President Muhammadu Buhari has launched the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) initiated Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), even as he expressed high hopes that the scheme would lift thousands of small farmers out of poverty and generate millions of jobs for unemployed Nigerians.
Speaking during the launch of the ABP and flag-off of the 2015 dry season farming season in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, President Buhari frowned at the huge sums spent by Nigeria on the importation of food items that could be produced locally, stressing that the N1 trillion importation bill was not sustainable.
While recalling the pride of place that agriculture enjoyed in the country’s economy, the President said the current reality in the global oil market left Nigeria with no option than to diversify into other productive sectors.
The president, who also emphasized the implication of falling oil prices to Nigeria’s foreign reserve, said the situation underscored the need for Nigeria and Nigerians to diversify the productive and revenue base of the country’s economy and conserve her foreign reserve by curbing the appetite for imported goods that can easily be produced locally.
In his remarks, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, commended the CBN initiative and promised to improve on the successes recorded by his predecessor in office, by bringing on board innovations and attracting the nation’s youth to get involved in the agricultural sector.
Also speaking, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele said the Bank was concerned about the huge foreign exchange spent by Nigeria importing food items that could be produced locally.
According to him, the allocation of foreign exchange to the importation of items such as rice, wheat, milk and fish, among others, had contributed greatly to the depletion of the nation's foreign reserves, especially in the face of low oil revenue resulting from falling oil prices.
Mr. Emefiele disclosed that the rising unemployment and escalating food imports prompted the Bank, under his leadership, to shift from concentrating only on price, monetary, and financial system stability to act as a financial catalyst in specific sectors of the economy particularly agriculture, in an effort to create jobs on a mass scale, improve local food production, and conserve scarce foreign reserves
He said the ABP aims at creating economic linkages between over 600,000 smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilization of integrated mills. This, he noted, would close the gap between the levels of local rice production and domestic consumption, as well as complement the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture by graduating GES farmers from subsistence farming to commercial production Accordingly, he said the CBN had set aside N40 billion from the N 220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund for farmers at a single-digit interest rate of 9 per cent.
Dignitaries present at the event included State Governors from rice-producing states, stakeholders in the rice value chain, Executives of the CBN and Deposit Money Banks as well as thousands of enthusiasts.