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Relaunch of e-wallet scheme splits farmers’ house

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
07 August 2022   |   4:05 am
The supply of fertiliser has over the years, defied all logics, largely due to lack of adequate local production capacity, insincerity of government and activities of middlemen, which had worsened the miseries of farmers.

The supply of fertiliser has over the years, defied all logics, largely due to lack of adequate local production capacity, insincerity of government and activities of middlemen, which had worsened the miseries of farmers.

Currently, a bag of the product, which previously sold for between N5, 000 and N5, 500 is now selling for between N23, 000 and N28, 500, depending on the company and quality, a development experts claimed poses serious challenges to the farmers.
 
Between 1980 and 2010, the country lost about N776b, an average of N26.3b yearly to corruption linked to the strategy of distributing the produce.
 


During the tenure of the current President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, as the Minister of Agriculture, concerted efforts were made to address the problem. The move gave birth to the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) via the electronic wallet scheme (e-wallet).

The e-wallet is an electronic system that uses vouchers for the purchase and distribution of agricultural inputs. Farmers who were eligible for these vouchers must be 18 years of age and above, his/her bio-data must have been captured by the government, own a cell phone with a registered line and have a minimum of N50 credit on it. Hence, the government can track who got fertiliser, when they got it, and how much was paid.

It was learnt that prior to the Goodluck Jonathan regime, the old system of fertiliser supply was weak, inefficient and allegedly fraudulent, as a large proportion of intending beneficiaries could not get access to the product.

Reports have it that bags of fertiliser were diverted for personal gains and when supplied, they were either adulterated or underweight.
 
Under the GES programme, the Federal Government provided 25 per cent; the state also provided 25 per cent, while the farmer paid 50 per cent for each bag of the product supplied to them.

The system allowed the government to register about 14.5 million farmers and reached them directly with input, notably seeds and fertilisers, via electronic coupons on their mobile phones.

But the initiative was abruptly stopped in 2015 immediately the current administration assumed office.

In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari initiated a fertiliser initiative – the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI), which saw a surge in the number of local manufacturers of fertiliser.

Though there were very few functional fertiliser plants before the period, but the number increased to over 70, majority of which were owned by stakeholders in the private sector.

But despite the high number of plants, there’s still a very big gap to fill, especially as the price has gradually gone beyond the reach of the majority of the farmers.

More worrisome is the dispassionate posture of the Federal Government to the plight of the farmers, coupled with the aloofness of the agric ministry, a development that has necessitated the need for urgent solution to save the country from the imminent food insecurity.

The recent assurance by the AfDB boss, Adesina to assist the country to relaunch the initiative came like a soothing balm to the already distraught farmers, who are already losing hope in the current administration.

At a meeting with journalists ahead of the bank’s recent Annual Meetings in Accra, Ghana, Adesina said he was ready to help Nigeria return to the electronic wallet system of input distribution to farmers to boost agricultural production.

He said the bank would support Nigeria with about $30m reallocated fund to be used for an emergency food plan to produce in the dry season.

“Nigeria needs to go back and use the electronic wallet system that I developed when I was a minister to get fertilisers straight to farmers and cut out all the middlemen.

“We are going to help the government to do that because when farmers have quality seeds and fertilisers, they can rapidly triple food production,” he said.

Stakeholders and farmers are however, divided on the planned reintroduction of the scheme, while some see it as a welcome development that’ll renew the hope of farmers, others say it may not address the lingering fertiliser supply impasse.

The Executive Secretary of the Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers and Exporters Association of Nigeria (AFGEAN), Mr. Akin Sawyerr, who described the plan as a good idea, said it is capable of eliminating graft and corruption in the fertiliser distribution process.

Sawyerr said: “It will also bring fairness and equity to distribution across the country. I think anywhere you are receiving cash – payment for farming inputs, there’s always going to be opportunity to remove the middlemen.

“Once the product is being hoard, it will be very difficult to get to farmers at a price that’s economical to them. So, if you have the e-wallet scheme, it will block the opportunity for the fertiliser traders and the middlemen to sell the produce to the highest bidders.

He advised that the state government and the extension agents be fully involved in the distribution process for the scheme to achieve the desired goal.

“It’s one thing to have the e-wallet, it’s another thing to be able to access the fertiliser itself. I think it will need the active cooperation of the state governments through the ministry of agriculture, because if you remove the middlemen, and the states and the extension agents are not involved as part of the supply value chain, the desired result my not be achieved.

“There are some governors during the Adesina’s time who blocked the distribution of the fertilisers because of politics; they should ensure that the scheme is not politicised.”
The co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Oyo State, Yinka Adesola, who also described it as a good idea if it will actually get to the farmer, noted that most times such projects hardly reach the real farmers who are the main targets.

“The world is moving away from synthethic fertilisers due to its effect on the soil and the microbes. The best method for real farmers to increase their crop yields is to adopt the usage of natural materials, composted livestock waste works better.”

She however, expressed doubt that the e-wallet scheme might not address the fertiliser challenges, if the farmers are not financially capable to purchase them.

However, the Chief Executive Officer of Green Sahara Farms, Jos, Plateau State, Suleiman Dikwa, who expressed reservation on the plan, said if the scheme was successful it would have been sustained.

“There have been a lot of talks about the success of the e-wallet. In my works with rural farmers, I have not come across any farmer that had access to the e-wallet during that period. I am not saying that none had access, but in a country where we have well over 80 million farmers every policy must reach millions to have impact. The question is if it was successful why was it not sustained?

“The issue here is affordability, but we forget that food is produced for the market and the premium market, which has to be fit with our circumstances. Farmers all over the country have reported decreasing yield due to land degradation caused by use of chemicals. We are all aware of the effects of climate change. Our solution therefore, is to move towards regenerative agriculture not only because of the market, but we can’t afford chemical fertilisers in the foreseeable future.

“It is also economics, in this hard times we still have food losses estimated by the NBS at $2.5b, which can be converted into energy and bio fertilisers and attract premium market and prices for our agro produce and improve our wellbeing, thereby reducing cost of medicare.”

He noted that the coming of the Dangote Plant has not made any impact in the fertiliser value chain because of the issue of affordability and relevance. “I was not excited about the fertiliser factory because the future is green. I also acknowledged the short-term gap the factory will close. We have consistently invested in the wrong value chain while we allow harvest and post harvest losses to continue to grow.

“If we tackle this aspect, the cost of food will come down as more is available to sell by the farmers. If we continue to invest in production without commensurate investment in capacity to harvest, store and move and do primary processing, we will keep having the limited success we have been experiencing.”