There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria has witnessed various agricultural policies and programmes that were launched by successive administrations, particularly in the last four decades.

These agricultural programmes include Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution Programme, Back to Land Programme, Cassava Development Initiative, Agricultural Transformational Agenda and Green Alternative Policy.

In recent times, the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) was introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on Nov. 17, 2015 in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State.

The CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, said that since the inauguration of ABP in 2015, over 17 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had embraced the programme, while over N55 billion had been disbursed to over 250,000 farmers under the scheme.

He said that the ABP was being implemented under the aegis of the Presidential Task Force on Rice, and Wheat Production, in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).

He said that the programme had created economic linkages between smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale crop processors, with a view to increasing agricultural output and capacity utilisation of integrated mills.

Emefiele noted that ABP had closed the gaps between local rice production and domestic consumption, while complementing the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme of FMARD by facilitating the transformation of GES-farmers from subsistence farming to commercial farming.

Mr Isaac Okoroafor, the Acting Director of Corporate Communications Department, CBN, said that in 2018, N36.37 billion was disbursed to 155,732 farmers, while N12.57 billion paid to 27 farmers in the first half of 2017; bringing the total disbursements, since the inception of the programme, to N91.90 billion.

“More than 412,037 smallholder farmers are beneficiaries in 36 states and the FCT; there are 13 state government anchors and 127 private-led anchors,’’ he said.

The acting director said that the total ABP loans repayment, since inception to date, was N12.19 billion, adding that the programme had created over 500,000 jobs, while adding two million tonnes of rice to the domestic rice supply.

Okoroafor noted that the volume of rice importation into the country had drastically declined in 2018, judging by figures obtained from various official sources.

“Figures obtained from India and Thailand, which are dominant rice exporters to Nigeria indicate that as at September 2018, Thailand exported about 5,161 tonnes of rice to Nigeria, while India exported only a paltry 426 tonnes to Nigeria as at July 2018.

“CBN had not allocated any foreign exchange for the importation of rice and we, therefore, attribute the achievement to the concerted efforts of FMARD and Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN),’’ he said.

Besides, the CBN has made available some concessionary funds to the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) for disbursement as loans to rice, wheat, maize, cotton, cassava, poultry, soybeans and groundnut farmers.

The Managing Director of NIRSAL, Mr Aliyu Abdulhameed, said that the outcome of the venture had been very positive, as NIRSAL, through the ABP, had been able to create over 250,000 direct jobs and 1.25 million indirect jobs across the country.

In addition, Abdulhameed said that NIRSAL had so far facilitated the provision of highly affordable loans, with single-digit interest rates, totalling N5.7 billion, to over 33,000 farmers for wet and dry season farming in 2017 and early 2018.

Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, the National President of RIFAN, said that more than two million rice farmers, who registered for ABP, were supported with funds and farm inputs such as water-pumping machines, with a view to facilitating their participation in dry season farming.

He said that the terms of ABP loans were also flexible, adding that beneficiary rice farmers could either pay back the loans with cash or harvested paddy rice at the end of the farming season.

Goroyo said that through ABP initiative, the agricultural sector had been strategically re-positioned to have multiplier and linkage effects on the nation’s economy, security and industrial development.

He noted that massive produce importation had been the rationale behind the unattractiveness of Nigeria’s agriculture and agribusiness to potential investors.

Besides, Goroyo said that RIFAN and the Nigeria Customs Service once signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to curb rice smuggling into the country through the land borders.

He stressed that the joint efforts had appreciably reduced the activities of rice smugglers, saying that the quantity of smuggled rice in the country, which largely came in through the informal sector, was just about five per cent of the rice which the citizens consumed.

He recalled that in 2015, Nigerians spent not less than N1 billion daily on rice consumption, adding that while the spending had drastically reduced, rice consumption had, nonetheless, increased because of improved local production.

Goronyo said that available statistics showed that the rice consumption rate had increased considerably, while the production rate had also increased exponentially.

He said that from 2016 to date, there were over five million ABP beneficiaries, adding that the beneficiaries included those involved in rice production, processing and marketing as well as inputs supply.

He assured Nigerians that with the sustained implementation of ABP, his association would assiduously work towards Nigeria’s attainment of self-sufficiency in rice production by 2020.

Dr Tunde Arosanyin, the National Coordinator for Zero Hunger Commodity Farmers Association of Nigeria, said that the ABP was very much beneficial to farmers, adding that the programme was a veritable channel for facilitating the agricultural development of the country.

He said that although ABP had been having direct impact on rural farmers generally, there were still some missing links which ought to be addressed.

Arosanyin noted that the success of any agricultural programme could also be measured through the quality, accessibility and usage of farm inputs, adding that ABP had, however, scored below average in this regard.

In Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Aliyu, the State Chairman of RIFAN, confirmed that over N6 billion had been disbursed as ABP loans to 25,000 rice farmers in the 2018 farming season.

Some of the beneficiary farmers commended the programme for early loan disbursements, which have enabled the farmers to engage in rice planting in good time.

“Each of us (the beneficiary farmers) was given fertilisers, seeds and chemicals as well as a certain amount of money to pay for labour,’’ said Malam Shehu Ibrahim, a rice farmer.

Alhaji Sadiq Daware, the National President of North East Commodity Association (NECAS), said: “The Buhari-administration has cut down on imports of agricultural products so as to enable Nigeria to attain self-sufficiency in food production and stimulate consumption through ABP.’’

He said that a N14.9-billion ABP loan was given to NECAS for a period of one year at a single-digit interest rate of 9 per cent.

He said that under the programme, over 27,000 farmers, particularly those affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in Taraba, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa and Yobe states, were the beneficiaries.

“Over 10,000 beneficiary farmers are from Gombe State and over 75,000 hectares of land would be cultivated in the five participating states.

“For example, 11,525 farmers are cultivating 38,678 hectares of land for rice, maize, sorghum, soya beans and cotton production; and in Yobe State, 5,676 farmers are cultivating 14,666 hectares of land,’’ he said.

Daware said that ABP would cover all the commodities in which the North East geopolitical zone had a comparative advantage, adding that such commodities included rice, maize, millet, sorghum and even livestock.

The Kwara State chapter of All Farmers Association (AFAN) says over 1,000 of its members, including rice, maize, soya beans and cassava farmers, have received ABP loans and inputs.

A beneficiary of ABP in Yobe State, Malam Idris Sulaiman, commended the CBN for introducing the programme, which was “a very good policy, aimed at stimulating an increase in rice production and ensuring Nigeria’s food security.’’

He said that ABP had particularly boosted the popularity of locally grown rice, while making it a choice food in many homes because of its higher nutritional value, when compared with the imported rice.

Sulaiman, however, urged the government to give concessions to importers of agricultural tractors, farm implements and machineries, as well as rice de-stoning machines and mills to boost rice production.

Madam Adenike Ogunjenrola, a maize farmer in Ekiti State, described the anchor borrowers’ initiative as one of the most successful agricultural programmes in the country.

She said that the programme had particularly raised the living standards of the farmers, while changing the narratives on agricultural investments in Nigeria and facilitating country’s food security.

Mr Pere Eteku, a rice farmer in Bayelsa State, said that he was happy to be part of the programme and pledged to utilise all the farm inputs, which were given to him under the programme, judiciously.

Malam Abdullahi Kando, a rice farmer in Kebbi State, described ABP as a catalyst for Nigeria’s agricultural transformation and food security, saying that tangible efforts should be made to sustain the programme even after the end of the Buhari-administration.

Sharing similar sentiments, Mrs Abiodun Bada, a farmer in Kogi State, said that ABP had significantly improved the welfare of farmers, while creating jobs for the youth.

“It is a cashless project which has provided its beneficiaries with farm inputs, such as improved seedlings, water pumps, chemicals and land preparation services,’’ Bada said.

All in all, the general consensus among beneficiaries and observers is that the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme is a groundbreaking agricultural scheme which should endure for a long time.