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Thewill Editorial: The Cbn’s Anchor Borrowers Programme

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SAN FRANCISCO, August 14, (THEWILL) – Amid the rising cost of imported rice in Nigeria, the average citizen is groaning under intense difficulty in meeting his or her food needs. The situation has posed a great national challenge with serious pressure being mounted on scarce foreign exchange. The rising price of imported rice is unfortunately having a concomitant effect on what the local rice is sold for in markets across the country.

In the last six months, the price of rice has been on the rise. There are fears that if not checked, it could portend greater danger including a food crisis. Regrettably, this increase in price has not been helped by the deteriorating state of the economy, which has greatly affected the purchasing power of already overburdened citizens.

Currently, a bag of imported rice oscillates between N17, 000 to N18, 500. At the current rate, a government worker, even on a minimum wage of N25, 000, cannot afford the produce, not minding that it has remained the staple food of over 80 percent of the population.

It is in the light of this challenge that the recent intervention by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, through the Anchor Borrowers Programme, ABP, becomes highly commendable. The CBN Governor Mr. Godwin Emefiele, in rolling out the well-articulated plan, expressed optimism that it could take the country out of the present doldrums.

The intervention programme is to stimulate the local production capacity. It was launched a few months back in Kebbi State as a pivot to the expected rice revolution in the country. The CBN governor, in company of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh inspected rice and wheat farms managed under the programme.

This move by the apex bank is a welcome development, considering the volume of funds that have gone into rice importation over time. Between 2012 and 2015 alone, it was reported that Nigeria spent over $2.41billion on rice importation. It is estimated that the cost may double, which underscores the inherent benefits of the borrower programme.

The CBN had set aside N40 billion out of the N220 billion earmarked under its Micro and Medium Enterprises Development Fund. The fund is to serve as loans to smallholder rice farmers in the range of N150, 000 to N250, 000.

According to the CBN, the fund would be given as loans to rice farmers to procure agricultural inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and seedlings among others. The apex bank said it has so far disbursed about N4.9 billion in loans to a total of 78, 581 farmers in Kebbi alone. Relatively, this is said to have created a total of 570, 000 direct jobs.

If replicated in the number of rice-growing states in Nigeria, it would stimulate the needed capacity to meet the nation's increasing food needs and ease the excessive pressure on scarce foreign exchange for food importation.

THEWILL therefore urges the CBN to quickly replicate the programme in other rice-producing states. Aside Kebbi, states that have made remarkable progress in growing rice locally are: Anambra, Ebonyi, Cross River, and Benue. Others are, Plateau, Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states among others.

We expect the apex bank to effectively monitor the loans to ensure that it is not diverted for purposes other than what it is intended. Also, the Ministry of Agriculture should supervise the scheme by ensuring that the blueprint is achieved.

THEWILL will also call for the intervention to include the setting up of modern mills in rice growing communities. The rice mills should be equipped with world class machines that can sieve out stones during the milling process. We are well convinced that only when local rice are processed to be free of stones and chaff that Nigerians can give up their unhelpful preference for imported rice.

Also, Nigeria can earn more from the export of the commodity when conscientious efforts are made to add value to the rice being produced locally. Indeed, surrounding West Africa countries and the entire continent is a ready market whenever Nigeria is ready to be an exporter of rice that can compete favourable with the brand produced from other countries.

Meanwhile, we are confident that if the ABP is sustained, it could cause a revolution in the agriculture sector, which is one sure way of diversifying the economy. The Federal Government must therefore put measures in place to ensure its sustainability beyond the current regime. It should eschew all forms of political interjections and make it a truly national resuscitation programme.

The Federal Government must also support irrigation and other environmental challenges needed to sustain dry season farming. The burden of irrigation should not be allowed to eat into the actual cultivation.

However in seeking to boost local production, we reiterate that efforts must be placed on quality. Over time, the local rice has been known to fall below the recommended standard. Emefiele had rightly agreed that the several billions spent in importing rice in the last four years, has “Unfortunately resulted in huge unsold stock of paddy rice cultivated by our farmers and low operating capacities of the many integrated rice mills in Nigeria.”

This is where the need for sustainability and favourable operational environment becomes critical.

Besides, THEWILL demands that the Federal Government lead the way in encouraging the citizens to consume locally-produced rice. It must demonstrate its commitment by putting a stop to the consumption of imported rice at public events, such that only local rice is served at the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs camp, and in government agencies, as well as the presidency.

Only a bold step like this can discourage smuggling of foreign rice into the country. Anything to the contrary would ignite a culture of distrust, which will ultimately encourage sabotage by the import racketeers. The National Orientation Agency, NOA, has its job cut out for it in sensitizing Nigerians on the need to settle for local rice. We expect the agency to promptly get to work.