January 22, 2021

Food Security: Stakeholders offer opposing views on benefits of border re-opening

Food Security: Stakeholders offer opposing views on benefits of border re-opening

By Jimoh Babatunde & Gabriel Ewepu

The Central Bank of Nigeria has in recent years come up with different programmes to grow the country’s agriculture and ensre food security in the country. One of such programmes is the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.

Under the programme, the CBN set aside N40 billion, out of the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF) to be given to farmers at a single-digit interest rate of maximum nine percent per annum.

As part of the apex bank’s financing framework, the CBN has facilitated the funding of rice and maize farmers and processors through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, Commodity Association, Private/Prime Anchors, State Governments, Maize Aggregation Scheme (MAS), and the Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS).

But as the bank increases financing of farmers, productivity increases and there is a need for markets for produced produce. And wanting to protect the Nigerian farmers, the federal government directed the apex bank from issuing foreign exchange for food importation.

Alhaji Musa Arab, a rice miller in Gombe State, while commending the government, said that such directive was necessary for the growth of the agricultural sector and the diversification agenda of the government.

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According to him, the move by the Federal Government is commendable as it will help promote the policy of “Eating what you grow and growing what you eat. If we keep cultivating rice and Nigerians are not eating the rice, then who will?

“We must set example by eating what we grow just as Nigerians eat our beans lets also do with rice. This is why I commend Mr. President for this good directive and all other policies aimed at boosting the agricultural sector. Today I am a proud agri-businessman while employing several youths too,” he said.

Arab stated that agricultural policies of President Buhari-led administration since 2015 had impacted positively on the agricultural sector particularly rice cultivation, processing and marketing which he said had helped reduce youth unemployment.

“One good policy was the border closure which pushed so many into farming especially rice cultivation. This is the reason when COVID-19 came and countries closed their borders we were still able to feed.

“If not for that wise decision by the Federal Government, Nigeria would have had serious food crisis on its hand and it would have been tougher for Nigerians in terms of food,” he said.

On the border re-opening, the rice Miller said he had no fears as the majority of Nigerians now understood the several benefits of eating local rice which according to him, is now better polished and refined.

Arab, who is also a rice farmer said the food security agenda of the Federal Government was on course as more investments were now being made in rice production.

“As a farmer, I have expanded my base from Gombe to Taraba like many other farmers too. With these efforts, especially with the renewed efforts in dry season farming, we can produce rice to feed Nigerians.”

But an Economist, Dr Chijioke Ekechukwu, said that much as the border closure achieved its purpose of growing local rice production and reduced small weapon importation, it worked against the ECOWAS Trade Treaty which allowed for free entry and exit of genuine goods.

Ekechukwu said: “The reopening of our borders, therefore, is a good development as we have taken back our dominant position in African Trade and Economic activities as well as the experience allowing for stock-taking to prevent reoccurrence and its economic and social impact on Nigeria and Nigerians.”

He added that it also undermined the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) purpose and objective.

However, the questions being asked by many stakeholders is how to ensure that the opening of the border will not impact negatively on the country’s efforts and investments to become food secure.

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The National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Arc Kabir Ibrahim, said: “The onus is on us Nigerians to ensure that our institutions are strong and working efficiently.

The Customs and all those charged with the responsibility of enforcing the laws regulating the seamless movement of goods and services across our borders must do the job efficiently or face the wrath of the law.

“The bane of our inefficiency is corruption and the sooner all Nigerians take a collective decisive stand against it, the higher the likelihood of implementing a successful free trade within AfCFTA and all global borders.

“Corruption is responsible for the failure now and should be everybody’s problem because the people are the Government. We the people should loath corruption from the bottom of our hearts and therefore have the impetus to stem it.”

The National President, National Palm Produce Association of Nigeria, NPPAN, and also Group Managing Director, the Hebron Group. Amb. Alphonsus Inyang, said: “The closure of the land borders in many people’s views was not effective in any way in curbing smuggling into the country except in helping corrupt Custom officials make more money from smugglers.

“During the period the land borders were said to be closed we were still seeing different brands of imported rice, fish and other banned products in our markets. Closing the borders to protect local industries or Agro products is a primitive way of doing things, all government need to do is to incentivize Agro business through long term credit not what we have now where a beneficiary of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme has only 12 months to go to the farm, cultivate, harvest, transport, warehouse, sell and pay back the loan.

“Government should ask itself why are the Palm oil imported thousands of miles away from Indonesia or Malaysia get into Nigeria cheaper than what is produced locally? Why is a kg of chicken from Brazil cheaper by over 100 percent than the ones produced locally? The answer is cheap finance, enabling environment, adequate infrastructure and long term funding, and others.

“Non-release of forex for the importation of some highly consumed goods alone cannot stimulate investment in such sectors but careful planning by government, for example, if we say no forex for fish, what has Government done to stop foreign-flagged trawlers from fishing in our territories and encourage local investments in fish production?

“We need at least 10 years development plans for at least 10 key commodities in this country: palm oil, cocoa, cashew, coffee, sesame seeds, maize, poultry, rice, soybeans and cotton before we can talk of banning them. My association is ready to partner with the government in oil palm.”

The Chief Executive Officer, CEO and Founder, Just Global Social Development Initiative, JUGSODI, Yarima Adu Charles, said: “The Nigeria Customs knows all the illegal borders and possibly those people smuggling food into Nigeria. As professionals in their field they should have a comprehensive list of those being suspected. There should be full enforcement of the law on those who break the law without looking faces.

“Monitoring of markets and shops should be routinely carried out to track and apprehend defaulters in possession of such restricted goods and prosecute them accordingly.

“As end-users, we need to change our thinking and orientation by refusing to buy imported foods but go for home products from Nigeria and this can help to eliminate food importation. All eyes should be on the food industry in Nigeria especially those repackaging to avoid short-changing the efforts of Nigerian farmers from getting the desired returns from their investment.

“The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, should empower the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, SMEs, through single-digit loans to establish small food processing industries that can serve Nigerians and export. What we need to push this include conducive environment, modern technology and peace.”

The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, Arc Nnimmo Bassey, said, “To reduce smuggling and protect the interest of our farmers, the government should ensure that the Joint Border Patrol System works effectively.

“There should be a strong team including relevant agencies such as the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council, FCCPC, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, the National Biosafety Management Agency etc will help to ensure its enforcement.

“Our local farmers should be well equipped with needed supports, including extension services. Adequate rural infrastructure and storage facilities are key. Other resources such as credit schemes and seed banks will aid increased productivity.”

For Mr. Adekunle Adenuga, a feed miller, the reality of unprecedented scarcity of Maize and Soyabean, the Livestock Production and Feeds is almost on the brink of total collapse with over N20 trillion investment and loss of jobs for over 20 million people along the various value chains.

He said to prevent some of these products coming in through our borders will help if the prices are reasonable to save the industry.

“What the joint border would most likely be saddled to prevent from being carried across the borders are goods which Nigeria considers banned or not permitted because they were not produced in the West Africa sub-region.

“It is not, therefore, a criminal action for goods like cattle, beans, maize, groundnut, Soyabean, among others to be moved into or outside Nigeria under normal trade.

“While the land border marketing follows often the non regulated free trade market in common currency exchange, the sea border that requires Form M, import permit and procedures often require Forex in United States Dollars, which is competitively scarce. It is probably based on the later that the Presidential order was made to prevent the granting of Forex to the importer of Food.”

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He said since Maize and Soyabean have become unavailable in the country, Government must review or possibly reaffirm if they are against the importation of vital food or crop products raw materials, which can cripple industries relying on them if Forex is not extended for their importation.

“A clear and conceivable facts have shown that 2020 hurt food production and security due to Covid 19 pandemic lockdown, flooding and drought in different Agro production regions, and high-level insecurities in form of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping.

“The consequent investment of Government to give palliatives especially in grains affected the rapid utilization of the Maize and resulting in scarcity, to the extent that the Federal Government had to loan grains from the ECOWAS Food Reserve.

“With the reality of unprecedented scarcity of Maize and Soyabean, the Livestock Production and Feeds is almost on the brink of total collapse with over N20 trillion investment and loss of jobs for over 20 million people along the various value chains. So can prevention of these products coming in through our borders help if the prices are reasonable to save the industry? I don’t think so.

“All efforts should rather be exploited to safe the Livestock industry with a desperate effort from both Government and private stakeholders to mobilize and purchase these products from available markets within the ECOWAS members State through land or sea borders.”

Vanguard News Nigeria