BY OUR EDITORS
The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), when it was launched in November 2015, was part of the quest to tackle the problems impeding the growth of the agricultural sector and the threat those problems posed to the nation’s food security efforts. It was also part of the initiative to help Nigeria exit economic recession at that time which was brought about by the vagaries in the international oil market and consequently led to a fall in earnings from that sector.
Essentially, it was a dramatic approach towards a push to diversify the economy away from the persisting mono-cultural situation that necessitated the over-dependence on one product –hydrocarbon- as well as eliminate or at least reduce the huge amount the country was spending on food imports and which was a drain on the nation’s foreign reserve.
Kebbi state was strategically chosen for the pilot scheme and because of the success of the project, most other states keyed into it and soon Nigeria was on its way to a rice revolution. About 78,000 rural farmers in Kebbi State alone benefitted from the programme, which used integrated rice millers as buyers to ensure that there was a ready market for the produce.
During that pilot project, yields as high as 7.5 to 8.0 tonnes per hectare were obtained by farmers compared with less than 2.0 tonnes per hectare previously obtained and smallholder farmers were empowered enough to sustain the scheme to what it is today. That has made Kebbi the rice hub in the country though the crop is planted in 36 states of the federation. By land mass and size, it is projected that Nigeria should be producing at least 30 million metric tonnes of rice every year.
It is instructive to point out that the federal government, as part of its Economic Recovery Programme, had committed to doing all within its financial power to ensure that the aim of retrieving the economy from recession was achieved and sustained. This newspaper notes that the CBN injected in excess of N6 billion into that sector geared towards ensuring food security during the COVID-19 era. This money was disbursed to organised farming groups who formed the core of the agricultural project.
Furthermore, to demonstrate its determination to guarantee the food needs of Nigeria, the federal government set up a National Food Security Council with the Governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu as the Vice Chairman in recognition of his dogged determination to resuscitate the agricultural sector as exemplified by his leadership role in actualising the Anchor Borrowers Programme in general and rice production in particular.
Recently, the Kebbi State Government in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) unveiled rice pyramids in the state as evidence that with commitment and financial support, sufficiency in food production in the country is possible.
We recall that the state witnessed a devastating flood that ravaged most farm lands in the 21 LGAs. There were fears, then, that with the natural disaster and combined with the inanities of miscreants and bandits, yields may be affected adversely. That did not happen as the state was able to recover from the drawbacks to post an impressive rice harvest.
The rice pyramid, the first ever in the country, was displayed to demonstrate that Nigeria can do it by surpassing the Asian countries from where rice imports had bloomed. The state practices two cycle rice production. With it, a hectare of rice cultivated yields a minimum of five tonnes of rice. It is hoped that an aggregation of this will aid the rice subsector of the agri-business to contribute up to10 percent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
It cannot be overemphasised that a nation that is unable to feed its citizens is waiting for the doomsday. With the competition among the states that the success story in Kebbi State has engendered, in no distant time, Nigeria may be in a position to do away altogether with the importation of rice, maize or other staple products that can conveniently be produced in Nigeria.
We totally agree with the view of experts in the field that If Nigeria can cultivate 30 million hectares of rice in a year and with an average of five tons per hectare, that will be 30 million hectares multiplied by five and the result will be 150 million tons of paddy rice. How many pyramids will that be? The point is that the nation has the capacity to be food sufficient and have some for export.
It is from this perspective that we urge the financial sector, deposit money banks especially, to feel sufficiently encouraged to follow the CBN’s lead by assisting states, corporate bodies and individuals so as to guarantee food security for all.