Growth scheme: Farmers seek old order

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The Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) geared towards enhancing Nigeria’s agricultural sector was scrapped by the present government and replaced with Agricultural Inputs and Mechanisation Scheme (AIMS), which is fraught with lots of challenges, compelling women farmers to call for restoration of the previous scheme. Taiwo Hassan writes.

 

 

When the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari came into power, Nigeria’s agriculture was already being given a facelift by the then President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, with the establishment of the GES in 2014.
Particularly, the GES is a Federal government initiative that was set-aside to actualise the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) under former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. It was also aimed at subsidising the costs of major agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and seedlings for farmers.
Indeed, the GES is a flagship programme of the Federal Government through, which registered farmers have access to farm inputs such as seeds, agro chemicals and fertilizer at subsidised rate via e-wallet.
The scheme, which, is targeted at small holder farmers with the aim of increasing food production by 20 million tonnes, was being expanded to include insurance, loans, and extension services.
Based on the GES policy, the Federal and State Governments equally contribute the balance of 50 per cent (25 per cent each) being the approved subsidy amount for onward payment to participating inputs (fertilizer) suppliers.
At its inception, many farmers operating in the country were empowered with farm inputs for farming and the results were seen in food production nationwide, as farmers lauded the programme for its impacts the sector’s development.
However, on assumption of Office as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, admitted to the successes GES brought to the country’s agric sector development, just as he equally affirmed that the President Muhammadu Buhammadu Buhari would fine-tune the GES and the e-wallet system.
“Very soon, we will roll out this year’s interventions for the farmers. Let me, at this juncture, assure the input suppliers that were owed under the 2014 GES support that we are working on securing funds to pay them all on a pro-rata basis to ensure none is excluded. Very soon, they will have caused to smile,” Ogbeh said.

FG’s GES re-launching
In late January 2017, the present government under President Muhammadu Buhari re-launched the GES with the introduction of Agricultural Inputs and Mechanisation scheme (AIMS) to provide support to farmers through subsidized agricultural inputs. Unfortunately, the scheme did not bring the desired results, as farmers were not fully captured in process.
Despite this news, rural and small holder farmers and cottage agribusinesses, who contribute to over 80 per cent of the country’s agricultural production, continue to note the absence of government support, which helped increase agricultural productivity under previous administrations and better economic conditions.
Conversely, the few large-scale agri-businesses note that the Federal government’s withdrawal of support, especially the GES scheme, allows them to better plan as government support was typically provided towards the end of the production season when it was least beneficial.

GES scorecards
Speaking on the monumental impacts of GES, former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and now President, African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said that former President Goodluck Jonathan`s administration achieved a lot through its Agriculture Transformation Agenda by ending decades of corruption in the agric sector with the introduction of GES.
He said that the transformation in the agriculture sector had witnessed a monumental change in the way and manner agriculture and its related activities were handled by the previous government.
“We ended 40 years of corruption in the fertilizer sector. The old system of government direct procurement and distribution of fertilizer was corrupt,’’ he said.
According to him, over N873 billion was spent on fertilizer subsidies between 1980 and 2010, while nearly 90 per cent of farmers never received subsidised fertilizers.
He also said that over N776 billion was estimated to have been lost to corruption or an average of N26 billion annually, a situation that displaced the private sector.
Adesina said the ministry, under the then arrangement, had built a national database of 10.5 million farmers, which had increased agriculture participation in every state of the federation.
He further said that the GES of the Federal Government had increased farmers’ access to fertilizer from 11 per cent to 92.
Out of this figure, he said, 1.3 million tons of fertilizer had been delivered to farmers, while 55,000 tons of improved seeds had been delivered to them.
Adesina highlighted that President Jonathan administration’s achievement in the agriculture sector, also captured that Nigeria was the first country in Africa to deliver inputs to farmers through e-wallet.

Women farmers’ stance
However, at the end of a two-day annual national farmers forum for smallholder women farmers organised by Actionaid Nigeria, in Abuja, recently, the women said they lacked access to improved seeds and other farm inputs, which the GES was meant to provide.
According to them, GES was a farm support initiative through, which registered farmers had access to quality seeds, fertilizers and agro-chemicals at 50 per cent subsidised price introduced by the past administration of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
They alluded that the scheme was be-devilled by many challenges, including supply of substandard inputs to farmers.
To them, this prompted the current administration to announce its replacement with the AIMS.
Speaking at the occasion, Mrs. Ngizan Chahul from Benue, said since the GES was scrapped; it had been difficult for her and other fellow woman farmers to access quality inputs.
She appealed to the Federal Government to come to their aid by either restoring GES or ensuring effective implementation of AIMS to boost productivity of farmers.
She equally urged the government to closely monitor its intervention programmes to ensure that “political farmers” did not hijack them.
Mrs Suzan Godwin from Nasarawa State said that women farmers ought to be involved in the policy formulation process to protect their interests.
Another participant from Benue, Mrs Bridget Adejo, appealed to the Federal Government to make the location of silos it recently established known to them.
This, she said, would enable smallholder farmers to locate and take advantage of the storage facilities to avoid post-harvest losses.
Another farmer, Mrs Bola Adebayo from Osun, urged government to buy insurance for farmers who lost their crops to farmers/herders clash and to also address the situation.

GES fallout
It would be recalled that the FG’s GES hit the brick wall when the state governments pulled out of the agreed 25 per cent contribution of subsidy amount that was regularly deducted directly from states’ statutory monthly allocations from the federation account and this resulted to scarcity of fertilizers in circulation.
The governors had stated categorical that they had no money to contribute to the GES scheme because of their low revenues, which was caused due to fall in the prices of crude oil in the international market and recession at that period.
All participating states gave an irrevocable Standing Order for their portion (25 per cent) of the subsidy amount to be deducted directly from their Statutory Monthly Allocation from the Federation Account as at when due.
However, fertilizer suppliers who participated under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD)’s GES were at loggerhead with the Federal Government and state governments over N100 billion debts being owed them as part of their subsidy portion in the scheme for distributing the fertilizers to farmers on behalf of the government. This huge debt prompted the present government to abandon the GES.

Last line
No doubt, the introduction of the GES made meaningful impacts in the heart of the farmers in the country, but it will be very difficult for the current administration to go back to the scheme because of its many challenges. This is also given the fact that it had jettisoned many of the previous government’s projects.

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