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Flawed Anchor Borrowers’ scheme, RUGA, others marred agric sector in 2019

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
06 January 2020   |   4:22 am
Indications have emerged that lopsided implementation of the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme, the proposed RUGA settlement debacle, very epileptic power supply and appointment...

Indications have emerged that lopsided implementation of the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme, the proposed RUGA settlement debacle, very epileptic power supply and appointment of the current minister of agriculture were some of the policies and actions that marred food production and agro-economic development of the country in 2019.

Head, Commercial Agriculture and Training, Lower Niger River Basin Authority, Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr Olabisis Awoniyi, while recalling happenings in 2019, said, “One of the flaws in agricultural policies last year was in the area of Anchor Borrowers’ programme of the Federal Government. Farmers did not have access to the funds as of when due. Farmlands were not prepared on time; maize and other grain farms were affected by Fall Armyworms before funds were available, among other difficulties.”

He explained that farmers were asked to look for resources to prepare land, buy farm inputs and be reimbursed later, saying, “As good as the programme may be, agriculture is time-bound, and this failure could reduce yield.”

The anchor borrowers’ programme, some other critics said, revolved around only rice and a few other grains, leaving other farmers out of the scheme.

A Lagos-based consultant and agro-product exporter, Mr John-Bede Antonio, said emphasis placed on rice production and its value chain prevented development of other sub-sectors of agriculture in Nigeria, saying total value chain development across various crops and regions is desirable for food security.

Mr Antonio said, “I have stopped eating rice. The emphasis on rice is overblown, irrelevant, irresponsible of the government, impractical and absolutely of no value.

“The moment this government leaves in 2023, the furor will die down because it is unsustainable.”

He argued that other cash crops which were mainstays of the country’s economy in the past have been neglected despite a promise of a robust agro-economic policy tagged The Green Alternative.

He called on the government to extend input and financial support to cocoa, palm oil, coconuts and cashew production because they are real industrial produce that could revolutionise the economy if industrialised, processed and consumed in the country and exported to other African countries the continental free trade agreement.

Other critics of the policy said resources for the scheme have been concentrated in the north, with a very few farmers benefitting in the scheme in the south-east, south-south and the south-west.

A commercial rice farmer and processor in Iwo, Osun State, Mr Ayoade Popoola, said despite several efforts to secure loans and inputs through the borrowers’ scheme, he and many other farmers could not get any support in 2019.

From the angle of agro-chemical and agro-machinery, Dr Akin Oloniruha, a former provost of the Ahmadu Bello University College of Agriculture, Kabba, Kogi State, said importation of agro-machinery and chemicals is on the rise, making the country to lose what it gains through the closure of borders.

He emphasised that “We are still importing all our machinery and equipment, thus while import of rice has dropped, that of machinery, equipment and agrochemicals has correspondingly gone up.”

He suggested that the “Government will do well to create incentives for local assembly plants for machinery and production plants for agrochemicals to reduce their prices and create more jobs.”

RUGA settlement initiative as divisive policy, farm invasion
The Federal Government hinged its argument for the RUGA settlement policy on the point that over 95 per cent of the 20 million cattle population in Nigeria is managed under the traditional pastoral system which relies predominantly on mobility in search of pasture and water from natural range resources and crop residues, saying full potential of cattle raised under this system of production are limited in both production and per animal productivity due to poor feeding and watering occasioned by long dry season.

So, the policy stipulated that fatal clashes arising between farmers and herders were results of open grazing, therefore, “the need to come up with innovative and integrated approach that would provide housing infrastructure and security incentives to enhance settlement of pastoralists and increase productivity of livestock.”

“One of such innovations,” the government policy explains, “is the ‘Ruga’ settlement model comprising 40 units of huts for 10 pastoral families on a minimum 20ha land with the following facilities: solar powered borehole, water harvesting infrastructure, sanitary facility, mini ruminant feed mills, dispensary, watch tower security posts and access road.”

The government claimed that the Ruga settlement model would be spread across 12 states, most of which had persistently experienced farmer-herder clashes. The states were Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states.

The public criticisms that trailed the announcement of the policy nearly burst the country, and since the suspension, the government policy in the sector has had no clear direction.

Similar to the above were the proposed Radio Fulani and alleged N100 billion grant to cattle breeders, which Nigerians rejected and described as sectionalist, ethnic-centric and divisive in a multi-ethnic country.

Appointment of Muhammed Nanono as minister of agriculture climaxed the directionless agricultural policies. Many Nigerians have described the minister as too old, and having no adequate knowledge of what to do in the sector.

Rural underdevelopment
A former minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, once told The Guardian that he was only saddled with the affairs relating to agriculture, not rural development because he was not equipped for such.

Rural and food-producing communities have suffered massive infrastructural shortages and dilapidation since the return of democratically elected government in 1999. Audu Ogbeh said this was unconnected with crippling of the local government administration by state governments with the appointment of care taker committees and operation of joint accounts that kept the local government councils stranded financially.

Grading, reconstruction and construction of farm roads and other infrastructure within the jurisdiction of the local authorities have been hampered, and President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration could not effect an immediate shift in 2019.

Storage facilities of the Federal Government were also leased out to private investors, making such unavailable for grain farmers’ use.

Poor road networks, according to Dr John Okechukwu, a cassava value chain specialist at IITA and Dr Francis Nwilene, Regional Coordinator of Africa Rice Centre, escalated post-harvest losses in 2019, and marginally increased the cost of food items on getting to the final consumer on accounts of higher cost of transportation.

Moving crops, either processed or raw, from where they were produced in rural areas was costly, difficult and time-consuming, they said, and this affected wholesomeness of foods, profitability to farmers, prices and availability in 2019.

Oloniruha, on his part, said “the rural feeder roads to farms remain deplorable as ever,” suggesting that “states and local government councils should begin to live up to their responsibilities so that farm produce can be evacuated to marketplaces with little stress.”

He also said “the menace of herdsmen on arable farms has remained intractable so much so that some farmers had to abandon their farmlands. But with some creativity and innovation, the government can solve this problem. Several farmlands were flooded last year with farmers incurring huge losses and the government is under intense pressure to come to farmers’ assistance.”

Oloniruha said on the loss of crops to flooding and herdsmen, the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) should step up its presence, activities, advocacy and enlightenment to farmers so that they would imbibe the culture of insuring their farms.

“In the livestock section, due to increased demand for day-old-chicks by farmers, the few hatcheries cannot cope. Farmers have to make booking for six months in some cases before they can procure day-old-chicks.

“Setting up hatcheries is expensive. Some state governments can take this up as it is also lucrative.

“By and by, I think the borders should remain closed until we can devise an ingenious way to effectively and efficiently policing our borders.”

The flipside of the flaws
However, policies adjudged to be good by many Nigerians are closure of some land borders, the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme in various crops and emphasis on local production of rice and poultry products.

Dr Awoniyi said, “Border closure is a step in the right direction, and farmers should be encouraged more to produce. Inputs such as seeds should be distributed to farmers to prevent mixture of varieties as many of the locally processed brands of rice in the country were mixture of different varieties, which affects processing and cooking time.”

The government should consider input subsidy that would make inputs get directly to farmers, he suggested, as was done during the administration of a former minister of agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adeshina. He also suggested more of public-private-partnership in all areas of agriculture.

“Farm produce should be bought off the local farmers to prevent glut and youths should be involved in farming through the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) farms in all local government areas,” he added.

Despite kicks from certain critics on the scheme, Dr Oloniruha commented that “The Anchor Borrowers’ programme for farmers recorded great success last year,” adding that “Farmers were also able to obtain fertiliser in good time.”

Oloniruha argued that closure of the borders encouraged more production of rice and poultry production, saying, “But processing facilities (for rice) are still limited and expensive. One will like to see more processing facilities installed this year.”