An ardent listener to radio news, Sani one day heard the news about government’s plans to register farmers for the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) programme.
The GES programme is a Federal Government’s initiative, aimed at subsidising the cost of major agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and seeds.
Under the initiative, the direct procurement and distribution of farm inputs to farmers is discontinued and supplies are expected to be done through an electronic distribution channel known as the e-wallet.
The conditions of the e-wallet scheme stipulate 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.
Thrilled by the cheering news, Sani dashed to the nearest Farmers’ Database Office to inquire about how the e-wallet scheme, its workings and procedures, and he was duly informed that he ought to register with his mobile phone.
``I don’t have a mobile phone,’’ he shrieked, asking: ``How else can I get my farm inputs?’’
Another farmer, Musa Garba, wanted to sign up for the GES programme but he complained about his inability to comprehend what the programme is all about.
``How dem go think say we go know e-wallet? They know say we no sabi turenchi (English),’’ he moaned in Pidgin English.
The case of Sani and Garba aptly reflects the plight of many farmers who are finding it difficult to participate in the GES scheme due to some extraneous factors.
The situation has particularly affected some dry season farmers in the FCT who bemoaned the government’s inability to distribute fertiliser to them for irrigation farming.
From all indications, the dry season (fadama) farmers are apparently unaware of the new Federal Government’s strategy regarding the procurement and distribution of farm inputs.
The farmers particularly complained that the high cost of fertiliser in the open market was not affordable to most of them.
They grumbled that while the government sold fertilisers to marketers at the rate of N2, 800 per bag, the marketers was selling the commodity at the rate of N6, 200 per bag to farmers.
Alhaji Bukar Tijani, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, who launched the e-wallet scheme for the southern part of the country in March, said that rice, maize and soya beans would be distributed under the GES programme.
``This e-wallet initiative requires that a farmer should redeem his part of the GES, which is 50 per cent payment, while the federal and state governments would pay 25 per cent each,’’ he said.
Besides, Tijani said that the new policy would enable private sector organisations to procure and distribute agricultural inputs directly.
He also said that all the local government councils in the country would have their own agro-inputs’ dealers that would work in concert with the suppliers.
The minister stressed that the dealers would not be government workers, adding that farmers would soon start receiving Short Message Service (SMS) alerts, notifying them of the inputs’ procurement and distribution processes.
As part of efforts to ensure the success of the GES programme, the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) pledges to ensure that 90 per cent of the farm inputs get to the registered farmers.
Mr Olusegun Olatokun, the Coordinating Director of NASC, recalled that only 11 per cent of the inputs got to the farmers during the first phase of the project.
He said that under the second phase, which just ended, the farmers received about 50 per cent of the inputs, reflecting a remarkable improvement.
Olatokun said that the language and communication problems of the programme had been rectified, as farmers would now receive text messages on farm inputs’ arrival in the three major Nigerian languages and Pidgin English.
He explained that paper vouchers would be used in areas without mobile phone networks and for farmers who did not have cell phones.
Olatokun, however, noted that at the end of the second phase of the project, some farmers complained that the prices of their commodities crashed due to increased production.
Mr Akinbolawa Osho, the Director of Fertiliser in Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, nonetheless, expressed optimism that the GES programme for farmers would succeed.
He recalled that the National Council on Agriculture unanimously agreed in 2011 to implement the scheme for the southern states initially before going up north.
Osho stressed that the pilot stage of the GES programme for the southern states was launched in Ekiti State on April 30 this year.
``Our plan actually is that we will move up north by the end of May or in the first week of June,’’ he added.
He, however, underscored the ministry’s preparedness to initiate the GES programme in any state that was ready to participate in the scheme.
Osho, nonetheless, noted that farmers in Katsina State were already obtaining their cotton seeds under the scheme because if they failed to get the seeds now, it would affect their production.
He said that the Federal Government targeted five million farmers in the first phase of the GES programme, out of the estimated 60 million farmers in the country.
Osho explained that the scheme was introduced to help the private sector to develop marketing channels to reduce most of the difficulties encountered by farmers in acquiring fertiliser and other farm inputs.
He, however, appealed to the farmers to be patient with the Federal Government as the GES programme was primarily introduced to reduce the myriad bureaucratic bottlenecks which farmers encounter in accessing farm inputs.
The GES programme has definitely come to stay but agriculturists stress that concerted efforts should be made to enable the country’s farmers to derive maximum benefits from the scheme