Nigerian agriculture stakeholders, Wednesday, faulted the Federal Government decision to exclude food importers from accessing foreign exchange (forex) from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
They argued that the policy would further escalate the food crisis currently rocking the nation.
Reacting to the government decision, the National Coordinator of Agro Hub, Thomas Odue, described President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision as ill-timed.
Odue, while reacting to Buhari’s directive to CBN, appealed to him to reconsider his stance until the country gets out of recession.
It is a good decision, which is coming at the wrong time. Government should still assist states until our economy is strong again. Don’t forget that we are yet to fully come out of recession, so denying importers access to foreign exchange at this critical time would further widen poverty,” he said.
Also reacting to the Federal Government decision, National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabiru, said compliance with President Buhari’s decision to sustain the gains of previous ban on importation of food items was imperative.
According to him, “farmers are Nigerian citizens and they are law abiding. If the president says it will not happen (approval of forex for food import) and he has the legitimacy to enforce it, then we must comply with what he wants because that is his constitutional responsibility. So we will not begin to antagonize the president because I can also be president and if I do that, nobody will obey me as well. If the law has been applied to an extent that we have had some gains by closing the borders and stopping importation, if we start it (importation) now we will lose those gains.”
The AFAN boss further said, “every country in the world will have to pay such price to get to the promised land and Nigeria is not an exception. Food security does not depend on importation. If you have to import anything to feed your people, then you are not food secure.”
He, however, urged government to provide enabling environment for farmers to engage meaningfully in production to ensure food security.
He said: “Farmers have to be given security so that we can go to our farms to produce. That’s the only solution. We cannot depend on importation. If we continue to import, we will never get to the promised land. We should make investment so that our production capacity will improve. We must be law abiding.”
Also commenting, the National President of Food Growers Association of Nigeria (FOGAN), Joseph Owolabi, said Nigeria has the capacity to feed itself, adding that constant importation would lead to job losses.
Owolabi added that rather than government restricting food importation, it should rather mechanise agriculture, stressing that the country’s population was growing higher by the day.
He added: “We are trying our best to make sure that the prices of food come down. Nigeria’s population is too huge. Even what our farmers produce is not enough, especially our rural farmers.
“Most of them are using cutlasses, hoes and other tools which we are trying to eradicate by bringing tractors and other modern equipment.
“So, what we are producing at present may not be able to feed the country. The decision will not affect our members. In fact, it will boost the economy and the high cost of foodstuff will come down.”
According to him, the association had provided silos, fertilizers, insecticide, seedlings of affordable price to members nationwide to boost food production.
He added that, “FOGAN has also, in partnership with Nigeria Institute of Soil Science, keyed into the scheme to make the seeders robust.
“The association will partner with the Federal, State, and Local Governments to bring majority of the youths interested in farming to do it as agro-business.
“In this regard, FOGAN will collaborate with traditional rulers in the provision of arable land to members in their localities through the Nigeria Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA).”
For his part, Director General of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Segun Ajayi-Kadir, said the association acknowledged the initiative and also raised salient issues on the implication of the directive.
“Clearly, the objective of Mr. President is noble. The directive, we understand, is aimed at consolidating the progress made towards food sufficiency, conserving our foreign exchange and encouraging consumption of locally produced food.
“MAN actively supports resource-based industrialization, and this is based on our position that we should significantly improve our local sourcing of raw materials and develop sustainable value chains. We believe that value addition to products creates more jobs and wealth for the nation. Our mantra is clearly harped on patronage of made in Nigeria products as we believe the country can only experience development when we buy what we produce and produce what we consume.”
He said that on several occasions, MAN had engaged the government to provide support for local manufacturers who have embraced backward integration in the course of manufacturing with records revealing the positive impact on the agricultural sector.
“Without mincing words, MAN is for local sourcing of raw materials and production, patronage of locally produced goods and the general growth and development of the manufacturing sector of the country.
“A close examination of the directive reveals that it is broad and would have to be both specific and targeted. These should also be strategic implementation to achieve the purpose intended by government. For instance, we need to know what type of food – finished and ready to eat? or as input for further processing? In the case of the latter (in particular), we need to know the local capacity available compared to national demand and if not adequate, creditably determine what time and resources are needed to ramp up capacity and production. It is pertinent to pre-determine these suggestions as part of the implementation strategy.”
He further said, “to achieve sustainable self-sufficiency, local producers ought to be incentivised, otherwise we may be inviting a looming barrage of smuggling activities. We are not necessarily worried about the directive and we prefer to see it as an expression of Mr. President’s mindset.
“We are sure Mr. President is aware of the independence of the CBN and that such policies may be counterproductive if implemented by fiat, without ensuring necessary alignment with the fiscal policy and other economic policy initiatives of this administration. The necessary support that would sustain the ‘steady progress in agricultural production’ and attainment of ‘full food security’, for instance, would have to be considered. On the matter at hand, what is needed is clarity. The apex bank will have to do an assessment of where we are in practical terms and realistically weigh its options before embarking on such a far-reaching policy.”
He added that, “here should also be a process to be followed before such a plan is unfolded. On an issue as critical as this, a unilateral decision could be counterproductive when the operators are not duly consulted. We must consider the state of our infrastructure and its capacity to respond and support the policy.
“So, though laudable, we have to be deliberate and strategic in pursuing such a far-reaching monetary measure, especially in the light of our vulnerability occasioned by trade agreements that require the country to be more open to imports and the well-known antics of our neighbouring countries.”