Food Pyramids Everywhere, But No Food For the People

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By JOSEPH CHIBUEZE

Recently the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through its Anchor
Borrowers Programme (ABP) unveiled its first rice pyramids in South
West Nigeria, specifically in Ekiti State.
The unveiling is a follow up to the one done in Kebbi and Gombe states
where the apex bank also unveiled 13 rice pyramids which housed 50kg
bags of rice numbering 200,000.
It is not only rice, recently in Katsina State, the bank working with
Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN) also unveiled the first maize
pyramid in Nigeria.
These exercises clearly show that Nigeria is on the match towards self
sufficiency in food. But that is officially speaking, as some people
would say, because the realities on ground do not suggest that.
Food prices are on the rise every day. In fact food inflation in
Nigeria is well over 23 per cent according to latest figures released
by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
An average Nigerian family can hardly afford three square meals a day.
The truth is that Nigerians are fast becoming one of the hungriest
people on earth.
In November 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the ABP to boost
agricultural production and reverse Nigeria’s negative balance of
payments on food.
Of course, Nigeria was, and still is, a major food import nation
spending N1.3 trillion worth of foreign exchange on the importation of
food as at 2014, according to the governor of CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele
who was justifying the need for a concerted effort to stop food
importation in Nigeria.
A KPMG report, showed that three million tonnes of rice were imported
into Nigeria in 2018. Even as at 2020, despite all the intervention
efforts, the nation’s expenditure on food importation is still a
staggering $1.24 billion.
The Anchor Borrowers Programme focuses mainly on farmers cultivating
cereals (rice, maize, wheat etc.) cotton, roots and tubers, sugarcane,
tree crops, legumes, tomato and livestock.
Of course the Anchor Borrowers Programme was a good concept that has
actually impacted positively on the nation’s agricultural sector. It
has stimulated a lot of interest in farming across the nation,
especially among the youths.
So far, according to CBN, the programme has financed over 3.1 million
farmers to the tune of over N492 billion for the cultivation of
3,801,397 hectares across 21 commodities through 23 Participating
Financial Institutions in the 36 states of the Federation and FCT,
from the inception of the programme till date.
To mitigate against the risk of farmers not being able to pay back the
loans, the CBN created the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System
for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), which also serves as a
micro-finance bank to handle the loan disbursement.
No doubt, the ABP has been of tremendous assistance to farmers which
is why those in other crop groups that are not captured in the
programme are crying for attention, the problem however, is the
implementation which appears to be flawed in some areas.
Like most other government programmes, ABP according to stakeholders,
is bogged by politics and corruption which has dwarfed the numerous
achievements it made within the last six years.
Data from the 2020 fourth quarter economic report of the CBN shows
that out of the N492 billion disbursed to farmers under the programme
as of November 2020, only N114 billion has been repaid, while 76
percent of the loan amounting to N378.5 billion is still outstanding.
In Kano for instance, ₦950 million was lent to farmers, but only ₦6
million has been recovered, with 4,500 farmers defaulting.
The story goes that the high rate of default is because most of the
beneficiaries were never farmers in the first place, but supporters of
government officials and politicians who consider the loans as rewards
for political support during the 2015 elections, thus harbouring no
intentions to pay back.
This also goes to say that the bulk of the money disbursed under ABP
are really not going into agriculture.
National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc
Kabir Ibrahim in an interview with DAILY ASSET, said that the CBN and
the handlers of the Anchor Borrowers Programme need to explain to
Nigerians where the rice and maize they are unveiling their pyramids
were cultivated.
According to him, “with the high level of insecurity in the major rice
and maize producing states, forcing farmers to keep off their farms,
in which farm was this rice produced and who owns the rice and maize?”
He said while not dismissing the impact of the ABP on agriculture
which has supported greatly the financing of small holder farmers,
that is for those who are able to get it, the pyramid is just a show
to deceive the people that something was happening.
He said, “if we have surplus food as depicted by the pyramids why do
we still have food shortages and the prices are high in the market.
Who owns the pyramids?”
National President of National Palm Produce Association of Nigeria
(NPPAN), Mr Alphonsus Inyang said it was unfortunate that the CBN has
resorted to showmanship.
He said instead of the apex bank to focus on commodities that will
ensure sustainable economic development for the nation, it has decided
to go for quick fix by focusing on commodities that will earn it
applause within a few months.
“We keep saying that the money the CBN is spending is development
money, managed by the development finance department of the bank and
that they should sit down and work out the best way to spend the money
so the nation can benefit maximally.
“You don’t spend development money to get applause; you use it to
develop the economy, to spread prosperity, to improve lives and
livelihoods.
“But the CBN is more interested in getting people to clap for them,
that is the reason for the rush for pyramids. Is CBN telling us that
the rice pyramids in Ekiti, were rice cultivated in Ekiti?”
He said Nigeria is known for oil palm in South East, and South South;
groundnuts, coffee and gum Arabic in the North, cocoa in the South
West and part of South South.
“What happens to cocoa, rubber, coffee, oil palm? The CBN is not
interested in these. As the National President of National Palm
Producers Association of Nigeria, we have been begging CBN to put
money into oil palm, you plant one oil palm tree, you harvest for 60
years, you plant one hectre of rice, you harvest after three months
and that is all. Can that sustain the economy?
“The CBN should use Nigerian money to develop commodities that can
make us stand strong economically, commodities that can endure over
different generations. CBN is saying it will not put money into oil
palm because it will take a long time to mature. If the present CBN
governor has put money into oil palm when he took over six years ago,
we would have started harvesting from his third year in office.
“We are not saying they should discard rice, no, but the thing is when
you focus on celebration and clapping of hands, politics of applause,
discarding the real sector of the economy, you are not helping the
economy.”
But for Dr Edwin Uche, National President of Maize Growers, Processors
and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MGPMAN), the pyramids are simply
symbolic and to show that efforts are being made.
According to him, “the pyramids signify a lot depending on how you
define it. It tells you the level of efforts being put in place to
ensure that maize is grown and that the challenges associated with
maize farming is being addressed gradually. It also shows you that the
farmers are working hard to support food security in Nigeria.
“It is also to motivate people within the value chain that it is
possible to attain self sufficiency in food if we all work together.
Yes there are questions about why the pyramids when there is scarcity,
of course we have to do the pyramids to show the world that we are
doing something to address the scarcity.”
The question many Nigerians are asking is, is this the manifestation
of the popular song by the legendary Afro Beat King, Fela Anikulakpo
Kuti, water, water everywhere, but there is no water to drink?

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