Farmers and agriculture stakeholders in South-South Nigeria have accused the Federal Government of denying them loans under the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP).
The development, according to them, has led to massive failure of the scheme in the region.The claims were made in investigations carried out by The Guardian in Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Cross River and Bayelsa. Farmers in the states claim the scheme has recorded zero impact, except Edo, which, until recently, was an All Progressives Congress (APC) state.
They spoke after the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, accused the Federal Government, the initiator of the programme, of playing politics with the scheme.
Wike had alleged that the agricultural scheme made no impact in Rivers and accused the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, of frustrating loan requests from the state. He made the allegation when the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mustapha Baba Shehuri, visited him at Government House, Port Harcourt.
While accusing Emefiele of playing politics with the scheme, Wike said that instead of implementing policies to achieve food security and create jobs for youths, the CBN had politicised its agricultural loans. Rivers State, according to him, is one of the states the CBN will not give the loan for political reasons.
“I don’t know why the CBN governor hates us so much. We have been hearing of Anchor Borrowers Programme, but when it concerns Rivers State, we hear a lot of discouraging things.
“Please tell the CBN Governor to remember us too, that we are part of Nigeria. When we applied for the loan, they said it was N5 billion and we have applied for over one year now.”
The Federal Government launched the Anchor Borrowers Programme on November 17, 2015 through the CBN to boost agricultural production by Small Holder Farmers (SHF). More than N200 billion has been reportedly set aside for the scheme.
The scheme aims at financing production of rice, wheat, maize and fish, among others, to achieve increased yield for local consumption and commercial purpose. The implementation of the scheme has been domiciled in state ministries of agriculture.
Guidelines released by the Development Finance Department of the CBN in 2016 further states that the scheme will provide farm inputs in kind and cash for farmers to boost production of commodities, stabilise input supply to agro-processors and address negative balance of payment on food.
At harvest, farmers, according to the guidelines, are to supply their produce to the agro-processor (Anchor), who pays the cash equivalent to the farmer.
According to the document, the broad objective of the scheme is to create economic linkage between farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and improving capacity utilisation of processors.
Complaints against the scheme by South-South farmers are coming five years after the inauguration of the programme. They gave various reasons for the failure of the programme.
Farmers in Rivers State gave verdicts that support the claim by Wike that the scheme has failed in the state. They spoke as the state Commissioner for Agric, Onimim Jack, told The Guardian that about 300,000 farmers registered in Rivers but none had received a kobo.
In their claims, the farmers said that none of them had accessed the fund despite attending mandatory training and screening. President of Oil Palm Growers Association of Nigeria (OPGAN) in the state, Mr. Erasmus Chukunda, said about 200 members applied and had been interviewed since August last year but none is yet successful.
The National Chairman of Reality Farmers Agro Association Worldwide, Prince Njoku Ezenwata, and the President of Etche Farmers Cooperative Union, Mr. Godwin Akandu, noted that the inability of farmers in Rivers State to access agricultural loans had become very worrisome.
Ezenwata accused the Federal Government and the CBN of being insincere with the scheme.
“RFAAW is made up of no fewer than 500 cooperatives. Over 70 per cent of the cooperatives applied for the agric loan but none of them has been able to access it or benefit from it.
“If you ask me, I will tell you this scheme is nothing but politics, I doubt if any farmer in Rivers State has accessed this loan.”
Akandu claimed his members met all requirements last year but none had benefitted from the scheme.
Felicia Miller and Philip Nweke, who head farmers cooperative unions in Ahoada West and Omuma local government areas of the state said they had gone through required processes but had not received any favourable response from the apex bank.
IN Akwa Ibom, it was gathered that majority of rice farmers in the state had not accessed the loan. A stakeholder, who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity for fear he could be victimised, alleged that the scheme was hijacked by non-farmers.
According to the source from the state Ministry of Agriculture, the scheme is “a complete failure in the state.”He said: “From good authority, it is a massive failure. No individual farmer accessed that loan. A consultant accessed it on behalf of farmers. He used names of farmers to access the loan but did not remit the money to the farmers concerned. He hijacked the process.
“So as it is, I cannot give any data or figure as to how many farmers accessed the loan in the state.” Ageeing to the failure of the programme in the state, a farmer, Mr. Etim Udo Akpan from Ikot Esen in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Council told The Guardian that he was in doubt any farmer in the state accessed the facility because of the cumbersome process.
He said: “What I can say is that we the farmers from this council area heard of the credit facility. We were given directive on what to do, that we should form ourselves into cooperative societies, which we did. We went to Agric Bank where forms were given to us to fill, we formed cooperative societies of minimum of 10 members and maximum of 20.
“After that, we were asked to go to the rice unit at the Ministry of Agriculture, where we filled forms, seminar was organised for us at Ikot Esen, and we were trained on how to plant rice. That was the end. As I speak to you now, I cannot categorically explain what happened to the programme. ”Akpan appealed to the CBN to deal with farmers directly in the rural areas to eliminate “political farmers.”
“The CBN should always know that farmers are rural people and should evolve a measure where rural farmers can easily access the grant,” he said.
Another farmer from Use Ikot Amama, Mr. Usen Edet Udoh, said he followed all the steps and his cooperative society was selected for the loan, but they never got it.
IN Cross River, where farmers focus on rice, maize, cassava, ginger, cocoa, and livestock, the state Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Nathaniel Ilem, said over 20,000 farmers opened accounts for the ABP but none had received any grant. He listed some of the efforts made by farmers to secure the loan to include sourcing, securing and surveying of farms, saying:
“We have prepared everything and we have contacted the state’s department for project site and we have arranged what it is going to cost us in terms of tractors to plant and machines to harvest. We have even sent a letter to Ibadan for improved varieties of corn seedlings because this is the first time we are launching corn farming in Cross River. We are also working to make sure we get every local government to clean one thousand hectares of land.”
He lamented that their efforts have, however, amounted to nothing because government had failed to fulfill its promise.
“They said they were going to address us but till today, we have not heard anything from them. The day they asked us to come for town hall meeting, we did not see them, they failed to come,” he added.
Rather, than show evidence that the scheme made impact in Bayelsa State. Painstaking investigation unearthed complex conflicts, arguments and counter-arguments, which may have marred the scheme in the state.
First was the allegation that the state Governor, Douye Diri, had, upon assumption of office, received the sum N3 billion in two tranches of N1.5 billion from the CBN but diverted the money for other use.
A loyalist of former Governor Henry Seriake Dickson and ex-general manager of Radio Bayelsa, Mr. Idumange John, who made the allegation, had accused Governor Douye Diri administration of diverting the money for politicians.
Idumange said: “Sometime in 2019, the immediate past administration applied to the Central Bank of Nigeria for a N3 billion agricultural loan. The Governor Douye Diri administration received the loan. The first tranche of N1.5 billion was paid in March, 2020.” He alleged the money was squandered.
Farmers, who spoke with The Guardian denied collecting loans, whereas the story in town was that they received N50,000 each for bush clearing. They insisted politicians shared the money among their allies, who they described as ‘portfolio farmers.’ Chairman of Nigerian Maize Producers and Growers Association, Mr. Tams Singabele, said: “None of my members got the loan. I don’t know why they didn’t give to us.
“If government can channel N3 billion into farming, there is no how we cannot export rice, yam, cassava, plantain and fish, etc. But corruption will not allow good things to be done.” A farmer in Yenagoa, who identified himself as Mr. Abel Eradiri, said he heard about the CBN loan for the first time when there was allegation that the money had been diverted.
Chairman of Nigerian Cassava Growers Association, Bayelsa State chapter, Mr. Emmanuel Egbo, however, said cassava growers got the ABP loan. He said: “The loan we have received is from the Federal Government, the recent one is this Anchor Borrowers Programme by Central Bank of Nigeria.”
When contacted, the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chief David Alagoa, dismissed the claims and denied diversion of any fund meant for farmers. He said the government was not in charge of the scheme and directed our correspondent to the CBN.
The CBN team from Yenagoa branch, which visited the governor last week, assured the people of the state that the N3 billion loan is safe and has not been diverted.
The leader of the team, Mr. Stanley Oruyeighe, said: “There are no issues with the N3 billion agricultural loan. The first tranches of N1.5 billion is meant for infrastructure and that includes land clearing.”
THE situation is, however, different in Edo State, where some farmers benefitted from the scheme. Statistics obtained by The Guardian showed that a total of 321 farmers across the 18 local government areas of the state got inputs worth over N45 million from the scheme.
A breakdown of the beneficiaries showed that under the auspices of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Edo State chapter, 64 farmers got the fund.
150 and 107 farmers grouped under the umbrella of Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN) and Nigeria Cotton Association (NICOTAN) respectively also benefitted from the scheme. It was learnt that rather than physical cash, organisers provided all inputs needed for planting.
The inputs include seeds, fertilisers (organic, inorganic, and special blend); herbicides (pre and post-emergence); pesticides; knapsack sprayers, and empty bags.
For cotton farmers, the cluster areas in the state are Igarra and Ojirami in the Akoko Edo Local Government Area and Ekperi and Obayaton in Etsako West and Ikpoba Okah local government areas, respectively.
The 107 beneficiaries under the RIFAN group have their cluster areas in Esan North-East, Esan South-East LGAs, while those in the category of MAAN were spread around Esan South-East, Etsako West, Owan West, and Esan Central LGAs respectively.
But the Chairman of the state chapter of NICOTAN, Mr. Maurice Oluwole, lamented that late arrival of input in 2020 planting season adversely affected output due to drought and other natural disasters.
Edo North Coordinator of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Alhaji Abdullahi Oshiobugie, however, observed that the programme failed to achieve expected results in the state.
Referring to the fish and poultry aspect of the programme, Oshiobugie said: “This programme is not working. I can tell you that nobody has benefitted from this programme in the whole of Edo North.
“No fewer than 150 farmers were made to go through training programme but nothing came out of it in the long run. I think there is sabotage somewhere. Some people are siphoning Nigeria’s money somewhere. Some of these microfinance backs have not helped matters,” he said.
The state government had yet to appoint Commissioner for Agriculture to respond to Oshiobugie’s claims. In Delta State, the scheme had no chance of success as farmers, who considered the nine per cent interest rate too high, rejected it on arrival.
The state Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Mr. Richard Asenime, who disclosed this in Asaba, said they opted for Accelerated Agricultural Development Scheme (AADS). He said: “We are not involved in the Anchor Borrowers loan because there is a little difference between the interest rate and the Accelerated Agricultural Development Scheme (AADS) rate, which is five per cent different from that of Anchor Borrowers. That little difference mean a lot to us in AFAN.”
The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Julius Eyetan Egbedi, confirmed the claim by farmers.He said: “ We have not been actually involved in Anchor Borrowers’ loan because we go for the one that will benefit our farmers, and that is the AADS.”
Meanwhile, the CBN head office in Abuja has described as ‘untrue’ allegations of excluding South-South from the ABP.
The Acting Director, Corporate Affairs Department of the bank, Mr. Osita Nwanisobi, said the claim by the zone was not true. He promised to get to the Development Finance Department to get the allocation and disbursement to the zone.
“I have been in a long meeting since morning. I came out of the meeting just now and I’m going back to the meeting. You need to give us time to isolate disbursement to each of the states in the zone. It is not something I can just stay here and give to you because I don’t have the data off hand. But I know that it’s not true that any zone has been marginalised in the ABP,” Nwanisobi defended. That was on Wednesday, March 25. He is yet to send the data.