The British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) on Monday said it had earmarked N700 million to empower rural Nigerian farmers to catalyse growth and value chain development over the next four years.
The Chairman of the foundation, Chief Kola Jamodu, disclosed this at the inauguration of the 2018 to 2022 Country Programme held in Lagos.
Jamodu told newsmen that the programme was apt since the agriculture revolution was positioning the industry to become the economy nerve of the country.
The chairman said that agriculture accounted for about 25 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP), the largest employer of labour in the country and its fastest way out of poverty.
Jamodu said the focus of the foundation was to empower smallholder farmers to transform with ease from subsistence to commercialised farming by providing funds and agricultural equipment.
“The inauguration of the programme confirms the passion and commitment that guides the foundation’s programmes and implementation of activities that are geared to empower rural Nigeria for a sustainable future.
“Agriculture is a bedrock for equitable growth and economic prosperity for any nation. Currently, over 70 per cent of the farming population are smallholder farmers in rural communities.
“In many ways, smallholder farmers cannot be ignored in the agricultural value chain if growth and development is expected in the sector,’’
Jamodu also said that the foundation was aligning its activities to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goals one and two which address elimination of poverty and zero hunger.
Jamodu said the BATNF would provide support over the period in practical means to mitigate challenges by providing grants and techincal expertise which will translate to revolutionise farming to agribusiness.
The aim of the programme is to increase farmers’ yields and incomes.
On his part, Mr Chris McAlister, the Managing Director, BATN recalled that agriculture used to be Nigeria’s economic mainstay before oil was discovered.
McAlister said that agriculture no longer meets its earlier reputation to supplying 70 per cent of exports and 95 per cent of local food needs and contributed about 60 per cent to the GDP.
“Today, many farmers struggle with the pre-requisites needed to move from small scale to large scale farming due to the inability to transit, and this threatens the ability to rise out of poverty.
“BATN will continue to provide funding and other necessary assistance to the foundation to ensure that they are able to constantly support agricultural enterprises.
“That will improve livelihoods of those in the rural areas, because rural populations account for over 73 per cent of less privileged households in Nigeria,’’ .
McAlister, therefore, encouraged all government ministries, parastatals, states, agencies and implementing partners to achieve the set goals of the 2022 country programme.
Mrs Lolade Johnson-Agiri, General Manager of BATNF, said that the programme would focus on five core areas and two enterprise developments.
Johnson-Agiri said: “The programme will specifically create market access through market-driven interventions and also encourage participation in out-grower schemes for rice, maize and cassava.
“It will also propel value addition in crops or aquaculture, promote adoption of mechanisation and good agricultural practices, provide humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons, among others.
“The five core focus areas will be enterprise development, grants and government-led interventions, ABC of crop management, humanitarian aid and farmers for the future-youth entrepreneurship and empowerment.
“The component of the enterprise development will be capacity building, financial support/input supply, market and off-taker linkage, access to finance, fabrication; donation of equipment and women empowerment,’’ .
Goodwill messages were delivered from Commissioners of Agriculture, Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs, young agro-entrepreneurs and rural smallholder farmers.
Mrs Alimot Badmos, one of the beneficiaries of the foundation, said she was excited to be part of the programme which had helped to increase the scope in farming rice.
Badmos urged the foundation to extend its hand of support to more farmers in the near future.
Meanwhile, Mrs Abinbola Okoya, Executive Director of BATNF, called on other private sector allies and organisations to join the federal government in its drive for sustainable agriculture.
The programme aims to target 62,000 rural farmers, and five million people over the next four years.