FirstBank: A Legacy of Strategic Agribusiness Financing

Like the first edition of the FirstBank Agric Expo last year, the main auditorium of Eko Hotel, Lagos, last week was filled to the brim with ministers and hundreds of stakeholders in agriculture and agribusiness. Participants also displayed various agricultural products as well as services to the admiration of guests and stakeholders. Report by Bamidele Ogunwusi.

“FirstBank, you have done great things in the past in agriculture and you are still doing very well. My word of encouragement is that you should not give up. This government is very grateful to you and we can only say thank you for your efforts”.

That was the elated Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh , while speaking at the second edition of the FirstBank Agric Expo in Lagos last week.

This year’s edition, the second in the series, witnessed the collaboration of the best of private sector with the support of the government as two important ministers to the realisation of Nigeria’s self-sufficiency in food production and exportation were present.

Aside Chief Audu Ogeh, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment was also at the expo with a  high-powered Federal Government team to give support to FistBank’s efforts and to also encourage farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs to do more and gain more.

Ogbeh, said as someone who has been in agriculture since childhood and a professional farmer, he has seen FirstBank as a strong backbone of support for agriculture in the country.

He said despite the experience of losing credits given to farmers in the past FirstBank has not relented in its support to the sector and that unlike in the past when agriculture was not working, the situation has changed now with support of banks like FirsBank that has taken up the challenge of financing agriculture beyond lip service.

His words: “In the past when you give farmers loan, it was always very difficult for them to pay back because of several factors that have been taken care of now. In those days, farmers don’t know what is called soil test, they take money from the banks and proceed to plant and the result is that they may not be able to pay their loans back because of low yield.

“The soil needs 17 ingredients. They are three majors and 14 micros. We don’t do soil test and we don’t get good yield but now. The good news is that that is changing. We do a lot of soil testing and we are investing in good seeds and our researchers are doing a great deal of work. We are investing more in extension services to teach the farmers how to farm and we are also working with the value chain developers.

“The assurance I want to give FirstBank is for the bank to strengthen its portfolio in agriculture because better times are here. We are coming up with an agriculture Inputs and Mechanisation Management Scheme (IMMS )to ensure that we protect the banks and other financiers of agriculture from losses. We know some banks have suffered in the past”.

FirstBank used the occasion to reiterate its promise that it will continue to promote growth in the Nigerian economy through agricultural financing, identifying and supporting agricultural enterprises across all regions of Nigeria.

In his welcome address at expo, Dr Adesola Adeduntan, Managing Director, First Bank of Nigeria Limited said the bank commenced operations over 124 years ago with a major strategic focus on financing agricultural development, as well as enabling farmers and agro-businesses.

Sequel to the first edition with the theme: “Reinventing Agriculture for Sustainable National Development”, he said this year’s edition of the expo aptly focuses on the theme “Innovating for a Sustainable Green Economy,”   which highlights the essentials for promoting policies and practices focused on advancing the pathway to a future filled with interest and a progressive mindset on agriculture across the nation.

The expo, according to him, is indicative of bank’s commitment to increasingly collaborate with public and private sector partners to fully restore the prime role of the agricultural sector as the mainstay of Nigeria national economy.

“I am pleased to note that agricultural financing across all value chains remains a core part of our business today. Following our priority as a continuous financier of credit worthy agro-allied businesses, our team of dedicated agricultural professionals specialising in various fields of agriculture are strategically located to identify and support agricultural enterprises covering across all regions of Nigeria, with a suite of customised sector and customer friendly agricultural financing solutions.

“FirstBank has a large base of existing small, medium and commercial agribusiness clients across Nigeria operating in all segments of the agricultural value chain covering primary production, storage, processing, packaging and agro export, amongst others”.

Adeduntan said that in partnership with public sector institutions, the bank has supported several state governments on agricultural development trust fund scheme, an initiative designed to provide credit facilities to small scale farmers who do not have collateral.

“Indeed, under the Federal Government’s Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme for long tenored credit facilities to commercial agricultural enterprises – at single digit interest rate – FirstBank has supported over 23 per cent of all the enterprises supported by all the banks put together. The projects spread across input supplies, primary production, processing and marketing. Obligors include small, medium and large scale enterprise in the agricultural value chain.

He stressed that the Anchor Borrower Programme was an innovative product developed by the bank, as it was then known as “Industrial End Users Out-grower Scheme”, which is now improved for enhanced delivery.

“I am happy that with these experiences, FirstBank worked immensely to support the Central Bank of Nigeria in actualizing the efforts of reviving all the value–chains as envisioned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“In addition, following the policy for playing down on importation of some of the commodities and encouragement of exportation of agricultural commodities, FirstBank is at the forefront of adopting the supportive schemes newly introduced by the Central Bank, like the Non-Oil Export Stimulation Facilities (NESF)”, he concluded.

Chairman of the bank, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, said looking at institutions like First Bank, and quite a number of other institutions in Nigeria, Nigerians would be very proud of the legacy that has been built within the nation.

“The most important point I want to make is that if you map Nigeria before independent and after independent, it is impossible to take FirstBank out of most critical milestones that has led to what Nigeria is today and you will see in many ways that we have contributed substantially to deliver this nation and in key parts of it and we are always at the fore front of the initiative and driving progress and opening of new territories or supporting areas that are critical to national development.

“ At this point in our history as a nation, it is important to note that feeding out people is key and it is also important to understand that the land mark that we have is not a piece of decoration. It’s an asset beyond oil that we are meant to convert to the wealth of our nation and as a means of creating all that we need to support other sectors of our developmental plans, Awosika said.

Dr Doyin Salami, a senior fellow/associate professor and full-time member of the Faculty at the Lagos Business School delivered the keynote address on the theme of the day, while Okechukwu Enelamah, the minister of Industry, Trade and Investment delivered the goodwill message at the event.

The Expo featured master classes aimed at providing in-depth exposition on specific areas of Agricultural business. The classes were facilitated by enterprising subject matter experts who shared their success stories and experiences in the business segment.

The master classes were ‘Agricultural Processing for Self-reliance and Export’ and ‘iAgric: Emerging Trends for Agropreneurs’.

Significant milestones were recorded at the 2017 edition of the Agric Expo as it  afforded the bank the opportunity to aggregate top players in the Agricultural sector under one roof for easy relationship establishment and be seen as a thought leader in the agricultural financing space.

It also gave the bank the needed publicity as we are seen to be aligning with the Federal Government revenue diversification and food security strategy.

It afforded the bank an opportunity to enlighten, educate and reassure customers and prospects alike about FirstBank readiness to support their Agricultural businesses

The event has increased the synergy between the bank and Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development (FMARD) as both institutions have mutually introduced prospects to each other for consideration.

The bank is perceived as partner of first choice as the digital media and innovators in the agricultural space have been inundating the bank with requests for collaboration.

As a result of the Agric Expo, the bank’s Agric portfolio recorded a growth of N11.65 billion as a direct impact.

Culled from Independent