The naira has depreciated, following the slump in commodity prices, exposing the fundamental economic frailties of the world’s most populous black nation. Inflation which Nigeria had contained in recent years is picking up pace as the currency keeps weakening, driving up prices of goods. Nigeria does not produce and so needs to import the vast majority of manufactured products. Based on the fact that Nigeria is blessed with favourable climatic conditions, vast arable land and fertile soils, it has never been in doubt, the significant role agriculture should play in the nation’s quest to achieve sustainable development. Aside ensuring food availability; agriculture, as attested to by empirical evidence, remains instrumental to effective jobs creation, value addition, wealth creation as well as in spurring economic development. In other words, countries could, through agriculture, create additional agricultural value chains on the line, while exploiting whatever other resources nature has blessed them with. Of concern however, is that as desirable as agriculture is to economic well-being, Nigeria is yet to maximize its potential. It is a combination of various factors some of which include the relegation of agriculture to subsistence farming; non-prioritisation of agribusiness at different levels of governance; the state of infrastructure such as research and storage facilities, extension and disjointed value chains and the distraction occasioned by the discovery of oil. According to the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Lamido Sanusi, the nation’s banking sector reform has direct bearing on the development of the real sector as it seeks to position the system to contribute to the growth and development of the various sectors of the economy. Sanusi further put the annual demand for agricbusiness financing over the next 40 years to about $6.5 billion per annum, compared to the current annual fund supply of $1.5-$5 billion.
First City Monument Bank (FCMB), as a leading financial services provider appears to have realized this early enough. A major component of the bank’s sustainability principle is on agriculture and empowering farmers with a view to reducing the level of poverty among them as part of its financial intermediation role for national development. This can be buttressed by the fact that the bank’s intervention has resulted in better access to financial resources by deserving individuals, organisations and companies. It has also led to improved processes, better output and profitability. Much more, it has enhanced confidence in the ability of the financial services sector to drive economic growth. The bank’s intervention in the agricbusiness sector is making a far-reaching impact on this crucial sector of the economy, as attested to by the Chairman of Tractor Owners and Hiring Facilities Association of Nigeria (TOHFAN), Alhaji Danladi Garba, when he commended FCMB for its support to the agric sector and farmers, at an engagement with the media in Lagos. FCMB had provided funding worth N300 million to TOHFAN for the acquisition of tractors that were distributed to farmers in Kaduna state. The bank also collaborated with Doreo Partners to launch a support programme for farmers, known as Babban Gona (or ‘’great farm’’). This is an agricultural franchise model, where farmers are trained and offered specially packaged loans to carry out their farming activities. Fully conscious of the important role of key stakeholders in the agribusiness chain, FCMB is connecting to farmers in the Gimba, Soba and Maigana communities. The franchise is comprised of about 3,000 farmers, developed by Doreo Partners an impact investing firm with a proven track record of exclusively investing in profitable, high growth, early stage businesses that improve the livelihood of Nigerian smallholder farmers. FCMB’s selection of a region with a high degree of financial exclusion was predicated on bringing into the fold, the unbanked population in its pursuit of the CBN’s drive of financial inclusion for all. One of the strategies is the provision of agnostic digital services intervention. The bank recently in addition, designed a series of training for this population of small-holder farmers for all-inclusive agro-finance empowerment with a primary objective of eliminating poverty, encouraging agriculture as an alternative source of economic recovery for Nigeria. Enrolling 68 Babban Gona farmers in Gimba, Richifa and Ikara in Soba LGA, trainings have been given to beneficiaries to expand their knowledge of financial literacy in their business, with 14 additional Babban Gona farmers and 62 field extension officers getting requisite attention.
It is indeed comforting that the bank’s helmsman, Mr. Ladi Balogun recently reiterated that its agriculture intervention is real, and that it is building a solid agric business that is at the centre of transforming the economy. He advised, ‘’if we truly want to continue employing the growing population, we need to not only feed Nigeria, but also set our sights on feeding the world.”