Prince Wale Oyekoya, the President of Farmers Association of Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, opines that buying cellphones for Nigerian farmers is a not only a misplaced priority but another huge waste of resources.Oyekoya while speaking with Saturday Vanguard in his office on the issue stated that although cellphone was important to farmers, it is not to the level the federal government had taken it, adding that it could be another way of siphoning money.
He stated that the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, LCCI had indicated interest to partner with the federal government on its policies mainly because the farmers had since found out that most of government's policies are inconsistent with the needs of the farmers and are directed to the 'portfolio farmers. "LCCI intends to partner with the government in order to be able identify the real farmers. Government has been dealing with portfolio and political farmers in the past." he said.
"The Minister claimed that 70 percent of rural farmers are without phones, I don't know how he got this figure. There are about one hundred million phones in circulation as we speak. Nigerian farmers are all rural farmers which means, cellphone is not their priority because they can afford it.
"Therefore, there is need for federal government to partner with the private sectors and non-government organisations including the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, LCCI who know the real farmers. When I contacted some of the farmers in Lagos, Ogun, Osun States, they don't seem to know what the government is doing."
He added that government policies like the fertilizers and intervention fund have not gotten to the real farmers but have been hijacked by cronies and politicians.
"Most of the funds allocated to farmers have been going to the wrong hands and that is why agriculture sector is suffering in this country. A nation that cannot feed itself is doomed."
He suggested that instead of cellphones, the N60billion should be diverted to bank of agriculture. "Government should revive Agriculture bank and work out modalities where evidence of owning farmlands will be the basis for accessing the funds. Just like the N200 billion intervention fund which was called Commercial Agricultural Credit scheme, CAT, of the government which we have requested of them to give a record of those who benefited from the policy."
He stated that recently some farmers had to close shops for lack of enabling environment to produce food for the nation. "Presently, half of the farmers in the country are already folding up. There are about 24 farmers in my region that are no more in operation. Their complaints were that there are no adequate funding. An individual cannot access agriculture loan from the bank." He added that most farm-lands in the State do not have good road networks, electricity supply to work while others complained of lack of loan assistance.
He advised that instead of buying cellphones, government should concentrate on procuring equipment and make available funds as working capital.
Oyekoya disclosed that about 10,000 farmers are registered in Lagos under the Ministry of Agriculture. "they gave us a data showing about 10,000 farmers but I don't believe it. They are only interested in data that does not exist in order to siphon money from the Ministry, Federal government and World Bank.
"The state government has its own scheme which is called land Agric settlement. They planted their cronies there. The lands are allocated to political leaders whereas a plot of land is sold at the sum of N1.8million to real farmers at Ikorodu. The State does not believe in helping the real farmers. So, these are creating unfriendly environment for the farmers.
"There are about 25 farmers at Epe axis and the State government is planning to displace them. They are suddenly planning to use the place for airport. You see, that is why the country is in trouble because so many things are going wrong," he stressed.
"I recall that some officials of federal government visited my farmland sometime ago and dug 25 waterholes for irrigation but up till moment, they failed to provide pumping machines, and I know some persons would have pocketed the money meant for it."
On what the farmers in Lagos state are contributing in feeding the nation, Oyekoya said: "We are not producing much in crops. The State government is producing about 50 tonnes of rice," disclosing that the federal government was planning to import about 100 milling machines for rice for farmers which also will not encourage local production.
Lookman Ismail of Frank Farms, Papalanto, Ogun state said: "What is the definition of rural farmer, is there anybody that is an urban farmer? I have a farm in Papalanto, Ogun state, that is a rural area. I don't see any sincerity in this move. It is a question of who is fooling who. Is it telephone we need right now? The farmers cannot get their produce to the city because of bad roads, we can't get electricity, we can't get water from government. I had to spend as much as N2million to bring electricity to my farm. And about the same amount for boreholes. These are things that are important to farmers. There is no enabling environment that will make people go into agriculture.
How much is a Nokia phone that the government feels it is the need of farmers. As we speak, if you go into any village, not less than 60 per cent of the villagers have phones. So, what are we buying for N60billion.
He cited the government agric intervention loan as a failed policy which he said could not get to the real farmers. "I have not seen one real farmer who was able to access that loan. As a farmer who also works in a bank, I could not get access to that loan. You will have to have a collateral in a choicest area, they will tell you my farm is not good as a collateral because it is in a rural area. So, the loans probably went to the wrong hands and the government is not bothered about who gets the loan.
"They should make tractors available and supply electricity to the villages where most of these farms are located, they should also concentrate on building roads that will make farm produce get to the cities quickly," he added.
He added that he could not access the loan as the banks were demanding property in a choicest place as collateral. "They only gave the loans to portfolios farmers who only have to present a certificate of incorporation to get the loan.
"The initiative is a sham, if they want to keep money for the boys, they should find other ways of doing that and not in the name of agriculture."
Abiodun Oladapo, owner of Ope-Olu farms in Oshogbo, Osun State opined that government should look mor into financing agriculture. All over the world, there is nowhere agriculture survive without government playing a major role. For example, in US, the level of intervention is high in the form of subsidy. They spend a huge amount of money to support the move towards food security.
"What farmers need most is a working capital at low interest rate. Subsidizing only oil does not totally impact on the common man. I don't see any farmer who will get a loan at 25 -28 percent interest rate and be able to repay under this condition we operate. That is why the cost of foods are on the increase and except something is done for the farmers in this regard, the disaster of food insecurity is not too far."
Even as government recently said no going back on the policy, Oladapo said government did not consider the poor network facilities of telecoms provider in the rural areas which will impede the optimum utility of this cell phone idea. "how effective is the network of these telecoms provider in the rural areas. Have they carried out the survey as well or they will leave them with the syndrome of 'No Network'? Are they going to provide the air time as well? So, the challenges are far more than what they think it will solve."
In the same vein, Segun Collins, who just began cultivating a 60 hectares of land in Ofada, Ogun state, corroborated his colleague saying provision of cellphones falls short of the needs of the farmers in the country. "In whatever guise government is pushing this idea, what the farmers need now is funding and not cellphones. Government should ensure that farmer have funds to run their farmer effectively to have food sufficiency. Farm implements should be heavily subsidized and that will help farmers a lot than the cell phones to farmers. The system government is running is like what is obtained in Mambilla Plateau where few people run the show and benefit from the largesse. So, I don't see any sincerity in this N60billion provision of cellphones."
On the argument that government needs to know even those who will benefit from the fund, he stated that the environment have been politicized. "Government does not even know the real practicing farmers because of politics. I know some of my friends who were affected by the flood in Kogi, yet, they could not get the flood disaster relief fund. Three of them are presently seeking refuge in Lagos. They don't have anything again. So what is the hue and cry about all these when these money ends in the pocket of their cronies. Government should allow the commercial banks to give loans to the farmers on a very low interest rate.