Wednesday, September 23, 2020 / 09:50AM
/ Sterling Bank/Header Image Credit: GCMX
Three years ago, precisely 2018, leading commercial bank, Sterling Bank PLC organised its maiden edition of Agriculture Summit Africa which attracted participation of stakeholders across the value chain. Since then, the yearly event has become reputed for opening partnership and investment opportunities for small- and large-scale farmers across Nigeria and beyond.
After an impressive outing during the 2019 summit, project consultant of Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange, in this interview, lauds Agriculture Summit Africa because of its impact on the agricultural value chain. He shared the expectations of the Commodity Exchange at the ongoing summit happening simultaneously in Lagos and Abuja this week.
Can you give us brief biota of yourself?
My name is Binchang Binfa. I am the project consultant of Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange (GCMX) located in Gezawa Local Government of Kano State.
What aspect of agriculture are you engaged in?
Like any other Commodity Exchange, GCMX focus for now is on the agricultural sector even though the exchange will in the future deal with other commodities such as, solid minerals, Precious stones, currencies and oil and gas. For now, we are working seriously in the Agric space, we are into primarily providing and enabling environment within our ecosystem where buyers and sellers of commodities can trade efficiently.
Do you think that agriculture has a prospect considering the status of the Nigerian economy?
We should not be talking about prospects because agriculture should be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. We should not be talking about prospects, rather how we can make agriculture to take the lead as the mainstay of our economy.
Rightfully so, agriculture was adjudged as the mainstay of Nigeria's economy. It appears we have had setbacks. What do you think is responsible for this?
The discovery of oil brought us the setback we are experiencing today. When oil was found, agriculture died because oil became a cheap and easy source of revenue, all the states come to Abuja regularly for subvention. This has made some states dependent on oil totally whereas Agriculture will give more money than oil. The good news is now that the oil is running away, agriculture must stage a comeback, because if you could remember very well, we used to have groundnut pyramids. Where are they now? We used to have cocoa and palm oil.
Today we are exporting dried cocoa seeds and bringing back finished chocolate. Where are the cocoa factories now? This is the challenge. Everybody now goes to Abuja to collect monthly allocation. I believe now that government has decided to do the right thing about Agriculture, we will be able to reset and then restore the economy back to where it was before.
What do you think are the major challenges of agriculture in Nigeria today?
General challenges? One, with the farmers, the issue of funding at the right time. When you bring money into agriculture, the farmers should be the right people to get funding but a lot of times such monies end up with traders and the story is the same with fertilizers, seedling etc. At times a newborn baby, gets loans but the real people who are doing the farming do not get the money.
That is the problem. And when a farmer fails, we will say such a man has used the money to marry more wives. That is the story we have been hearing for a long time, So, I feel that this government is trying to correct this anomaly and to do the right thing and with companies like ours to help them, restructure agric.
The government also need to attract investors, because Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange pose to be the game changer in unbundling agriculture for it to be attractive for investors, farmers, and financial institutions.
Sterling Bank, in the whole of the country is known for its high investment in the sector. For those farmers who are not able to access funding, don't you think the problem has to do with their improper profiling.
Poor profiling is part of it but, outside of profiling, the people must be real farmers. Farmers can be profiled, and farmers are always being profiled for crowdfunding and other funding opportunities but why is it failing? That is the question we need to ask. Is it because the wrong people are being profiled or what? Therefore, Government must support Commodity exchanges, so that our farmers are not being exploited at the farm gate.
In this issue, what do you think is the role of the farmer's association?
Farmers association should do the right thing. Let me give you an example of the first Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange Farmers forum in Kano in 2019 where the farmers were complaining of lack of funding from Bank of Agriculture. The then Managing Director of the Bank of Agriculture who was present challenged the leadership of All Famers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Kano State Chapter to tell the farmers what they did with funds given to the association for farmers. So, it is an issue of profiling the wrong people seriously. If farmers association can play their role effectively, there will be increase in production.
What was your experience with Agriculture Summit Africa organised by Sterling Bank, what would you say you were able to take out from it?
My take home was that the programme was timely because it came at a time that Agriculture was facing another phase of development, and it was an eye opener for a lot of us.
And the papers that were delivered were done very well and the participants and the people that were invited to the summit were men who also did justice to their topics.
And lastly, the planning was excellent, and I give kudos to Sterling Bank. The event was done perfectly in an orderly manner, and according to how a standard summit should be organized.
And, for me, I had several discussions with industry experts, I made a lot of friends and prospective investors. it was a time of networking for me and for many others who also attended the conference.
In clear terms, you have stated what you have achieved as in business and as an individual. So, another edition is coming up. What do you intend to achieve in this yearâ€™s edition?
The theme of the last year's summit was "Agriculture-Your Piece of The Trillion-Dollar Economy" and the theme of this year is "Fast Forward Africa: Exploiting the Next Revolution". So, we are looking at moving forward and I believe that this year, we would be able to build more synergy.
It will be better than last year because I know last year, many were saying it was better than the previous year. So, I am expecting that this year will be better organized than last year and a lot of packages will be there for us. I expect something good and I also expect to make more friends, business friends and then also to open the space for us to be able to improve our business.
So, would you be considering investment at this year's summit? I hope that you know what we call a deal room where investors and Agriculture stakeholders meet. Where they get to discuss investment opportunities and they get funding for their businesses.
Except the amount is increased, a commodity market and exchange like ours, may not qualify because the amount is quite small, other smaller companies along agricultural value chain can participate in the deal room.
What message do you have for those looking to grow their agriculture business?
The message I have for them is that the time has come for us to join hands to take agriculture seriously. We can no longer sit inside an air-conditioned room and expect crops to grow on top of the roof. They must take it seriously, take it as a business.
With support and funding coming from Sterling Bank, I want to believe that from the end of this year, we expect to see a rise in non-oil exports drive of the Federal Government especially from the Agric sector and also enhancing food security in the country. This will greatly support President Muhammadu Buhari led Administration in the development of Agriculture in Nigeria.