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Bagudu: We have wasted lots of our agro opportunities

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• With More Support We can Be Competitive

Agriculture Is The Most Distorted In International Trade In the last three years, Kebbi State has championed local rice production, which is now a Unique Selling Point (USP) of the administration. Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu told GBENGA AKINFENWA in Birnin Kebbi, the secret of the state’s agric success story, challenges facing the sector, and how to stop smuggling.

Few weeks ago, one of your commissioners disclosed that Kebbi State would soon be exporting rice. When will that be and what modalities have you put in place?
We are already exporting rice. People from Benin Republic, Niger Republic and even Libya are buying our rice. Unless you are defining export as selling to the West, we are already selling to other countries. This is just upland rice, you’ll see rice everywhere in the state, and the more we support our farmers to invest, the more they can do.

Few years ago, there was high incidence of trans-border crimes, which prompted the closure of the border by the then administration, as a result of which their president came begging. Are still in support of closure of borders?
I called for that in the past and I am still of that view that if they remain recalcitrant, let us show them that this is a threat to our economic interest. And this is even a threat to the ECOWAS treaty because if we cannot support each other to produce domestically, then one of the major objectives of ECOWAS is being defeated. Border closure I say yes, if it is the only thing that can send the right signal. If it is the only thing that will draw attention and make other West African countries to know that we mean business, because we do mean business. We want Nigeria and indeed West Africa to be able to feed itself, to be able to produce because we are competitive. We should be selling to the world, not the other way round.

We treat Benin Republic as if it is part of Nigeria. That is what the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) protocol encourages us to do. We should make Benin Republic as the 37th state literally. What I mean is that we should give assistance to their farmers so that they can also become rice famers, because their production is so small and it wont threaten that of Nigeria, and by so doing, they’ll participate in also fighting smuggling. That means we have created an incentive for them because it makes sense for us.

We are following our ECOWAS protocol and giving them incentives to fight the menace, because sometimes they are also as much victims as we are since these smuggling is perpetrated by economic saboteurs that are sometimes transnational in nature. They are not necessarily Benin Republic people; they are foreigners of different nationalities, mostly Asians, who have the muscle to exploit countries. That is not to say that nationalities of Benin Republic cannot do something to help, they can, and President Muhammadu Buhari has been very firm about it. Few weeks ago, their president rushed to Nigeria because we have been expressing anger on the situation where not only rice are smuggled, poultry products, milk, and sugar are also smuggled.

When you are talking about border closure, are we producing enough rice to feed ourselves?
Indeed, we are producing enough. What will happen if you produce and nobody buys from you? What will you do next year if you are farmer? You have borrowed under the anchor borrowers program or from neighbours and you have produced rice, cassava, or soya bean and nobody is buying from you? If you are a farmer you’ll reduce your production, because you will make losses and your creditors will be after you.

Do you agree with reports that the country’s rice is being cloned, which fakes what is produced locally as if it is imported?
It is happening; those importing rice into this country know that Nigeria rice is better. We have formed partnership with rice traders in Daleko, Lagos, in Ido market, when you talk to all those women who sell rice, they will happily tell you Nigeria rice is better, more nutritious. Even when you are cooking it that aroma is different from the chemically treated seven to eight years-old rice that is imported.

Your agric policy appears to be your Unique Selling Point (USP); what did you do differently to get here?
What we did differently was to appreciate that Nigeria has potential in many areas, particular agriculture and encouraged by the policies of President Buhari’s leadership, where he rightly coined the mantra “Let Us Grow What We Eat, And Eat What We Grow”. And I have always believed that Nigeria is competitive, with the slightest support Nigerians can produce competitively elsewhere and that was what we did. We started by forming a partnership with Lagos State and I must thank Governor Akinwunmi Ambode because he is very imaginative and appreciative, and of the same view that we can do this together. We can provide Nigerians healthier rice, produced locally, rice that is produced in conditions where we can even go and check, compared to rice that was produced in places ravaged by industrial pollution, metallic poisoning in the waters, which we are not given the opportunity to know.The National Agency for Food, Drug and Administration Control (NAFDAC) has complained a lot on the quality of imported rice, conditions where it is produced, fertilisers used in those countries.

Rice grown in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory are in a better climate. That was why the Federal Government introduced the anchor borrowers program. Our farmers are hard working across the country, in all crops, but they need support to buy better seedlings, to buy adequate input, and to get loan so that they can pay for labour and those that rely on irrigation can buy the irrigation pump, can buy the fuel to power the pumps and help them with the market. And when all these come together, you really unfold the market and today rice producers across the 36 states are making money.

Today, rice consumers across Nigeria are increasingly appreciating that Nigeria rice is better, today, investors are putting money in creating companies that produce and mill rice, comparable with international standard. There is a new company that is coming up in Kamba in line with this policy.

That’s what we have done differently, to believe in what government is doing, to believe in the potential of our country and to work so that we unleash that potential because no matter what potential you have, if don’t believe in it, it turns to waste.

What is the volume of rice trade between Kebbi and Lagos?
In the last one year, the transaction with Lagos State government, Kebbi State and all the mills that participated in the partnership was about N8b, but that’s just with the Lake Rice brand. The millers are selling their brand of rice to Lagos market, Kano market, and elsewhere. What we have seen, we now have three major mills in Kebbi, we know their capacities and the amount of paddy they purchase. Since we know the amount of paddy they purchase, we know the value they are generating.

WACOT rice for example, in Argungu is a 123,000 metric tonnes (mt) facility and for them to process that they need about 200,000mt of paddy, at about N100, 000 per metric tonnes of paddy that is about N20b worth of paddy they require, and we know that they are operating all the time at low capacity. Labana is also similarly sized and again that is another N20b.

The third mill in Kaliba, is smaller than the two. We have Kamba mills and Dangote is building a mill in another part of the state, and there many small scale millers and even other millers outside the state in Kano, Olam in Nassarawa, and Ebonyi Agro in Ebonyi State. Most of them source their paddy from Kebbi State.Conservatively, about N150b worth of paddy rice was purchased by major millers yearly, which means in the last three years we have about N450b.

On your Off-takers policy, how many farmers are benefitting, and how do ordinary people get access to the rice?
It’s a very straight-forward thing. We have over 200,000 participating farmers registered under the Anchor Borrowers’ Program. What do we mean by participating farmers? These are farmers whose biometrics have been captured, whose farms are known, whose farm sizes are known, whose loan and repayment are documented, and we are able to measure their productivity and gains.

Some at a time were producing one ton per hectare, now they are producing up to seven tons per hectare, because of that we can measure their income growth. Rice is available everywhere, local consumers can buy it locally because rice here is produced and consumed largely. There are small-scale millers, particularly women millers, some of whom supply the local markets. Then there are industrial millers, who produce and package for bigger markets and for export.

What is the number of Industrial Millers in the state?
The big ones are four, but we have smaller ones, most of the rice are milled by the smaller millers and we have hundreds of small millers, because most of the millings are done by women. About two months ago, we bought about 250 small mills to give women because we don’t want them to lose to the bigger millers, because there is market for everyone.

There are issues of Anchor Borrowers beneficiaries not repaying loans, how have you been able to address this?
I think there are two mistakes people are making on this. The first objective of the program is to make Nigeria self sufficient, it involves some risks. So, if you judge a programme by un-refunded loans, you might miss the wider objectives, because the wider objective is to make Nigeria self sufficient, to create employment, and then to encourage people who borrow to repay their debt.

The financial system is not fair to the farming sector. If a company borrows money and they are unable to pay by the time the loan provides, what tends to happen is that the financial institution will restructure their loan and try to understand why they did not perform and encourage them to perform. That’s how the Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) was created because many bankers are holding loans from big companies and big time individuals, who are unable to pay.

I am not justifying the non-repayment, but what I am saying is if only about N52b has been loaned under the program and repayment is somewhere between 40 to 60 per cent, I think that is a very good record, even now that we are dealing with a program that is almost about three years old and has achieved a major national objective of self-sufficiency in rice. The goodwill value of that alone, the respect that brings for Nigeria that when we say we’ll do something, we do it, will make the world to take us serious.

In terms of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), how much does Kebbi State generate from this business of rice?
Like I said, we have the big millers that are buying paddy; employing people; and generating income; for us, that is the first objective for the state. We want a state with empowered individuals, empower individuals can do something as important as what tax collectors does. That means they can send their children to school, and can provide medical healthcare for themselves, they can take care of their children. That is our first objective that is our first paradigm. We are not thinking about tax revenue, we want people to appreciate governance, what government can do for them, to believe that they can achieve development, then the contribution to the state will come later.

What are the challenges so far?
The biggest challenge is that we as Nigerians are yet to appreciate fully that agriculture is the most distorted in international trade. So, because of that, most of our potentials are not being realised and we don’t have enough stakeholder mobilisation, in order to confront that challenge.Why are we importing meat? Why are we importing milk? Why are we importing wheat? subsidise their farmers enormously, so that rather than buying from us, we are the ones buying from them.

This is the biggest challenge of agriculture, whether it is rice, cassava, meat, milk, and poultry. Why are we talking about Benin Republic? Somebody is selling chicken to Nigeria, what a shame! Most of us grew up in families where chickens roam about easily. If we empower our women, not only will they produce enough chicken and egg, we can also export.So the biggest challenge has been that as a nation we haven’t had the collective appreciation that we have been wasting our time buying from Europe, rather than selling to them. I think that is the biggest challenge. And I am glad, if I come back to the rice example, today Lake rice is very popular because the good people of Lagos, which is a very critical market have appreciated the fact they have been wasting their time eating imported rice, of less quality, and we can do better for ourselves and this has helped too for many other commodities.


In this article:
Abubakar Atiku Bagudu
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