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Endangered CBN’s anchor borrowers’ programme

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For a country battling insecurity and facing severe food shortages, it is scary that a novel government programme to boost food production and encourage farmers is heading for the rocks, going by reports that insecurity and its attendant deprivation of farmers to access farms has become a clog in the programme’s wheel of progress. Handicapped by inability or fear to cultivate their farms, the producers and beneficiaries of the agricultural loans are expressing reservation about their ability to repay the loans. Only a concerted effort by the Federal Government to clamp down on insecurity can save the situation, but so far, there is no sign of that official commitment.

Unless urgent steps by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration are taken to halt the incessant attacks by rampaging bandits and herdsmen on farmlands across the country, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) would be in jeopardy and may fizzle out thereby plunging billions of naira advanced to farmers down the drain. Yet, food shortages and hyper inflation on food products confronting the country are getting critical by the day.

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Such development would amount to double jeopardy for weary and displaced farmers, majority of who now depend on food handouts in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. This creates more despair than hope among the populace who now face the prospect of food shortage which is already manifesting in various ramifications. The attacks persist and succour appears not to be in sight. Is there a way out of what appears to be a desperate situation?

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in line with its developmental function established the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, which was launched by Buhari on November 17, 2015 and is intended to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers (SHFs) of the required key agricultural commodities. The programme thrust of the ABP is provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to small holder farmers to boost production of these commodities, stabilise inputs supply to agro processors and address the country’s negative balance of payments on food. Thus, at harvest, the farmers supply their produce to agro-processors who pay cash equivalent to the farmers’ accounts.

The programme evolved from the consultations with stakeholders comprising Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, state governors, millers of agricultural produce and smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production and non-oil exports in the face of unpredictable crude oil prices and its resultant effect on the revenue profile of Nigeria. It is basically aimed at creating economic linkage between smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilisation of processors.

However, with bandits and killer herdsmen forcing farmers who took the ABP loans to abandon their farms, the farmers are bemoaning their losses and wondering how they would be able to repay the loans they took. And if they don’t pay back, the CBN will not give them another loan. It is a national issue that has assumed disturbing dimension and requires urgent intervention by both the federal and state governments.

The farmers’ ordeal is akin to the predicament of farmers in the North-East where a brutal Boko Haram war is raging, which has unleashed terrorists, bandits and herdsmen on hapless citizens in the areas. The people who used to produce enough food to eat and sell to other parts of the country are now beggars, famished in refugee camps.

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According to the farmers, the bandits not only force them out of the farms, they unleash their cattle to destroy their entire crops and they are left with nothing to harvest. The bandits also warned the farmers never to return to their farms again, thus making famine a potential threat to the country.

The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, at the launch of the 2021 wet season input distribution in Ado-Ekiti recently said a total of 3, 107,890 farmers had been financed for the cultivation of 3,801,397 hectares of land across 21 communities through 23 participating financial institutions. He also stated that the sustainability of the programme depends on the repayment of loans accessed by farmers. The implication of that is that without the farmers being able to repay the loans, the ABP is in jeopardy and may indeed go down the drain except the farmers get a respite by way of insurance cover or direct intervention by the Buhari administration to call the bandits and killer herdsmen to order.

The ABP is a very progressive scheme that could make Nigeria to be self-sufficient in food production. It represents a hedge against food insecurity. Government should adopt stricter measures to end the raging insecurity crisis across the country. In particular, the Federal Government must address possible presence of internal sabotage within its security apparatus. More importantly, it must urgently allow states to partake in security through the establishment of state police, to work in tandem with federal police and the military. The ABP should not be allowed to die; and Nigerians deserve to live and work in peace; which the government has a duty to broker.

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