Ban of importation of essential commodities, By Jide Ayobolu

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The Federal Government says it would soon ban the importation of fish and milk into the country.

Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Sabo Nanono disclosed this at the official commissioning of the Agribusiness incubation center (AIC) at Federal University Dutse, in Jigawa State.

Nanono said the Federal Government will further look critically on all food importation into the country.

The Minister explained that Nigeria is blessed with so many resources and opportunities, stressing that there is nothing that is imported that is not produced in the country. ” We will look critically into the importation of any food into the country because we all have it, Nigeria is a country where we eat what we produce and produce what we eat” he stated.

He said Nigeria has about 25m cows in the country but the only problem the country has is how to get the milk. He said the Federal Government has commenced small scale milk processing centers to mitigate the importation of milk into the country.

“We have over seven of these centers and we are going to do more in the country, we also opened one in Dawakin- Kudu last year and the center alone is galvanizing over 12 thousand Fulani cattle rearers in the area” Nanono noted.

“If we take fish, there are so many fish infrastructures also in this country abandoned and not utilized” The minister, however, said the Federal Government is also working to revive them and also create the new ones.

It should be recalled that the presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, says efforts to get the nation out of its present economic challenges are beginning to yield positive results, especially in agriculture. According to him, an increase in the volume of rice production and processing across the country is already saving the country a lot of foreign exchange.

Mr. Shehu, who is the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, said that Nigeria only imported 58,000 tons of rice from Thailand in 2015 as against 1.2 million tons in 2014.

He revealed that due to the country’s growing rice production occasioned by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s decision to deny foreign exchange for the importation of rice “parboiled rice mills’’ in some Asian countries were shutting down production. According to him, this is because Nigeria, which is one of the world’s largest importers of rice no longer, buys rice from them.

“Five of such mills in Thailand servicing Nigeria have stopped production due to the withdrawal of our patronage,” he added. According to him, the government is watching with keen interest the growing investment in rice milling by the private sector.

It is important to note that, the former minister of agriculture and now the President of African Development Bank (ADB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina lamented that, Nigeria spends over N356 billion yearly on the importation of rice, similarly, Nigeria spends over N100 billion annually to import fish.

And, the country spends N1.6 trillion on the importation of wheat, sugar, rice and fish on a yearly basis.

The former minister also regretted that Nigeria has the third absolute number of stunted children in the world with 41 per cent of children under age of five stunted, 23 percent under-weight and 14 percent wasted. Also, he said, Nigeria’s import and export ratio has remained at 92 per cent import and 8 per dent export.

It for this reason that President Buhari said in an economic retreat, as it relates to agriculture that, it has been neglected over the years, and veritable government intervention is required in the crucial sector, that if carefully managed, can lead to self-sufficiency in food production, solve the problem of mass unemployment, increase the country’s foreign earnings, and grow our per capita income. In his words, he stated that, “for too long government policies on agriculture have been half-hearted, suffering from inconsistencies. Yet our real wealth is in farming, livestock, hatcheries, fishery, horticulture and forestry”.

He further explained the some of the challenges in the sector, such as rising cost of food, lack of agricultural inputs at affordable prices, high cost of fertilizers, pesticides and labour compound the problem of extension services, import of food items that can be easily produced locally, wastages because of the absence of adequate storage facilities as well as lack of feeder rods to transport foods produced in rural areas to urban centres, just to mention but a few of the difficulties encountered in the sector. He also said that, in solving the problem the public must be carried along and educated about the plans of government so that, they can key into it and benefit maximally from it, in addition, he reasoned that, there must be close working relationship between the federal government and the state governments, to really boost agriculture and solve some of the problems in the sector, for example, the massive availability of feeder roads to make transportation of food from the country-sides to the city centers less cumbersome, there should also be the availability of soft loans to farmers with the CBN bearing some of the risk as well as the exigent need intermittent stakeholders meeting on how to move the sector forward.

Besides, agriculture is the mainstay of mankind, therefore wise nations all over the globe give it a priority by developing and exploiting this sector for the upkeep of their teeming populations through the earning development purpose, as well as employment, stemming down of crimes, corruption and other forms of indiscipline which work against all factors of life, living and most of all economic production.

With the recent fall of oil price in the International market, many countries, including Nigeria have resorted to alternatives. Nigeria as a country has neglected Agriculture with the discovery of oil. It is important to go back because agriculture is the major and most certain path to economic growth and sustainability. It encompasses all aspects of human activities being the art, act, a cultural necessity and science of production of goods through cultivation of land and management of plants and animals which create an activity web-chain that satisfies social economic needs.

Moreover, the need for Nigeria to diversify its source of income has been overemphasized – There have been constant calls from various quarters for government to kick-start the process – Agriculture has been identified as one area where government should look into ”Agriculture is the new oil” is one sentence that has been reverberating around Nigeria since President Muhammadu Buhari took over power. Indeed, Agriculture has the potential to change the economic indices in Nigeria to a positive one and shore up the earnings of the nation.

Agriculture can also feed Nigerians, West Africa and indeed have enough to be imported outside the shores of the nation. Amidst the challenges that confront Nigeria as a nation, there are immense opportunities that abound in the agricultural sector that can help change the fortunes of the nation.

A consistent and committed approach to agriculture and the implementation of its policies will no doubt empower Nigerians given the unemployment situation in the country, but most importantly, boost economic growth in Nigeria. There is also a need to make the sector attractive to the private sector because agriculture is now a key investment opportunity in Nigeria. Government policy must involve organizing information about the sector, attracting capital, markets, land and other resources. With this, smallholder farmers will earn decent income from agriculture in the next few years that will have a spiral effect across the nation.

The whole idea of the green alternative is predicated on the exigent need to move away from the oil dependent economy to agriculture; this means that the economy will be systematically diversified to make the economy bigger, stronger and more reliable. It is in light of this fact that President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) said that Nigeria has huge agricultural potential with over 84 million hectares of arable land of which only 40 per cent is currently cultivated. The country has some of the richest natural resources for agricultural production in the world. The urgency of unlocking our agricultural potential is even more pertinent because Africa spends $35billion annually for food import. Agriculture must cease from being treated as a development programme; agriculture must henceforth be treated as a business. The president explained that he would shift attention from oil to agricultural and mining sectors to create jobs.

It would be recalled that there has been several agricultural programmes in the country in the past that were unable to truly stand the test of time, after billions of tax-payers money have been expended on such projects, for instance, we had Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), Green Revolution, Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DIFFRI), The Niger River Basin Projects, National Schools Agriculture Programme (NSAP), Agricultural Development Projects (ADP) etc, if these various agricultural initiatives had justified the reason they were initiated, the country would not today be a peripheral capitalist enclave in permanent and self-inflicted crisis. These programmes were set up with the good intention of not only making the agricultural sector viable, but also make the country self-sufficient in food production, while creating millions of employment opportunities for Nigerians across the board. What went wrong with these laudable programs are numerous but closely intertwined, namely, lack of requisite monitoring and supervision, absence of adequate publicity that will carry Nigerians along, corruption and lack of periodic audits, lack required manpower to properly manage the programmes as well as the fact that some of the programmes were not well articulated.

Therefore, it is a welcome development that this government has noted all the loopholes in the previous agricultural programmes and has decided to initiate a new plan of action in the very important sector in the Nigerian economy.

According to the president, “Nearly all our crop-based farming activities are dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and this makes our agricultural productivity entirely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the past few years, on the average, we have spent in excess of $11bn annually importing wheat, rice, sugar and fish. We need not, and indeed we cannot afford to continue on this trajectory”. He added, “Agriculture is the key to our economic growth and social investment policies. Our administration’s key strategy is to ensure that Nigeria becomes self- sufficient in the foods that we consume the most. Maize, rice, corn, millets, fruits, poultry products and their derivatives can all be produced at home if we put our hearts into it. Our policy is simple: We will produce what we eat! It is not only logical, it is necessary.”

He then implored everyone to work together thus: “I am declaring that we need a new approach that challenges more states and local governments, more organizations, companies and non-governmental organizations and individuals, some of the younger people, who are here to step up and play a role because government cannot and should not do it alone. All hands should be on deck.”

Jide Ayobolu is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst

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