Although agriculture was up against diverse obstacles in 2016, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has expressed its determination to ride out the storm in 2017 by embarking on many ambitious projects.
This viewpoint was made known by the Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, at the inauguration of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) steering committee on the restructuring and re-capitalisation of the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) and the Project Delivery Team.
According to him, “the aim is to make sure that we embark on these major projects. So, agriculture continues to be an all-year-round activity. And we too can continue to provide fresh food.”
He added: “In the interim, our biggest achievement last year has been that we were able to put the Nigerian rice on dining tables for Christmas and Nigerians are now discovering that their own rice is actually better than what they have been eating from outside. We believe that, by the end of this year, it should no longer be necessary for us to have to ban rice. It would be an automatic selection by Nigerians.
“I thank the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for his intervention in the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme,” the Minister added.
He, however, encouraged the CBN Governor to continue to do so until the BoA is strong enough to take on the responsibility at affordable interest rates, and yet meeting its banking obligations.
Speaking on recapitalising BoA, Ogbeh hinted at restructuring, reduction of interest rates, lending at single digits and building an agric bank that would automatically double, not only as an agricultural bank, but also as some kind of community bank, found in all villages and farming communities.
He stressed that there are fresh efforts by government towards fertiliser production and supply, bringing in the youth and on mechanisation, more tractors, more harvesters, to ease the burden on agriculture, so it can become a hobby for many, instead of the drudgery.
He called on the public to note the essence of the Federal Government’s decision to embark on the strategic step in the BoA revamp process. He said first, the Vice President and Chairman of NCP recently approved the proposed restructuring and recapitalisation strategy to revitalise the operations of BoA.
According to Ogbeh, “this approach is aimed at revitalising the operations of BoA to make it more responsive to its mandate of serving as a veritable platform for providing loans to MSMEs, rural farmers and cooperatives, agro-allied industries, among others. This will enable them to meet the huge demand for agricultural produce for local consumption and exports.”
He added: “it is expected to integrate into the evolving commodity exchange programme that is currently undergoing a revamp process. This approach was preferred by the FGN as a pre-privatisation strategy to pave way for injection of financial and other requisite resources into the bank, also to future privatisation as approved as approved in 2013 by the national council on privatisation.”
Tracing the history of the Bank of Agriculture, the Minister pointed out that “it is noteworthy that, in its over 20 years of existence, the BoA has faced a myriad of challenges, which include poor funding, poor stakeholder buy-in, particularly by FGN agencies, and erosion of stakeholder funds, especially with bad debts. People have borrowed money from this bank in the past and many have either failed or refused to pay.”