The Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS), a special agricultural scheme of the Federal Government aimed at delivering subsidized farm inputs to farmers and facilitating a shift from subsistence to commercial farming kicked-off on May 9th, 2012. PEMBI STEPHEN-DAVID writes on how well the programme has fared.
The fertiliser distribution initiative code-named "Growth Enhancement Support Programme (GES)" developed by the Federal Government to enhance distribution of farm inputs to farmers at a subsidised rate, has been applauded by stakeholders both home and abroad. Even farmers lauded the programme, because for some of them, it is the first time that they have directly benefited from any government agriculture initiative.
With the GES programme, major agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and seeds, are distributed to the farmers through an electronic distribution channel known as the Electronic Wallet Scheme (e-wallet), thereby discontinuing direct procurement and distribution of farm inputs to farmers.
The conditions of the e-wallet scheme stipulates that a farmer, registered under the GES, is expected to pay 50 per cent of the cost of farm inputs, while the Federal and state governments would pay 25 per cent each.
A 75-year old farmer from Ogun State, Alhaji Adio Kareem, who spoke to the media during a media tour to some states in the Southwest said that "Ever since I began farming, this is the first time I have benefited from the government's fertiliser distribution programme: we only hear it on radio, but it never reaches us. This time, it is another story entirely."
Kareem said the agro-dealer have been forthcoming as she always, as she has constantly come to their farms to encourage them to register for the GES programme, and also to come and redeem their fertiliser and seeds at the agro-dealer centres.
"We couldn't have had a better programme than this,but what we want government to do for us is to provide us with the farm inputs on time and adequately", another farmer from Ogun State noted.
For Osun state, it was a different story altogether. The GES coordinator in the state, Mr. Kamil Gbolagade noted that the programme was a partial success, being that they already had a programme going on in the state which has worked very well for the farmers.
Gbolagade noted that the former fertiliser programme embarked upon by the state government worked well for farmers, as they were able to buy fertiliser at a subsidised rate of N3,000, compared to the Federal Government programme wherein farmers could only buy two bags of fertiliser at a subsidised rate of N5,500.
Stakeholders are of the view that government should deal with each state as an entity by isolating their problems and solving them completely, rather than opting for a top-to-bottom approach.
Farmers in Kwara State complained of the hijacking of the scheme by non-farmers, as most of them were not aware of the programme at first. By the time they got to know about the programme, so many market women who were not farmers had been already registered.
A farmer, Mr Kamiu Kolapo, who spoke to LEADERSSHIP in the state advised government to always involve commodity associations whenever they have any programme.
He said "We are the ones who know who the real farmers are, especially those who are in our association, and we can always ensure they benefit from whatever programme the Federal Government is having for farmers".
The programme manager, Ogun State Agriculture Development Programme (OSADEP), Mr. Ibikunle Onasanya, mentioned that in Ogun State about 40,000 farmers were registered, and the first roll out was in maize, followed by cassava and cocoa roll-outs, over 8,000 farmers benefitted from the programme, receiving inputs like fertilisers, agro chemicals and agrolisers.
He explained that the reason for the number of beneficiaries was due to the timing of the roll-out. For instance, maize and cassava roll-out was done on the June 21, and farmers had already started planting between March and May.
"At that time, we had to convince them, and give them reasons to key into the project. Though they had already planted, the fertilisers could still come in handy for the late season", Onasanya said.
He further mentioned that farmers were already registering for the 2013 farming season, and a lot of awareness via both the radio and television.
According to Onasanya, fertiliser and seeds would be given to farmers in areas ravaged by the floods, to enable them engage in late-season planting. He also added that the input will cover those who have registered and are yet to register, so as to increase food production in the state in year 2012.
The Osun State director, Agriculture Development, mentioned that 35,390 farmers were registered for the 2012 farming season; of this number 2,365 farmers benefitted from the GES scheme, because of problems related to redeeming the e-wallet messages from the centres.
He explained that six agro centres - in Iwo, Ede, Irewole, Ilesha, Ife and Osogbo - were effective during the season, despite the problem of aligning the messages on the agro dealers and the farmers phone posed a great challenge for the farmers, explaining that messages were supposed to be sent to the agro-dealer and the farmer, and that if the agro-dealer does not get the message, the farmer will be unable to redeem both the fertiliser and the seeds.
He went ahead to suggest the need to commence early registration of farmers for the next farming season.
The GES coordinator mentioned that his assessment of the programme is below average in the state, because the company commissioned to deliver fertiliser in the state was not forthcoming on the exercise.
The agro dealers were supposed to approach the bank for loan and payment made to the company to supply the fertiliser to the centres. The banks did not provide the loans for the agro dealers, making them unable to provide input for the centres.
About 17 centres were identified, and only six of them were able to operate throughout the period, because there was no enough supply of fertiliser.
He mentioned that Golden fertiliser and Notore were commissioned to supply fertiliser to the state while WEMA Bank was to provide the loan.
He said the system of getting the message across to the farmers was not perfect, due to a network problem which forced many farmers to spend hours waiting to receive the GES text message. Also, many of the farmers did not have contact telephone lines.
"The few who benefitted are happy with the programme: We gave them two bags of fertilisers, 40kg of maize and 50kg of rice. The insufficiency of the rice and maize seeds is the fault of the supplier.
"The companies commissioned for the GES programme were identified by the Federal Government, not the ADP, I will suggest they redesign the programme in the future. Instead of the bank giving loan to agro dealers, the money should go, straight, to the agro dealers to supply the company. Most of the banks are still trying to wrap-up the documentation till today, talk more of extending the loans to the agro dealers.
In Osun State, only Wema Bank agreed to work with us and it has not been a success story.
The field officers who were stationed at the redemption centres were poorly remunerated by Cellulant company for the three weeks that they were stationed at the centres and they are troubling us in the office to pay them their money", said Onasanya noted.
"A farmer, registered for the programme at the OSADEP office, and when the programme commenced he was able to get alert on his phone, after which they ordered us to come with the messages, for collection of the fertilisers.
"I paid N5500 for the fertiliser, while they gave me seeds for free. The fertiliser was good but the grain did not germinate at all; it really disappointed me. The maize I was supposed to plant earlier so that it will mature, was a disappointment, because a week after then I realised that the maize did not germinate at all. I had to buy another seed for cultivation.
A lot of farmers who got the seeds from the same source also had the same problem, because I know some of my friends who also complained about the seed," a farmer complained.
Another farmer, Mr. Oyedotun Oyewole, complained that the seeds and fertilisers were insufficient: "I have a large farm so, sometimes, I used up to 15 bags of fertiliser, and I will suggest that the government increase the number of fertiliser they are giving us".
The managing director, Jordadar Farms, who is an agro-dealer at Ede local government area, stated that poor network coverage was one of the hitches. "Sometimes, the farmers get message, while the agro dealers did not get the message, yet it was supposed to correspond for them to collect the fertiliser and the grain."
In Kogi State, the Kogi State agro input chairman, Mr. Oyeniyi Badejo, complained that farmers were bitter that almost 10 per cent of them were unregistered, citing poor media awareness for the non-registration of the other 90 per cent.
"But we had problem with the banks", Badejo began, "the Federal Government asked them to finance us, but later on the system changed, as they did not give us the loan. We had to seek for loans on personal grounds, with about 25 per cent interest rate".
According to Stephen Ayaba, an agro input dealer, "we keyed into this programme and were trained by the International Fertiliser Development Commission. After the training, we were short-listed and some of us are beneficiaries.
"During the training it was a dream come through. With their entire requirement, I was able to meet up with the all the numerous and tasking requirements, which my bank manager also affirmed to. I was asked to pay 30 per cent counterpart fund which I did, after which I was given a loan offer from Zenith Bank, I spent over 1million to ensure I meet up with the requirement only for me to be told that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) did not provide the fund, and I was so frustrated.
"I had to go and source for fund, to ensure I get fertiliser for the farmers, because it had been widely broadcasted on radio and television that farmers should got to agro centres to collect their inputs. The farmers, on the other hand, started receiving alert for them to come and collect their inputs; the pressure was so much on us that we had to cover up. Despite our efforts, not up to 10 per cent of the farmers were informed about the programme for them to register. Till today we could not meet up to two per cent of those who were registered.
"The programme closed in September, and they promised to refund our money in instalments, but up till today we are yet to get anything", Ayaba said.
The dealers advised the Federal Government to liase with fertiliser company, to provide the exact number of agro inputs needed by the farmers in a particular location, instead of asking agro dealers to source for funds on their own.
There has been so much drama associated with the current registering of farmers for the 2013 farming season and the distribution of farm inputs for the coming farming year, but one can only hope that the governments, both at state and Federal level, get it right and set themselves on the path to solving Nigeria's many agriculture-related problems.