Rice importation over in two years –BOA MD, Prof. Danju

The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Bank of Agriculture, Prof. Danbala Danju, in an interview with journalists, says rice importation will soon end in Nigeria. GODWIN ISENYO presents the excerpt

The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Bank of Agriculture, Prof. Danbala Danju, in an interview with journalists, says rice importation will soon end in Nigeria. GODWIN ISENYO presents the excerpt

What is the Anchor Rice Borrower programme of the current government all about and how will it impact on the nation’s economy?

The Anchor Rice Borrower programme is aimed at boosting domestic production. The country has been importing rice and because of the foreign exchange and the focus of the new administration to try to convince Nigerians to go into farming, the Central Bank of Nigeria and Bank of Agriculture came up with the Anchor Rice Borrower programme.

In the case of Kebbi State, we have pilot programmes because some of the commercial banks did not consider this as profitable. The Bank of Agriculture is the best place to be because it is a specialist agricultural development bank that is over 42 years old and has more than 137 branches across the 36 states of the federation.

So we started the Anchor Rice Borrower programme with the aim of supporting farmers to boost domestic production of rice. Kebbi as a whole is made up of about 75 per cent farmers with about 98,000 hectares of land.

Each farmer has a budget of about N210,000 per hectare disbursement, which is in two forms and largely, they are given inputs like seeds, fertiliser, pumps and about N49,000 as working capital. Then you have to consider labour for land preparation and day to day management of the rice production. Not all the 75,000 farmers we targeted collected the average amount of N210,000 per hectare because some of them had their water pumps or other inputs. But on the average, each of the farmers was targeted to receive N210,000 in estimated cost of cultivation of a hectare of paddy during the dry season. We targeted to have more than 300,000 metric tons of rice being produced over the dry season period.  And because of the success of the pilot scheme in Kebbi, the Federal Government has directed that we work closely with the Central Bank of Nigeria to target about 13 states in the programme as well as in wheat production, tomato and other staple crops.

Primarily for now, the focus is on rice to help achieve the current objective of self sufficiency in domestic rice production in about one to two years which President Muhammadu Buhari has promised the country. The Bank of Agriculture is the main implementing agency. We have our workers, who are being spread all over the country, particularly in the 13 states of the federation. We are targeting different heritage farmers to achieve domestic sufficiency in rice and other crops. In a couple of weeks, we are targeting about 300,000 farmers that would be supported under the programme to produce paddy. We are entering into some agreements with off-takers, largely private sector millers, and in some cases, state governments.

You said that the programme is meant for small scale farmers, how do you ensure that the big time farmers do not hijack it?

There is a farmers’ registration. All the farmers had to register with the Bank of Agriculture. We have to collect their biometric and in addition to that, we issued them with BVN so that we can have the identity of the farmers. The target is for the small scale farmers who have an average farmland of one hectare to a maximum of five hectares. This is what we have been doing and this is what we are going to do. There is a private company that is partnering with our bank to properly register and identify the farmers to avoid duplication.

For the large scale famers, we are coming up with a special facility for them under a new arrangement for funding agriculture in our country. They have a different interest structure; it is a different instrument that we are using. Under the programme, we are largely targeting the smallholder farmers. Like I have said, there is a rigorous identification system, which requires farmers to register with our branches, and they need to have BVN before they can be given inputs in terms of seeds, fertilisers as well as working capital. So far, it has been quite successful and that is why we are trying to replicate it in other parts of the country.

How has the programme been received in crises prone areas like the North-East and recently the Niger-Delta?

We did not start at once in all the states of the federation; we started in Kebbi and we learnt from that. We are now strategising on how to target 13 states of the federation with respect to rice. The lessons are very clear from Kebbi; we need robust farmer identification. In the past, people would collect money and then divert it for other purposes; this time round, we are disbursing mainly in kind. We give farmers high quality seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and some kind of training to make sure they adopt the correct agronomic practices in order to have the expected yields.

Traditionally, they used to have one ton of paddy per hectare, but with the new high seeds given to them as well as better agronomic practices, they now could have five tons per hectare, which is an improvement. So they are able to make lots of money. They can now pay us back and we can recycle to reach more farmers.

So, what we have started with is the pilot programme, which is now going to be scaled up in all the states of the federation that have comparative advantage in rice production.

You talked about measures to avoid diversion of funds, but what are you doing to prevent the diversion of produce?

In the past, people would have been given N210,000 per hectare, asked to buy their inputs, do what they want and then come back and pay. Now, under the current programme, we don’t pay farmers directly. Before we give money to farmers, we first have to identify who the farmers are. And once farmers are identified, they register with the bank and there is a committee made up of our representative, farmers’ representatives – the Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria, and the off-takers, so that we identify who the farmer is. We have got quality inputs and other seeds company that supply farmers with high quality inputs. So this way, we don’t give money, we give farmers the inputs they need and the inputs are high quality from very quality sources.

The only money we give them is largely about one-fifth of the amount, which is for land clearing, preparation, weeding and transportation. And the money is also given out in instalments; we don’t give all at a go. There are stages; we have the land preparation stage and planting stage. We don’t also give the inputs at once. For instance, fertilisers or pesticides are given at different stages in the production process. So, it is a controlled process.

Do you think this programme is sustainable?

The sustainability of this programme, first of all, is in the module. For a programme to be sustainable, it has to be financially profitable. Farmers in the past had no guaranteed source of credit, now if you’re registered with the Bank of Agriculture, you’ll have the credit to produce your paddy. In the past, they had no guaranteed market, no off-takers. So now that they are registered and they have a ready-made market, the ban on importation of rice makes it very lucrative for them (farmers).

We hope that the Federal Government would sustain the ban on importation of rice because if you open the gate to importation of cheaper and subsidised rice from other economies, it will undermine the profitability of existing rice mills and in turn the profitability of the out growers. So, we hope that the issue of ban on importation of rice would be sustained, and also issues of exchange rate will be handled well. Curiously, an overvalued exchange rate makes it cheaper to import rice, but if we allow for a more realistic pricing of foreign currency or a more appropriate value for the naira, it is good for farmers because instead of importing, they will be encouraged to produce more.

Also, I think there is the question of infrastructure. As we are producing rice currently, the productivity must be enhanced. In this case, more research in terms of output of the seeds. We need high yielding seed varieties of rice and we also need to provide the irrigation, transport infrastructure and the capacity of existing rice mills need to be expanded and new ones established. If we are able to implement all these measures, I think not only will we be able to achieve domestic self-sufficiency but we will also be able to export to other countries in less than two years.

How much are you giving out in the project?

We started during the last dry season, but I can’t give you the total figure. After the pilot scheme in Kebbi, we are now planning to go to the 13 states of the federation and we have a target number of about 300,000 farmers. If you have 300,000 farmers on an average price of about N180,000 per hectares, you can see the amount we are requesting for. We are requesting for huge funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria so that we can support the small scale farmers. We also plan to request for some money from the Central Bank of Nigeria to support large scale farmers. Simply, we are working with different states to identify the target number of farmers in each of the states. And on the basis of this agreement with the Central Bank of Nigeria, we will request for funding. We have been assured by the CBN that once we present the list of farmers with BVN, we’ll be supported with the requisite sum of money.

Is the programme only meant for dry season farming?

No, it is not. Now, we have started with dry season, we’re going into the wet season. For the wet season, in the next couple of weeks, we are targeting 300,000 farmers. After the wet season, we are planning for the dry season. So, it is going to be for both wet and dry seasons.

What is the Anchor Rice Borrower programme of the current government all about and how will it impact on the nation’s economy?

The Anchor Rice Borrower programme is aimed at boosting domestic production. The country has been importing rice and because of the foreign exchange and the focus of the new administration to try to convince Nigerians to go into farming, the Central Bank of Nigeria and Bank of Agriculture came up with the Anchor Rice Borrower programme.

In the case of Kebbi State, we have pilot programmes because some of the commercial banks did not consider this as profitable. The Bank of Agriculture is the best place to be because it is a specialist agricultural development bank that is over 42 years old and has more than 137 branches across the 36 states of the federation.

So we started the Anchor Rice Borrower programme with the aim of supporting farmers to boost domestic production of rice. Kebbi as a whole is made up of about 75 per cent farmers with about 98,000 hectares of land.

Each farmer has a budget of about N210,000 per hectare disbursement, which is in two forms and largely, they are given inputs like seeds, fertiliser, pumps and about N49,000 as working capital. Then you have to consider labour for land preparation and day to day management of the rice production. Not all the 75,000 farmers we targeted collected the average amount of N210,000 per hectare because some of them had their water pumps or other inputs. But on the average, each of the farmers was targeted to receive N210,000 in estimated cost of cultivation of a hectare of paddy during the dry season. We targeted to have more than 300,000 metric tons of rice being produced over the dry season period.  And because of the success of the pilot scheme in Kebbi, the Federal Government has directed that we work closely with the Central Bank of Nigeria to target about 13 states in the programme as well as in wheat production, tomato and other staple crops.

Primarily for now, the focus is on rice to help achieve the current objective of self sufficiency in domestic rice production in about one to two years which President Muhammadu Buhari has promised the country. The Bank of Agriculture is the main implementing agency. We have our workers, who are being spread all over the country, particularly in the 13 states of the federation. We are targeting different heritage farmers to achieve domestic sufficiency in rice and other crops. In a couple of weeks, we are targeting about 300,000 farmers that would be supported under the programme to produce paddy. We are entering into some agreements with off-takers, largely private sector millers, and in some cases, state governments.

You said that the programme is meant for small scale farmers, how do you ensure that the big time farmers do not hijack it?

There is a farmers’ registration. All the farmers had to register with the Bank of Agriculture. We have to collect their biometric and in addition to that, we issued them with BVN so that we can have the identity of the farmers. The target is for the small scale farmers who have an average farmland of one hectare to a maximum of five hectares. This is what we have been doing and this is what we are going to do. There is a private company that is partnering with our bank to properly register and identify the farmers to avoid duplication.

For the large scale famers, we are coming up with a special facility for them under a new arrangement for funding agriculture in our country. They have a different interest structure; it is a different instrument that we are using. Under the programme, we are largely targeting the smallholder farmers. Like I have said, there is a rigorous identification system, which requires farmers to register with our branches, and they need to have BVN before they can be given inputs in terms of seeds, fertilisers as well as working capital. So far, it has been quite successful and that is why we are trying to replicate it in other parts of the country.

How has the programme been received in crises prone areas like the North-East and recently the Niger-Delta?

We did not start at once in all the states of the federation; we started in Kebbi and we learnt from that. We are now strategising on how to target 13 states of the federation with respect to rice. The lessons are very clear from Kebbi; we need robust farmer identification. In the past, people would collect money and then divert it for other purposes; this time round, we are disbursing mainly in kind. We give farmers high quality seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and some kind of training to make sure they adopt the correct agronomic practices in order to have the expected yields.

Traditionally, they used to have one ton of paddy per hectare, but with the new high seeds given to them as well as better agronomic practices, they now could have five tons per hectare, which is an improvement. So they are able to make lots of money. They can now pay us back and we can recycle to reach more farmers.

So, what we have started with is the pilot programme, which is now going to be scaled up in all the states of the federation that have comparative advantage in rice production.

You talked about measures to avoid diversion of funds, but what are you doing to prevent the diversion of produce?

In the past, people would have been given N210,000 per hectare, asked to buy their inputs, do what they want and then come back and pay. Now, under the current programme, we don’t pay farmers directly. Before we give money to farmers, we first have to identify who the farmers are. And once farmers are identified, they register with the bank and there is a committee made up of our representative, farmers’ representatives – the Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria, and the off-takers, so that we identify who the farmer is. We have got quality inputs and other seeds company that supply farmers with high quality inputs. So this way, we don’t give money, we give farmers the inputs they need and the inputs are high quality from very quality sources.

The only money we give them is largely about one-fifth of the amount, which is for land clearing, preparation, weeding and transportation. And the money is also given out in instalments; we don’t give all at a go. There are stages; we have the land preparation stage and planting stage. We don’t also give the inputs at once. For instance, fertilisers or pesticides are given at different stages in the production process. So, it is a controlled process.

Do you think this programme is sustainable?

The sustainability of this programme, first of all, is in the module. For a programme to be sustainable, it has to be financially profitable. Farmers in the past had no guaranteed source of credit, now if you’re registered with the Bank of Agriculture, you’ll have the credit to produce your paddy. In the past, they had no guaranteed market, no off-takers. So now that they are registered and they have a ready-made market, the ban on importation of rice makes it very lucrative for them (farmers).

We hope that the Federal Government would sustain the ban on importation of rice because if you open the gate to importation of cheaper and subsidised rice from other economies, it will undermine the profitability of existing rice mills and in turn the profitability of the out growers. So, we hope that the issue of ban on importation of rice would be sustained, and also issues of exchange rate will be handled well. Curiously, an overvalued exchange rate makes it cheaper to import rice, but if we allow for a more realistic pricing of foreign currency or a more appropriate value for the naira, it is good for farmers because instead of importing, they will be encouraged to produce more.

Also, I think there is the question of infrastructure. As we are producing rice currently, the productivity must be enhanced. In this case, more research in terms of output of the seeds. We need high yielding seed varieties of rice and we also need to provide the irrigation, transport infrastructure and the capacity of existing rice mills need to be expanded and new ones established. If we are able to implement all these measures, I think not only will we be able to achieve domestic self-sufficiency but we will also be able to export to other countries in less than two years.

How much are you giving out in the project?

We started during the last dry season, but I can’t give you the total figure. After the pilot scheme in Kebbi, we are now planning to go to the 13 states of the federation and we have a target number of about 300,000 farmers. If you have 300,000 farmers on an average price of about N180,000 per hectares, you can see the amount we are requesting for. We are requesting for huge funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria so that we can support the small scale farmers. We also plan to request for some money from the Central Bank of Nigeria to support large scale farmers. Simply, we are working with different states to identify the target number of farmers in each of the states. And on the basis of this agreement with the Central Bank of Nigeria, we will request for funding. We have been assured by the CBN that once we present the list of farmers with BVN, we’ll be supported with the requisite sum of money.

Is the programme only meant for dry season farming?

No, it is not. Now, we have started with dry season, we’re going into the wet season. For the wet season, in the next couple of weeks, we are targeting 300,000 farmers. After the wet season, we are planning for the dry season. So, it is going to be for both wet and dry seasons.