 loan each, amounting to N371,462m.

Uhie decried the late release of the loan, and urged relevant authorities to address the challenge.

He listed difficulty in land procurement, late release of inputs as problems and challenges that required urgent attention and called for the distribution of well-treated seedlings.

According to him, loans should be increased to enable farmers increase their scope from subsistence to commercial level.

He noted that the programme had boosted the production of allied commodities and made them more available as raw materials for local industries, thereby boosting job creation.

The Chairman of cassava growers association, Mr. Sunday Uche, stressed the need for managers of the programme to guide against dealing with impostors.

Chairman of the state All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mr. John Babington, said the state did not get much from the programme, due to bottlenecks that include provision of collaterals.

“The managers of the Fund should sideline briefcase-carrying farmers and deal directly with real farmers who are desirous and determined,” he suggested.

A manager in thestate Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Chief Israel Amanze, confirmed to The Guardian that the Anchor Borrowers Programme faced challenges in the state, which the initiators could not find immediate answers to, leaving it to run on trials-and-errors basis.

He said: Some farmers saw it as gift from government and not as a repayable loan and there was not adequate sensitization on what it was.

“There was over-pricing of inputs as most of the inputs contracts were awarded at the CBN level on behalf of the low-income farmers who are conscious of costs. Most people involved are not qualified to be suppliers; hence, in some cases, they did not supply the right seeds at the right time,even as the farmers were allegedly charged for what they did not collect.”

He advised managers of the programme to reach out to leaders of commodities associations to reconcile with banks that inter-face with the CBN to ensure that farmers are not charged for input they did not receive and to address complaints of wrong charges.

THERE is remarkable success in the story from Anambra State. Farmers in the state belong to different groups,such as Udokamma MultipurposeCooperative Society, Nwankwo Farms Multipurpose Co-operative Society Ltd, Obiwanne Co-operative Ltd, among others. They have participated in the scheme from 2017 to 2019, with over 600 farmers.

Operating in clusters of 10 farmers in cooperatives, they registered for cultivation of rice and cassava.

The Secretary, All Farmers Association of Nigeria in Anambra State; and member
Udokamma MultipurposeCo-operative Society, Solomon Ozuah, said about 30 per cent of the total grant approved for each farmer has been released.

He also identified late supply of inputs as the major challenge in the state, saying that farmers expect inputs in April but they would not be delivered until August.

“This affects output negatively in some cases,” he said.
He added: “There is flood because rice farms are located in flood plains in Anambra State and this causes damage to cropsand also invasion by herdsmen who grazetheir cattle on peoples’ farms.”

Of the farmers that invested in rice and cassava production, he said about 60 per cent had benefitted from the scheme.

He said: “They are making money that will help sustain their families, young farmers are building new houses and investing in other micro businesses.

“Since farmers don’t receive cash but input, they have no other money to spend. It is a modified way of giving help to farmers in the state. In our cooperative, over 70 per cent of the farmers are paying back cash to cover cost of input received and this encourages them to grow in the scheme.”

The Chairman, Nwankwo Farms Multipurpose Co-operative Society Ltd, Sunday Iloegbunam, said, each farmer of the 200-member strong society, received input worth N94, 000 per half acre for rice cultivation.

“Farmers were engaged in 2018, but we did not cultivate last year and we are expecting the programme for 2021.Farmersneed cash to pay for labour, hire tractors to till land since the assistance given to them is in the
form of inputs.

According to him, rice farmers make about N200,000 profit after paying for input.

He said: “The improvement has encouraged more farmers to show interest to farm this season. The good harvest can be seen in farmers’ improved lifestyles and venturing into other areas, including the transport sector.

On its role, the state Ministry of Agriculture said they only profile farmers, identify them for the CBN.

Mrs Emeagwali in the state Ministry of Agriculture said between 2016 and 2017, 2119 farmers participated in rice production under theprogramme.

She saidtheimpact on rice production was felt widely in the state.