As Nigeria looks towards diversifying its economy away from oil and focus more on other areas where it has comparative advantage, agriculture which had at one point in the history of the country been the money spinner has taken the front seat.
The government has in recent years put in various policies to encourage investments in agriculture in the country but access to finance still remains a major challenge, as the sector continue to be underdeveloped with majority of farmers in the rural areas still practicing subsistence farming.
However, to increase funding for the agricultural sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in line with its developmental functions and in collaboration with the federal government and Nigerian banks, established various agricultural schemes as a way of bridging the funding gap.
Such interventions include the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), Commercial Agriculture Development Programme (CADP), the Interest Draw-back scheme, Agricultural Credit Support Scheme as well as the recently introduced Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP).
The broad objectives of most of the schemes are meant to fast track development of the agricultural sector by providing credit facilities to commercial agricultural enterprises at a single digit interest rate; enhance national food security by increasing food supply and effecting lower agricultural produce and product prices, thereby promoting low food inflation; generate employment and diversify revenue base.
Speaking on the need to invest and grow Nigeria’s agricultural sector, the managing director and chief executive of Heritage Bank, Ifie Skibo stressed the need for funding as support for the sector. Affirming that Heritage Bank would continue to make farming profitable to stakeholders and attractive to the youth, he said the bank would not relent in its efforts at boosting the agriculture base of the nation.
The bank, he said, would remain focused in supporting agribusiness through financing the purchase of modern technology, as it would bring about transformative development to the economy in general.
He, noted that the bank would support the drive for cash crop commodities that would boost Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings, which the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has always been cautious given the dangers the continuous reliance on imported food items pose to its efforts to create jobs as well as develop and diversify the economy.
The bank which was adjudged Nigeria’s Most Innovative Banking Service Provider in 2017 was bestowed with the inaugural Nigeria Sustainable Banking Award convened by the CBN “For Sustainable Transaction of The Year in Agriculture”
Also, the Nigeria Agriculture Awards (NAA), at its annual event convened by AgroNigeria (The Voice of Nigeria’s Agriculture), to appreciate immense efforts of those who have contributed to the success of the agriculture sector in the country, announced Heritage Bank as the Agric Bank of the Year. According to NAA, Heritage Bank was selected in recognition of its footprints in the Agric. space, especially the Triton Aquaculture Project.
Heritage Bank Plc in collaboration with CBN had provided a N2 billion long term facility under the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) to Triton Aqua Africa Ltd (TAAL). TAAL known as Triton Farm accessed the CACS through Heritage Bank, which was used to set up aquaculture businesses; nursery/hatchery to produce fingerlings and brood stock in Ikeja and earthen ponds for catfish and Tilapia in Asejire, Iwo and Gambari towns in Oyo State. The company’s strategy is to embrace backward integration through production of fish locally and reduce its importation of frozen fish and as well to assist small scale farms by producing quality breed fingerlings.
The bank, taking the opportunity presented by the Anchor Borrowers Programme (APB) of the CBN had also provided financial support for thousands of small holder farms in Kaduna and Zamfara states for rice and soya beans production. The move according to Sekibo is borne out of the bank’s conviction that agribusiness is profitable and act of patriotism to achieve food security and sufficiency in the country.
The bank in 2016, had sourced and disbursed the sums of N54.892 million and N248.413 million as loans to 185 rice farmers and 414 soya bean farmers respectively in Kaduna State. It had also disbursed N37.995 million to 259 rice farmers via 11 cooperatives in Zamfara State.
Heritage Bank had in 2017 executed MOU for partnership with NIRSAL in 2017 on transactions worth over N686 million. It had received and disbursed N29million to poultry farmers in Oyo state, N157 million disbursed for maize cultivation in Ogun state and N500 million for cassava cultivation in Kebbi state.
The bank also as part of its stance of growing the Nigerian agric sector had signed a N232 million pilot phase of out-growers agreement with Biase Plantations Limited (BPL), and its joint venture partner, PZ Wilmar Limited to produce best-in-class palm oil, using the ABP model. The first tranche of N113million has been received and disbursed accordingly. The pilot scheme covers 45 farmers, grouped into four co-operative societies with a land mass of 150 hectares, and the funds to be administered is from BPL.
Heritage Bank Plc partnered BKG Exhibitions Limited-Nigeria in organizing Nigeria’s first ‘PalmTech Expo’ to catalyse the resuscitation of the palm oil industry in Nigeria based on the rapid development and increasing contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Consequently, 13 states in the palm oil producing states across the federation in conjunction with over 50 Nigerian and international companies were exhibitors at the expo.
The bank also partnered with the Nigerian Youth Professional Forum (NYPF) to support entrepreneurship in agricultural sector and others with the launch of a N500 million Young Entrepreneurs and Students (YES) grant.
In partnership with Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) also empowered over 100 aspiring start-up entrepreneurs under the Young Entrepreneurship Business Training Programme (YEBTP).
“We have been playing strongly in the education and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SME) sectors of the economy. This project syncs with our mission and vision as a bank. The age bracket of 18 to 40 years for the beneficiaries also aligns with our corporate goal, just like the key sectors which include agriculture, ICT and creative industry, identified for the project are pivotal for economic growth,” Sekibo said.
Undeniably, most of the ventures in the agriculture sector fall within the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSME) sectors of the economy, which Heritage Bank in close collaboration with CBN has been championing.
These feats will empower the people in addition to boosting Nigeria’s economic revival and leading the country’s foray into modern and sustained industrialization.