The various agricloans, what is the impact so far?
We have various loans meant for agriculture. We have the National Agricultural Investment Plan (NAIP) which has its own funding given to the commercial banks about N200billion. There is another one with the Bank of Agriculture. And there is also another one by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the Credit Guarantee Scheme (CGS). Apart from that, there are pockets of funds meant for loans to MSMEs. We also saw another creation which is now looking at the medium and micro enterprises. Though some of them do not have agriculture as a specific sector because they are included within the micro, medium enterprise there is nothing within the policy that says they cannot access such funds. With all these funding, opportunities and facilities, I am yet, however, to see the impact on the rural communities where agriculture is really practiced. I am yet to see the rural communities that are accessing these funds. I am yet to see small scale farmers who are accessing it. We work with over 50,000 farmers across the country. Each time I ask them, how many of you know there are openings for loans that can help you; they would tell you they are yet to see it. Not forgetting the Growth Enhancement Growth (GES) which provides fertilizers and seeds subsidy. We commend this but while commending all of these, we are yet to see the impact on the small scale farmers.
How is NANTS working to change this?
A large chunk of what we are doing at present is aimed at educating our members on how to get access to these funds. It is not very easy for farmers to have such access. Even though they are in cooperatives, how many cooperatives have what the banks need in terms of requirement, in terms of collaterals, in terms of loans, in terms of capacity to develop a written feasibility study, in terms of ability to all the documentations. The members that we have how many of term can we help in writing proposals, writing feasibility studies and then documentation. These are the challenges. What we are doing in the FCT is courtesy of USAID. The focus of activities is working closely with banks and micro finance agencies to facilitate small holders and agri business assist in commercial credit and funds for investment in appropriate technologies. USAID went into this because they know the hurdles that are preventing small holder farmers from accessing these loans. Of the N200billion, can the CBN give a figure of the number of small holder farmers that have accessed the loan? That is why some of us are agitating for a separate funding mechanism for small scale farmers if we are serious in developing agriculture. That funding mechanism will act like the GES system where there is no collateral. If the government has helped in providing seeds, fertilizers, nothing is wrong if the CBN starts from another area by making funds available to small scale farmers without collateral. We know how to go about it. We have been in the business of micro credit for the past 5 years and no farmer has defaulted. We have always recovered 100 percent and funds have continued. We are not a banking institution but we can guarantee these loans-this we have told some banks. We bank with First Bank, Ecobank, Afribank, and Zenith depending on the project. The funds we are using for micro credit is with First Bank. If they go through their records, they will see how these things are. We are not producing pure water neither are we selling crayfish in the market. When we started we were working with a micro finance bank and we discovered that they were only interested in the profit and not in reducing poverty, we called it quit.
It does seem the banks would rather channel the funds to other purpose than Agriculture?
They are revolving the money amongst themselves! I want banks to challenge me. Bring out your records let’s go through, human beings are there; let’s see those who have accessed the funds. How much did they access, where are they from, when did they collect the money, what are their names, how was the money when they collected these funds, under what company name did they collect this money? Let us get the details. When you get the details, you will see that banks would be on the run, they would be ashamed. It’s a shameful thing that for more than 4-5 years, we have been talking about giving funds to the private sector, giving funds to farmers yet you don’t see the impact. Each time you ask the farmers, how much did you access nobody tells you any good story. And at the end of the day, shamelessly, banks will brandish records. Recently, CEOs of banks said they have spent N200billion in small scale agriculture. It is a shame. God forgive them!
Regarding disbursement of the loans, have the banks been up and doing?
There must be character, integrity and the objective of the fund. If you have character and integrity that tells you that this is stakeholders’ funds, I should not mess up with it. I must watch and in watching I should not be giving it to myself. I can’t swallow what is given to me for safe keeping. I will also tell you that I will not collect this money and be giving it to family members, friends and well wishers. This is public money, shareholders money therefore I am not father Christmas. Integrity and character will also tell you that as a banker I will not be dubious about it. And therefore I cannot as a banker begin to open many companies all in the name of business; allocating funds to them like many do in the banking sector. Then the objective of that fund is very important. For instance, if government says the NIRSAL fund is meant for alleviating the poverty of farmers, therefore, the target must be based on poverty reduction. You must have your body working with your conscious.
Before NANTS intervention, how was the situation?
It was a very sorry state. Many of the farmers were yearning saying we need help. You see farmlands empty, you see human beings who are ready to work. When you see all of these, you are pushed. You see poverty staring them in the face, you see poverty dinning with them, you see poverty shaking them therefore you are moved with compassion, if you have the milk of mercy. I f you realize that there is a creator that created you and created this people, you will be moved to do something for them. That was exactly what pushed us. The first time it was our own internally generated funds we started with. It got to a point in the rural communities that we work if you give somebody N5,000 loan, you have become a ‘god’. That tells you the level of poverty. One of the media people was doubting that until he followed us to where we were disbursing and he saw the band, he saw the clapping, he saw the community coming out to welcome us just because of N5,000, N7,500, N10,000 loan we are giving to people. He was moved with compassion and he asked how we raised the fund. There are institutions that pay tithe. Within us, we said ‘can’t we convert this thing instead of giving to one man, can’t we sow in the lives of these people that we are seeing. That was the motivating factor and God also touched one of our partners (Oxfam) who went to Benue with us and saw what we were doing and they were moved. Before then, we had written to government agencies ‘please give us funds to administer’. We never got a reply from the numerous letters we wrote. They supported us and we moved to other states. By January, we are extending to the South West, we are starting with capacity building, strengthen them on how to manage this funds so that when it come, it will not look like national cake. We also try to put them in clusters so that they will respect that and return the money knowing that this is a revolving thing; if you eat this money, it will not get to your colleague that have not received. In that way, the money continues to revolve. This is the secret! We put their pastors in charge or their imams and the traditional leaders in these communities put them in the whole thing that is a check and nobody wants to mess up. Grain banking is another strategy that we started. When we give them money to produce in order to ensure that there is no glut, in order to create market for them, we also buy from them and store. We now use their executives to buy these things. We teach them how to buy these produce for themselves after teaching them how to determine the price. They give us their account details. We don’t need to be there again.
But various pronouncements from government officials point to progress?
There are many insincere people in public service. If somebody will open his mouth and swallow money meant for pensioners and these pensioners are begging and dying on the streets then I have lost my confidence on many of them. Many in government are godless. We discovered that government officials get these monies and put it in their account waiting for interest while somebody is dying. Some of them can get it and begin to distribute to their cohorts and friends. Some get It, go to CAC and open fictitious companies to siphon the money. As an organization, what we have canvassed is that a check be run on some of these companies. What they need to do is simple: give us this fund; just `do a trial. Let us manage it for the people and see how much impact it will make. If we are making impact with the little we task ourselves then I think government should learn, it is not rocket science to disburse these funds and recover. We have demystified this. If government is serious about working with small scale farmers, working with the small people; leave the microfinance institutions, leave the banking institutions, they are profit oriented. Go to institutions that are not profit oriented. You can use us to disburse and to recover. If one dime gets out of that fund please look at the sanction; this is the penalty. Experiment it that is what we are saying! All these billions; what the small scale farmer in the rural community needs may not be more than N10,000 to get out of poverty. In any case, it has been proven that they repay loans faster.