January 6, 2021
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BY UMMI KABIR,

Maize is one of the most important staple foods in Nigeria and consumed by all in diverse ways. As a crop it can, according to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele, grow almost everywhere irrespective of the season in Nigeria.

The crop is not only being consumed as food in all regions of the country but has also become a raw material in manufacturing and agriculture- related businesses within and beyond the borders of Nigeria.

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It has grown to become a cash crop in the country especially in the southwestern part of Nigeria where at least 30 per cent of the crop land has been devoted to small scale maize production under various cropping systems. Maize, which is grown in several regions of the world and is referred to as the world best adapted crop, has grown to become the fourth most consumed cereal ranked below sorghum, millet and rice and the third most important cereal after sorghum and millet.

Recognized as one of the longest ever cultivated food crops, Maize was introduced to Nigeria in the 16th century and presently the country is the 11th largest producer of the crop in the world. It is the second largest maize producer in Africa, second only to South Africa.

The demand for the crop has been on the rise due to the fact that the grain is being used for feeding poultry and also serve as the main food for many households. Maize is used industrially by flour millers, brewers, bakers of bread and confectionery and animal feed manufacturers.

Despite its high production volumes, maize farming in Nigeria yields an average of 1.8 metric tonnes per hectare (MT/Ha) which is one of the lowest among the top 10 maize producers in Africa. It lags behind countries such as Egypt and South Africa where the yields are 7.7MT/Ha and 5.3MT/Ha respectively making it difficult to totally meet the domestic and industrial maize demand. With Nigeria’s population expected to surpass 200 million by 2025, there is an expected increase in the demand for maize for both domestic and industrial consumption, presenting a golden opportunity for farmers and entrepreneurs to take advantage of. However, this opportunity will be lost if there are no right tools that could engender the growth in efficient production of the crop.

One of such tools needed is the right funding, particularly for farmers to ensure that they have all that is needed to improve yield per hectare. Funding has always been a challenge for farmers as well as agriculture value chain operators in Nigeria until recently when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) revived some of its agricultural financing schemes as well as new intervention funds to ensure adequate funding for the sector.

Among such is the Maize Aggregation Scheme which is a working capital facility that helps Agro-businesses purchase home-grown maize.

The Maize Aggregation Scheme which is under the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the CBN has so far been yielding results. Maize farmers across the country have begun the aggregation of maize as farmers in Funtua, Katsina State, last week brought over 33,000 bags (100kg) of maize showcased in pyramids.

President of the Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN), Dr Abubakar Bello, said the association was at the aggravation level where farmers brought their produce as part of their loan recovery. “For the dry season cultivation this year, CBN will support us because we want to bridge the gap created by what happened in the first six months because of COVID-19 and flooding,” Bello said. As the CBN is going to finance about 750,000 farmers with some other commodity associations, Bello said that he expects that the 2020/ 2021 season will be a very good year for maize production in Nigeria.

The MAAN president said the association is targeting about 22 states to commence the 2020/2021 dry season farming with a target of cultivating 400,000 hectares. It hopes to get as many farmers as possible to join the scheme to address the wet season shortfall.

On importation of the crop, Bello said there would be no need for maize importation as the demand shortfall is expected to be met by the increased local production. This was corroborated by the Deputy Director, Development Finance Department of the CBN, Mr Elenwor Ihua, who said Nigeria has the landmass, capacity and workforce to produce enough maize that could feed the country but noted that the problem was that the country produced maize in only one season.

“What has been happening is because we cultivate maize in only one season; there’s a season where you are going to harvest and there’s another season when there will be no harvest so there will be scar CBN Boosting Nigeria’s Maize Outputcity of maize.

“However, with this initiative that we are carrying out with the likes of MAAN and other organisations, we intend to have at least two circles of production. We have already started preparing for the dry season by the end of December. In January we will have 750,000 hectares, that is going to be a huge boost to the market and at the end of the day, there would not be any need to import maize into the country”, Ihua said.

The CBN has taken development financing a notch high in recent times because, like the fiscal authorities, it believes that diversifying the Nigerian economy will not only make her self-sufficient in food production and industrial raw materials, but also create jobs for its teeming youth population.

According to Emefiele, the Bank has sustained its intervention efforts in order to help catalyse growth in critical sectors of the economy such as agriculture and manufacturing. This the Bank has done through intervention programmes such as the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), the Bankers Committee Agri-Business/Small and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme (AGSMEIS) and recently introduced Commodity Development Initiative (CDI), which focuses on developing the value chain of ten focal commodities: Cassava, cocoa, cotton, fish, livestock/dairy, maize, oil palm, poultry, rice and tomatoes.

Following successes recorded by the scheme and in line with efforts to boost food production as well as help the country avert the looming economic recession, the CBN recently disclosed that it has set aside about N432 billion to fund the value chains in nine commodities in the 2020 wet season.

The Director, Development Finance Department of CBN, Yila Yusuf, said over 1.1 million farmers, cultivating over one million hectares of farmland were expected to benefit from the loans that would help to produce a collective output of 8.3 million metric tons. Yusuf said the focus on the 2020 wet season was to ensure the provision of improved seeds that would incentivise farmers to return to their farms.

He maintained that the CBN adopted the value chain approach across all the commodities to ensure that every player along the entire value chain, from the farmers through to the processors, was financed.

The CBN’s funding of the ABP for the 2020 season, Yusuf said, was the highest since the inception of the programme in 2015. He said the proposed funding for the nine commodities was a significant move by the CBN, considering the successes recorded in the 2019 season that contributed to shielding Nigeria from any food shortage, particularly rice.

– Kabir, a public affairs analyst, lives in Abuja.

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