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Why we need massive FG investment in agriculture – Gov. Bagudu

The governor of Kebii State, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar Bagudu recently spoke to some journalists in the state. The governor harps on issues confronting the state as it concerns rice production, Argunugu Fishing Festival and why the Federal Government should increase its investment if agriculture, among many other national issue. TOM OKPE was there.

Lately, the famous Argunugu Fishing Festival has not been heard about in the state, what are the challenges confronting the festival and rice production in the state?
Argungu Fishing Festival was suspended during the Boko Haram insurgency in 2010-2011. The then government found it expedient to suspend it due to the security situation, even though Kebbi State was least affected.

And since last year we are confident that things are back to normal and we were even ambitious to see that the festival takes place in 2017.

But because we always avoid the raining season period and there is a lot of infrastructural issues like accommodation that have decayed because of the suspension, we are working hard to ensure that accommodation, sponsors are up to date and to make it as international as possible so that we can attract the best of it, so that is what we are doing at the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

On the challenges being faced by our farmers I am glad you noted it and I am glad it is highlighted because one thing we have seen is that Kebbi State and our inspiration in the ability of our nation is not highlighted.

Kebbi State as it stand is one of the most difficult places to produce rice because the water levels are bellow the farming land as you have seen, so most of our farmers use irrigation.

In some states it is possible for you to use gravity, that means you don’t buy fuel, you don’t do the water in other to produce rice and because of this our farmers are always buying petrol.

Sometimes when it is not available at the price assumed in the model, because our farmers are borrowing and to borrow the model was modeled with the financial distribution which assumes that farmers will be buying fuel at ₦145 to ₦150, but farmers in some places in the state have been buying fuel close to as much as ₦300 and despite the best efforts of the Federal Government challenges still remain.

Kebbi State fortunately has borders with two countries; Benin Republic and Niger Republic and at present by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, prices of petroleum in Benin Republic and Niger Republic is over ₦350 which is an incentive for people to smuggle products, so our farmers are dealing with this challenge.

But what we have done in the past when we were confronted with the situation, is that the state government stepped in and entered into an arrangement with some petrol stations where we dedicated them for farmers.

We have met with the State House of Assembly and most stakeholders and we are going to start doing so from today. Some farmers are even abandoning their farms because they can no longer afford it.

Can’t we do dams?
Yes, but we wish the Federal Government can support us with channelization, these are long term and capital intensive and we don’t have the financial resources to do channelization now, but we are working with the Federal Government and we are very active in exploring ways that will support its construction.

We are trying various technologies, people have brought solar pumps to display, we have even experimented on a pump based on peddling. This is work in progress and I am sure we will find solutions that will work.

There is an existing partnership between Kebbi and Lagos state that led to the emergence of LAKE rice. How has this project impacted on the life of the nation and your state?
It’s quite a splendid program for the nation because what Governor Ambode, I and all our officials did as a result of that partnership was to go to the most enlightened market in Nigeria which is Lagos and since it is a Nigerian product we know the objectivity and ability of the Lagos market to test and certify it.

Here is a Nigerian product marketed and promoted by two state governments out of this collaboration, supported by President Buhari. It measures up to competition particularly with imported rice.

And lo and behold the good people of Lagos State saw that this is a good product, better than the imported product, so that created a resurgence of demand for Nigerian rice not only LAKE rice, but Nigerian rice in general because the enlightened market defined the mood of the nation when it comes to products.

By confirming that LAKE rice is better than the imported rice, it supported the program and demand was created and Governor Ambode and Lagos State government went to the extent in 2016 of subsidising the rice before Christmas in order to make it more affordable for the people and that had a significant difference on the prices generally,

because prior to Christmas in 2016 rice in some places was about ₦20,000, but last Christmas season it came down to ₦14,000 and the Federal Government of Nigeria is also supporting, all the millers that were holding rice stock the Federal Government intervened through that partnership between Lagos and Kebbi state in order to deliver rice to the market. I thank Nigerians for believing that we can do it.

Just last week I had a meeting in Lagos with the millers and the rice traders association which involved Daleko market GCAPPA and Iddo Market.

Through their experience they all were categorical that the Nigerian rice is better than the imported rice and we spoke about a better supply chain to ensure that it is available every time.

On the anchor borrowers program, are there defaulters and what are you doing to rectify that?
The anchor borrowers program is a program designed by the Central Bank of Nigeria and approved by the President, where farmers all across the 36 states of the Federation and FCT can access loans based on models created.

For rice, Kebbi State for example we started with a pilot program involving 70,000 farmers. Because we started with 70,000 farmers we gained a lot of experience.

Registration was an issue because in some places we required service availability in other to register farmers, sometimes farmers were patient and they turned up for registration.

When we started that pilot program we realised that all the imputes are not available; for example, 70,000 farmers you want to give every one 6 bags of fertilizer, so you need about 420,000 bags of fertilizers which is a huge logistic challenge especially at a point where the fertilizers available in the market is less than 200, 000 bags.

For 70,000 farmers ideally you need 2 water pumps per farmer, that is 140,000 water pumps and that was the period when prizes of water pump jumped from ₦17,000 to ₦32,000. That is when we also had fuel challenge so all these affected the model.

But the key thing is that the first objective in the model is to increase the production of Nigerian rice and as we can see, it contributed to the exit of Nigeria from recession in so short a record time, the second objective is to create employment and it did. It popularised the belief and energised everybody to understand that we can do it.

Are there people who have defaulted?
Yes. You have 70,000 or over 100,000 farmers; there are bound to be defaulters. But just like we have been arguing, farmers as business men, which is one of the things we want you to help popularise, face repayment issues just like companies face repayment issues occasionally, what is important is work with him/her so the they can continue.

₦54 Billion is the total amount of money made available under the anchor borrower scheme. It is not little; we thank President Buhari and the CBN because this is the first time it has been done in our country.

But it is little money compared to what goes into other sectors, for example when the Asset Management Company of Nigeria was established in 2010 to take over bad loans from the commercial bank system, ₦4 Trillion was taken over which was not agriculture related, it was oil and gas, shares certificates and land certificates, so spending of ₦54 Billion has resulted in the magic that we have seen in terms of food production, I think it should be a bigger story than repayment challenges that will occasion any program like this.

I want to use this medium to appeal to all the journalists to call for greater lending for agriculture, greater public support for agriculture, for example NNPC indicated that in the first two months of this year alone that fuel subsidy is ₦180 Billion, but yet lending to agriculture under anchor borrowers for two and a half years for farmers across 36 states is just ₦54 Billion. We need massive investment in agriculture.

Countries that have achieved food sufficiency spent decades supporting agriculture funding, providing different producer support, that is what we should follow and then farmers must be encouraged to pay, but farmers like every other businessmen occasionally must face such challenges and what is important is for the financial institution to treat them like they will treat other borrowers in order for them to meet their obligations.

Do you have a figure as to the total hectares being cultivated in Kebbi State and the LAKE rice phenomenal; do you have a fix figure earned from the investment?
We don’t have the total hectare, under the anchor borrower there are private anchor companies like the rice millers you have visited, like Labana, Ola, Humza, these companies have farmers that they are working with and we know the number of farmers and we know the hecterage of those farmers.

When there is a state government anchor with CBN like I said the pilot scheme was 70,000 which is now close to 150,000 farmers, so that model is one hectare per farmer, so there you have about 150,000 hectares just for the state anchor.

For the private anchor we believe it is about 70,000 to 80,000 farmers. These are farmers in the anchor borrowers program; a lot of them are not yet in the program. We believe not less than 400,000 hectares is used for cultivation.

On how much money we make, like I told you, the first objective of the program is to give the confidence that Nigeria can do it.

And in terms of measuring the value, you are in a better position to assess. Just as you said the LAKE rice has been phenomenal.

Rice grows in the 36 states of Nigeria plus the FCT so, everyone can do better and as part of the chain, my responsibility in the presidential committee, I have visited many states and we have seen new products being launched everywhere like Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa, Kastina, Kano, Ebonyi, Cross Rivers, Ogun, Imo, Anambra and of course Lagos to join other major brands.

That is our first measure of success and that has led to a reduction of import of rice by over 90 percent and it energised investment, because you must notice that even when Nigeria was said to be experiencing depression, companies were investing in rice mill which is a big success story.

What is its contribution to the revenue of the state?
Very little, because our objective is to make our farmers wealthy, when they become wealthy the burden of the state is low and they can uphold education.

That is how we measure financial achievement of this model and most importantly it has built better relationship; Kebbi and Lagos have given many Nigerians the inspiration that with corporation we can do a lot for ourselves. We are proud that we are pacesetters in such corporation.

There are three cropping seasons in the state, two dry seasons and one wet season. So farmers produce rice in three cropping seasons and like I said, we are estimating that both people in the anchor borrower scheme and outside it are about 400,000 farmers with 400,000 hectares in land cultivation and if we take the average yield for those under the anchor borrower, you will have about 5 to 6 tons minimum per hectare and there you have about 1.2million.

For the rest of the farmers not under the anchor borrower scheme their yields are lower and for us, the estimation is about 3 tons per hectare. So for those 200,000, there is another 600,000 tons per cropping season. We are talking about 1.8 Million tons to 2 Million tons.

In the area of farm machineries we saw about 670 tractors and thrashers yesterday and they seem to be imported and there are agencies under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology; NASENI about four of them that are into manufacturing of this farm machineries, what are you doing to ensure that the Ministry partners with you, especially now that the implements have doubled their original prices?
I have visited NASENI, NASENI doesn’t produce, we have visited them and told them our challenges. They are working with teams from the state in order to see how they can help us with the challenge.

Secondly I have visited the Federal Institute of Research in Oshodi Lagos and they are also doing lots of machineries. Unfortunately the time I visited them there was an industrial action. We have been talking to them.

I have introduced them to the CBN because we encouraged the CBN that if they fund the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, they will be able to produce and design machineries that will even be better than the ones we are now forced to import.

One last thing, a lot of rice processing is done by women across the country and we are very particular we don’t want the women to lose out, so we have procured machineries to give women processors. Part of what we are doing is to make sure that this revolution makes women rich.

Going around yesterday we noticed a lot of out of school children around the Local Government Area, what is Kebbi State doing about this?
Kebbi State is one of those states like every other state that has a significant out of school population and we have been working with the development partners to better the outcome.

I believe we have returned more children to school than we have met the situation, but the problem for us is hydra headed, because like I said earlier we have borders with Niger and Benin Republic and a lot of these children come from these countries, they are brought to Nigeria for Quranic Education and economic activities and that poses a lot of problem for us.

Secondly, the North Eastern Nigeria has the biggest Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) accommodation for the North East, so a lot of the farming and fishing done around the Lake Chad is done by people from Kebbi State.

So when they are coming back they brought their families who need shelter and support. Some time the measurement of out of School children excludes children who are in Islamia Schools.

We believe that is wrong, because they are receiving an education. They are literate and knowledgeable; it’s just that the nature of the delivery is different from the formal education.

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I want to use this medium to appeal to all the journalists to call for greater lending for agriculture, greater public support for agriculture, for example NNPC indicated that in the first two months of this year alone that fuel subsidy is ₦180 Billion, but yet lending to agriculture under anchor borrowers for two and a half years for farmers across 36 states is just ₦54 Billion. We need massive investment in agriculture.

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