Recently, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, led a team of over 30 journalists to Kebbi State to inspect the rice revolution in the state. The Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, during an interactive session with the journalists, responded thus.
In your opening remarks, you mentioned that your state is partnering with the Ministry of Information and Culture to revive the Argungu Fishing Festival; what were the reasons for stopping the festival?
The Argungu festival was suspended when the Boko Haram insurgency in 2010 and 2011 made it almost impossible to have the confidence to host a large gathering in one place. Then, government found it expedient to suspend it until they are confident the security situation is back to normal, even though Kebbi State was least affected. And since last year, we are confident that things are back to normal; especially in this part of the country. We were even ambitious and tried to see if the festival could take place in 2017, but we always avoid the rainy period and there are a lot of infrastructure and accommodation issues that have decayed because of because of the suspension. We are working hard to fix the accommodation; to make it as international as possible so that it can attract the widest audience; that is what we are doing with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.
On the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), are there issues of defaulters, and what are you doing to discourage that to encourage the CBN to do more?
Kebbi State was chosen for the pilot model of the ABP involving 70,000 farmers and because we started with that number we gained a lot of experience because registration was an issue. You require service availability for the registered farmers. Sometimes they would patiently turn up for registration for three days.
Also, when we started the pilot programme, we realised that all the inputs were not available for the 70,000 farmers. We planned to give each one six bags of fertilizer, and that was about 420,000 bags. That is a huge logistic challenge; especially then when the fertilizer available in the market was less than 200,000 bags.
Idealy, you need two water pumps per farmer; that is 140 water pumps. That was a period where prices of water pumps jumped from N17,000 to N32,000, and that was when we also had fuel price challenges, where rather than N87 per litre, fuel price was N280 per litre; so all these affected the model.
However, the first objective in the model is the increase in production of Nigerian rice and it was achieved beyond imagination. The second objective was to create employment, and it did, it also popularised the belief and energised every one that Nigeria can do this.
Are there people who have defaulted?
Yes when we are dealing with 70,000 farmers there are bound to be default situations; just like we have been arguing, farmers are businessmen and that is one of the things we want you to help popularise. If a farmer faces a repayment issue, just like a company will face repayment issue occasionally, what is important is to work with them so that they can continue; it is not unusual.
N54bn is the total amount of money made available under the Anchor Borrowers Programme. It is not little; we thank the Federal Government and the CBN because this is the first time it is happening in Nigeria. The money is even little compared with what goes on in other sectors. Example, when the asset management company was created in 2010, it was created to take over bad loans from the commercial banking system. N4tn bad loans, not just in one sector, it was oil and gas, shares certificate and land certificate. But that spending of N54b has resulted in the magic we have seen in terms of food production should be a bigger story than repayment challenges that should occasion any programme like this.
I want to call for greater lending and public support for agriculture. NNPC indicated that in the two months fuel subsidy alone it realised about N180b, and yet our lending to agriculture under the Anchor Borrowers for 2.5 years across 31 states is just N54b. So we need massive investment in agriculture. Countries that have achieved food sufficiency spent decades supporting agriculture, subsidising and providing different producer supports.
Going round the state, the farmers complained of the challenge of fuel in powering their generators to water their crops, are you considering a dam or a way of providing solar-powered pumps for them?
I am glad you took note of that. Kebbi State is one of the most difficult states to produce rice because the water level is below the farmlands, so most of our farmers use irrigation. In some states it is possible to use gravity. That is why they don’t buy fuel or push the water up to produce rice. Because of this, our farmers are always buying petrol and sometimes when it is not available at the price assumed in the model, because most of our farmers are borrowing and to borrow, a model was created with the financial institutions which assume that farmers are buying fuel at the rate of N145 or at most N150 per litre, but farmers in some places are buying fuel at the rate of N350 per litre.
Despite the best effort by the Federal Government, challenges still remain. Fortunately, Kebbi State has contiguous boarders with two countries: Niger and Benin republics, and as presented by NNPC, the prices of petrol in both Niger and Benin republics are over N350 per litre; which is an incentive for people smuggling petroleum.
However, what we did in the past when we were confronted with situations like this; the state government entered into arrangements with some petrol stations where we dedicated them for the farmers, while we absorbed the loss. We have met with all stakeholders and we are going to start doing so because some farmers are even abandoning their farms because they can’t cope.
What total hectares are being cultivated in the state?
We don’t have the figures of the total hectares cultivated, but under the ABP, there are different companies, there are private anchor companies, like the WACOT Rice Millers, Labana and Olam. These companies have farmers that they are working with; we know the number of farmers, we know the hectares those farmers cultivate. Then we have the state government’s anchor with the CBN which I said the pilot scheme was for 70,000 farmers, now close to 150,000 farmers, so that model is one hectare per farmer typically. There you have 150,000 hectares for the state anchor. Then for the private anchor, we believe it is about 70,000 to 80,000 farmers. These are farmers in the ABP; a lot of them are not yet in the programme, so we believe that not less than 400,000 hectares is being cultivated.
How has the partnership with Lagos State on Lake Rice impacted on the rice revolution in the state?
It is quite a splendid programme for the nation, because what Governor Ambode and I and other officials did as a result of that partnership, was to go to the most enlightened market in the nation, which is the Lagos market, and say, “Here is a Nigerian product” because we know the objectivity and ability of the Lagos market to test an certify if something is good or not. We urged them to test it and let’s see how it measured up for competition; especially imported rice, and lo and behold the people of Lagos State said, “Yes, it is a good product and is better than imported products.” So that created a resurgence of demand for Nigerian rice in general. I must commend the Lagos market because they define the mood of the nation because they are the biggest market, and by confirming that Lake Rice is better than imported rice, it supported the programme and demand was created.
The major breakthrough in rice production in Kebbi State two years ago was the over 1m metric tonnes achievement. What is the target for 2018?
There are three cropping seasons in Kebbi State: two dry seasons and one wet season. Farmers produce rice in the three cropping seasons and so we are estimating that both farmers in the ABP and outside it have about 400,000 hectares under cultivation, and for those under the ABP, about five to six tonnes minimum per hectare are expected; there you have about 1.2 million tonnes.
For the rest of the farmers not under the ABP, their yields are lower, so we estimate that it is about three tonnes per hectare. So for those 200,000 hectares, it is another 600,000. For cropping seasons we are talking of about 1.8 to almost two million tonnes per cropping season.