Jalingo/Gombe/Bauchi/Makurdi/Lafia — Since the introduction of the Growth Enhancement Support scheme (GES) under which assorted improved seedlings are distributed to farmers free of charge and two bags of fertilizer sold to them at subsidized rate, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina who introduced the program, described it as the best way farmers can access the direct subsidy of agro-inputs.
He particularly explained that the introduction of allocating fertilizer and seedlings directly to benefiting farmers through electronic vouchers to their mobile phones has helped eliminate the activities of middle men who for decades have been preventing farmers in the country from enjoying such subsidy from government. It was on this premise that the federal ministry of agriculture organized a tour for agric reporters to meet farmers across the country and assess the effect of GES among others.
Some of the farmers who spoke to this reporter in five states of Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi, Nasarawa and Benue said though they succeeded in getting every item allocated to them under the GES scheme, fertilizer and seedlings arrived very late, in most cases, after they had even harvested.
In Taraba State, the picture was not rosy. The farmers complained that they didn't receive their two bags of fertilizer and two bags of improved seedlings in time. One of them was Hamman-Tukur Baba-Anda, a 72-year-old farmer. He said though he got his two bags of fertilizer, they came late. He lamented that if he had gotten them in time, he would have gotten about a hundred bags of maize instead of the 28 bags he got.
"We should have gotten it from January, February to April, but this time it came around June/July. May be it is from you," Baba-Anda said.
Not all the farmers in the state got fertilizer. Out of the 75,000 farmers that got registered for the program, only 22, 000 were able to redeem their allocation, according to the state director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Samuel Adaji.
The story was slightly different in Gombe State where the federal coordinator of the GES scheme in the state, Mallam Muhammad Umar Deba, said out of the 148,032 farmers registered for the GES program, 144,000 farmers redeemed their fertilizers.
"I couldn't get even a single bag of fertilizer or seed," said Malam Usman Bangu, an old farmer, in flawless English. But those who got their allocation in the state called for creation of more redemption centers as they said the ones in the state were too small to cater for them.
For the farmers in Bauchi State, the Short Message Service means of alerting them about the input allocation is a huge problem. Kezia Adamu, a female farmer in the state said, "It is the type that they say 'call this number.' If I call the number, they will not even pick the number. They should bring the type that will be easy for us, especiallly here in the north. They should bring the scratch card type. That will be easy for us."
Bauchi State Director of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Muhammad Yusuf, said, "We were able to capture 148,000 farmers. Out of that 116,000 got their fertilizer. We also supplied improved seeds to the farmers to improve their productivity. A total of 294.5 metric tons of improved maize and rice seeds were distributed to the farmers across the state," he said.
Lack of agric loans
But the Bauchi State coordinator for GES, Abdullahi Ibrahim, said agro-dealers couldn't supply the quantity of fertilizer allocated to them to various redemption centers in time because the banks refused to give them loans that will enable them purchase the fertilizer.
In Nassarawa State, the story is not different as Onyibe Peter James, an agro dealer who applied for the loan but could not get it said, "When the program was being designed, the banks were supposed to come to our aid by giving us soft loans. But when the program was supposed to start, the banks in Nasarawa state backed out. So, we were limited to our domestic cash."
He added that even the agro-suppliers were afraid of committing their goods into the scheme because of fear of failure.
The Nassarawa state coordinator of the program, Naphtali Jarumi Dachor also hinted on the problem of dearth of loans to agro-dealers for the program even as he said, "There were cases that even with the subsidy of these two bags, some farmers could not raise money to buy two bags as subsidized. They could only buy one bag. We had situations where some people took advantage of that. If a farmer could not pay, they would give him money so that he could buy for them. But such cases were very few."
Mr. Dachor said only 36,000 farmers were given fertilizer out of the 98,000 registered in the state because of the moratorium on fertilizer distribution and despite the fact that the exercise started late.
Aliyu Gambo Salihu, a farmer at Rice Mill Redemption Center in Lafia local government area got his allocation so late that he only planted two measures from the two bags of improved rice seeds he got as experiment. He likes how fast the rice has grown. He said he would plant the rest in the next rainy season.
The peculiar bad news from Benue State
Farmers in Benue State, the acclaimed food basket of the nation, didn't have the luxury of getting their allocation early enough to do such experiment with a part of it. They started getting their allocation in September when some of them had already started harvesting.
The director in charge of Benue State in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Benjamin Kureve, said he does not know the exact number of registered farmers' in the state, adding, "The verified number was well over 150,000. The exact figure I don't have now because we are in the process of making amendment based on the recommendation from the state government. But they were more than 150,000 farmers. And we have served 33,852 farmers.
"The reason is that, we started late, and most of the farmers had planted, the time for applying fertilizer was almost going, and so, most of them bought their fertilizer in the open market. So, when we brought our own fertilizer, the general complaints were that they had used the money they had to buy from the market. That was the truth.
"For the seeds, it was very bad. He is here to tell you why. It was very bad because eventually, the people didn't get the seed. But the total number of seeds that we got is less than a thousand bags. I don't know the problem the Value Seeds people had," he said.
But Tewasse Baff, an agro-dealer, who represented the seed supplier, Value Seeds, said the shortfall in supply was due to the lack of confidence of the suppliers in getting their money back from the government, adding that now that they know they can get their money back, the problem will be averted next farming season.