Rice Pyramids: The ABP Success Story

Rice Pyramid in Kebbi State.

It started like a novel initiative no one gave a chance. A perceived national cake programme, in our local parlance, baked for everyone to share as usual. Almost five years down the lane, Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) has proved doubting ‘Thomases’ wrong.

ABP, an initiative of the CBN Governor, Godwin I. Emefiele barely a year in office of his first term, was unexpected. A programme of necessity one would say, due to the dwindling revenue from oil, the country’s monolithic commodity, and mainstay of the economy. Intellectually conceived, it was however borne out of the stark reality that though Nigeria is blessed with what it can produce and eat, the country was strapped to warped tastes for foreign taste, exporting jobs, and ultimately, draining the country’s reserves.

For an economy wobbling, coupled with huge expenses of the 2015 general elections, reality dawned on the country that it was left with no option but to look inwards and take action, knowing that if it continued on the path it was on, her economy was at the verge of slipping into recession. The recession however, did not take too long to happen.

The Bank’s helmsman took the bashing as if he was the reason for the economic woes. It was a known fact that, the clamour for economic diversification predated Emefiele’s appointment, an almost four decades of supposed lip service paid by every succeeding administration.

It however took an ingenious nationalist in Godwin Emefiele, a stoutly steeled man, to embark on a one-man riot economic diversification campaign. Taking the bull by the horns, he launched what is now considered the most successful intervention programme ever initiated since the establishment of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

A deviation from the past, Emefiele, before the launch of the intervention programme, ensured that every Nigerian with a bank account, or a new account owner, must have a BVN – a gold fish has no hiding place-like programme, particularly for chronic bank debtors, who may as typical of trade, take advantage of the ABP as it was the case with past programmes.

Today, we are all witnessing the gains of Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, first launched in Kebbi State by President Muhammadu Buhari, on 17 November, 2015. No doubt, the President has been an integral part of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme and without his support, the programme may not have recorded the success we are currently celebrating.

As an essential part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive for economic diversification, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme has catalyzed perception of agriculture as a tool for economic empowerment, to a sustainable income generating activity, particularly for the rural dwellers with significant potential for growth.

From inception till date, the Bank has financed 2,923,937 farmers, cultivating 3,647,643 hectares across 21 commodities through 23 Participating Financial Institutions in the 36 States of the Federation, including the FCT. In its continuous efforts, the Bank under the 2020 wet season CBN-RIFAN partnership, has financed 221,450 rice farmers for the cultivation of 221,450 hectares in 32 States. The North-West zone alone, with 85,261 farmers, cultivated 120,218 hectares, representing 38.5% in total number of farmers, and 54.3% in total number of hectares financed.

Taking stock in the last five years, this singular initiative has led to significant improvements in the way Nigerians, particularly the youths, have embraced agriculture as a business and even, lifestyle. Part of the success story is the several layers of control put in place to improve on transparency and accountability among all stakeholders, culminating into growth in the agricultural sector.

One of the banes of any strategic initiatives like this, is the attitude of Nigerians in repaying loans, which in every programme is crucial to sustain it. Thus, to arrest the menace, the Bank constantly engages the farmers to enhance their trust in the system, by rewarding those with good repayment records, and at the same time facilitates effective market linkages with millers for the offtake of their output.

Like every novel programme, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme had its teething problems. Yet, emerging results from the programme reaffirms the belief in the potentials inherent in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. The evidences are the massive pyramids launched in Niger State last year and most recently, in Kebbi State, which demonstrated the harvests from various farm fields, and serve as confirmation of the significant increase in domestic production of key staple items in the country, particularly rice.

The Governor has reiterated the Bank’s commitment to financing one million hectares of rice farming in the 2021 dry season in order to explore two production cycles within the dry season. He said that the Bank has deepened its stakeholders’ engagement aimed to increase the arable land under cultivation to improve productivity per hectare through the use of improved seeds and agronomic practices. Also, as part of arrangements to achieve this objective, the Bank is partnering with RIFAN, Private/Prime Anchors, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and other stakeholders under the Food for Jobs Initiative.

Continuing, Emefiele noted that the Bank is not relenting in its engagement with the security operatives and State Governors, to improve on security nationwide which majorly has hampered food production and farming in the country, not unmindful of the fact that providing an enabling environment that will aid the achievement of the objective of the ABP.

The ABP no doubt, has continued to attract huge private sector investment, including the Bankers’ Committee, who it took upon themselves in an unprecedented synergy with the CBN to drive its economic diversification programme, thus culminating in installed capacity of integrated mills. With the symbolic rice pyramid event in Kebbi State, combined with the official flag-off of input distribution for the 2020/21 dry season rice farming in the North-West zone, it is imperative Nigeria redoubles her productive capacity to provide enough paddy for the mills.

It has been good story in the last five years, and if not for the initiative to ban importation of foreign rice by the government to protect and encourage local farming, and production of rice, it is only left to the imagination, what would have happened when all nations at the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, shut their borders, and banned export of the commodity, especially by the rice producing Asian countries, the ABP programme proved to be a timely lifesaver.

The ultimate goal of the ABP is to attain self-sufficiency in food production, and moderate prices of agricultural commodities. It is in this drive that the CBN in partnership with critical stakeholders, has committed N50bn to the resuscitation of the Nigeria Commodity Exchange (NCX). As it is the case in other climes, a vibrant commodity exchange enhances post-harvest handling, guarantees effective pricing for farmers, and minimizes adverse effect of middle men, thereby transferring the gains from primary production to other nodes of the value chain.

Nigeria is naturally blessed to meet her food requirement and food security, if we can only sustain current efforts and remain committed as a nation. Otherwise, as Governor Emefiele said, the rhetoric around neglect of previous years will remain part of our history if we refuse to embrace what is our own. The best time to correct those mistakes is now and every stakeholder must contribute their quota to guarantee the realization of these national targets.

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