Banking on agribusiness as sustainable alternative



An expert, simply identified as Carm, in his analysis of the economic future of the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries, referred to the widely held belief that oil exporting countries are gifted and that permitted them to live a never-ending life of ease, leisure and luxury. But little did those who piloted the affairs of Nigeria know that what once was a boom could at a time, which is now, become the doom and a monumental source of socio-economic distraction.

Of course, the Naira has depreciated, following the slump in commodity prices, exposing the fundamental economic frailties of the country the world’s most populous black nation, especially the high-level profligacy and poor understanding of economic development dynamics among its leaderships.

Inflation, which was contained in recent years is now on the rampage as the currency keeps weakening, driving up prices of goods, mostly imported ones as Nigeria does not produce much of its daily needs (wants).

However, the fact that Nigeria is blessed with favourable climate, vast arable land and fertile soils, it has never been in doubt the significant role and potential that agriculture has in the nation’s quest to achieve sustainable development.

Besides ensuring food availability, agriculture, as attested to by empirical evidence, remains instrumental to effective jobs creation, value addition, wealth creation as well as spurring economic development. In fact, it has been widely acknowledged that some developed economies earn revenue from agriculture, with its billionaires being farmers,

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.

Suffice it to say too that the challenges are combination of various factors like poor banking products for agribusiness and the sector’s unstructured nature. It also 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 agribusiness 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.

“This presents a huge financing gap which a forum such as this should be able to critically examine and develop policies and implementation frameworks to minimize the gap in the interest of agricultural development in the region”, he once stated at an economic forum.

But taking a queue from the Sanusi’s observations the First City Monument Bank (FCMB), now more determined than ever, is set to increase its business development in the sector, offering it as sustainable economic alternative.

According to the lender, agriculture is a major component of the bank’s sustainability principle and empowering farmers with a view to reducing the level of poverty among them, as part of its financial intermediation role for national development.

Already, the resolve 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, 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 Chairman of Tractor Owners and Hiring Facilities Association of Nigeria (TOHFAN), Alhaji Danladi Garba, who commended FCMB for its support to the agriculture sector and farmers, in Lagos recently, said FCMB has provided funding worth N300 million to TOHFAN for the acquisition of tractors that were distributed to farmers in Kaduna State.

He said the bank also collaborated with Doreo Partners to launch a support programme for farmers, known as Babban Gona (great farm)- an agricultural franchise model, where farmers are trained and offered specially packaged loans to carry out their farming activities.

FCMB, now connecting with farmers in the Gimba, Soba and Maigana communities, the franchise is about 3,000 farmers, developed by Doreo Partners.

Again, the lender’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 financial inclusion initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria. 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.

One of FCMB’s initiatives in the past was its collaboration with the International Financial Corporation, (IFC) targeted at an investment package for the agribusiness and education sub-sectors of the economy, where IFC was to route more lending to private businesses involved in the agribusiness sector.

The bank had reasoned that continued credit availability for agricultural-based businesses would help maintain the sector’s growth momentum. The package was a long-term senior loan of $50 million and a convertible loan of $20 million aimed at supporting the bank’s growth strategy and helping it increase financing of small and medium enterprises.

The Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, FCMB, Ladi Balogun, said the IFC’s investment was a stamp of approval on the bank’s strategy and commitment to good corporate governance and risk management. “This partnership with IFC would help us achieve our strategic growth objectives”.

The Divisional Head, Agricultural Business Finance, FCMB, Kudzai Gumunyu, while elaborating the bank’s interest in agriculture financing, asserted that agriculture was the first occupation for man from creation.

“The fact that agriculture has the potential to stimulate economic growth is no longer news. It is logical to expect that agricultural financing will become an important instrument of economic policy for Nigeria, in her effort to stimulate development in all directions.”

“Beyond this is the fact that agriculture is the biggest employer in Nigeria and other developing economies even as it has been demonstrated that economies that are self-sustaining in agriculture have relatively lower inflation rates.

“Nigeria is blessed with fertile soils, good rainfall, reasonably priced labour and a huge demand for agricultural produce owing to a large population base. It would therefore, be unforgivable if such a blessed country does not have bragging rights as a major exporter of agricultural commodities in the world.”

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