Several interventions in the past aimed at diversifying the economy through agriculture have not yielded the desired results, as most policies and programs of government targeted towards the sector failed to trickle-down to the poor farmers in the rural areas.
Agriculture constitutes one of the most important sectors of the Nigerian Economy in terms of employment.
The Agric sector engages about seventy percent of the nation’s Labour force, mostly the youth population.
The importance of the sector made successive administrations to establish many intervention funds in the agricultural sector to enable entrepreneurs take advantage of them.
They include, Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme, established in 1978 with original share capital of hundred million and paid-up capital of 85 billion naira and the 50 billion naira. Agricultural Credit Support Scheme created to give loans to small-scale farmers at a single digit interest rate of not more than 9%.
Others are the Commercial Agriculture Credit scheme established in 2009 to provide credit facility to large scale farmers and agro-allied businesses through a 200 billion naira bond, as well as the recent 220 billion naira CBN Small and medium scale enterprises fund.
So far, available statistics indicate that since 2009 till date, the Federal Government of Nigeria has committed about two trillion Naira on Agriculture Intervention Schemes aimed at fast-tracking the development of the agricultural value-chain.
Regrettably, farmers at the grassroots have continued to complain that these agricultural intervention funds do not get to them.
Mrs Udoka Olisakwe, the leader of a women co-operative based in Osamala, Ogbaru council Area, said they have not benefited from any of such financial interventions.
Alhaji Abdullahi Yahaya, who is a cattle farmer at Ugwuoba cattle market near Awka, decried the high interest rates charge by banks on poor farmers.
Alhaji Yahaya called for a government policy that could remove the demand for collateral by banks as well as the reduction of interest rate to about 3 to 5%.
On her part, a youth Corps member serving in the state, miss Bola Kassim lamented that youths shy away from agriculture because most government programs and policies were not youth friendly.
The Corp member urged federal government to direct banks in the country to accept academic certificates as collateral for loans.
A public affairs analyst, Mr John Okoli-Akirika said the solution to this ugly situation is for state governments to map out large expanse of lands in form of farm settlements where youths can work using interest-free loans as incentive after submitting their original certificates as collateral.
Analysts are of the view that government should re-access it’s policies in the Agric sector in other to achieve a diversified economy, especially now that the international market price for oil has fallen drastically.
This could be achieved if various government Ministries, Departments and Agencies that provides support to the Agric sector could articulate proactive strategies to make these interventions easier for farmers and other Agro-allied business entrepreneurs.
From: Ejiofo Umegbogu, PurityFM Awka.