The Federal Government on Thursday unveiled plans to cede 30 percent of Bank of Agriculture’s (BOA’s) shares to farmers when the ongoing restructuring of the bank as recommended by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is finalized.
Under the proposed arrangement, the bank will have at least a branch in all the 774 local government areas in the country.
Similarly, the Federal Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) are expected to become major shareholders as they have both indicated their readiness to provide funds for BOA’s intervention programmes in the agricultural sector.
The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, gave these hints in Abuja when the ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with John Deere Tractor Manufacturing Company on the procurement of tractors and the provision of farm mechanisation services.
The minister said: “It (restructuring) is taking so long because we have had to remove an entire management and bring in bankers now. The shareholders are mainly the Federal Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and they said they are ready to give us money.” Noting that Nigeria’s agricultural export earnings have increased by 180 per cent, rising to over N5 billion in the past year, the minister pointed out that “this partnership means greater wealth, more exports for our country.
“I like to say how proud we are that agricultural exports in the last one year and half have gone up by 180 per cent, as we earned well over N5 billion from these exports. We are on the way and with your support, we will get there”, Ogbeh added.
He expressed optimism that the country’s export earnings would continue to increase in view of the tractor mechanisation services that will be available to smallholder farmers through the partnership with John Deere.
He expatiated: “We will restructure the bank in a way that people would no longer be able to take loans and refuse to pay back. And the bank will have a branch in each of the local government areas of the country where they can talk to farmers.
“We will screen those people who have applied; there will be no question of just fixing names because of any influence. AIMS will help to track fake seed companies and distributors because there are a lot of people who still do fake things in agriculture believing that as soon as they supply inputs, nobody can track them’’, the minister assured.
Ogbeh explained that the newly introduced Agriculture Input and Mechanisation Services (AIMS), which would replace the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme, would soon be launched as soon as the committee set up for it submits its report.
In a related development, the Acting Director, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Mr. Chidi Izuwah, also disclosed that 20 private firms had indicated interest in the Federal Government’s silo concession plan.
Izuwah said that the concession, which will be for 10 years, would help improve the management of grains, reduce post-harvest losses and also create wealth for farmers involved in grains production.
He said: “We have about 30 silo complexes built by the Federal Government in the country and some of them are under-utilised and abandoned
“Of the about 30 silos, 20 are being given out as concession; so, there are about 20 firms involved in the concession for now, but the government kept about two or three of those silos for strategic grains reserve.
“If there is a food security issue somewhere, the government can release grains from there to serve the people. Concession is not transfer of asset. The asset remains the property of the government of Nigeria”, the ICRC boss added.
According to him, although government would concession about 22 silos, it has maintained the management of about four silos for its strategic grains reserve.
He explained further: “We have worked with the strategic grains department of the ministry to run a competitive and transparent process to bring in private sector partners to come in and take over the silos, refurbish them and put them to use for post-harvest management.
“This will significantly change the agricultural value chain because the government doesn’t have enough money to run them in terms of filling them with grains”, the ICRC boss projected.