Zenith Bank Targets Nigerian Farmers for Loans as Dollars Dry Up

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Zenith Bank Plc is prioritizing loans to the agricultural industry and other raw-material suppliers as a dollar shortage in Africa’s biggest oil producer hinders imports.

“Companies that will be leaders in the next five years are those who will be sourcing their raw materials locally,” Chief Executive Officer Ebenezer Onyeagwu said by phone from Lagos, the nation’s commercial hub. “If you can get your raw materials here, you’re in business and it’s cheaper — your holding cost is cheaper, your freight cost is reduced.”
Nigeria’s second-biggest bank by market value is aiming to meet increased demand from businesses needing to source raw materials locally after plunging oil prices and lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus dried up foreign-currency inflows. The central bank devalued the naira in March and halted dollar sales for more than a month as income from crude fell.

It comes amid intensified efforts from authorities to encourage investment in agriculture and processing plants to help diversify the economy away from oil. Many of Zenith’s customers want to invest in crop production or the processing industry, so they produce products they can sell to breweries, food and pharmaceutical companies, the CEO said.

The central bank offers loans to farmers through commercial banks at preferential rates to stimulate the development of the industry and has also banned imports on dozens of goods from soap and cement to milk and rice.

In March, it unveiled a 3.5 trillion-naira ($9-billion) stimulus package to improve access to credit and to support the manufacturing and health industries with supply chains from India and China disrupted because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Zenith Bank is encouraging customers to access funds from the central bank, which it matches with dedicated officials to ensure the projects they undertake are well executed, Onyeagwu said. As companies strive to meet the food requirements of the nation’s 200 million people, Nigeria could potentially become a non-oil exporter over the medium- to long-term, he said.

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