Ibrahim Kabir is the National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN). He is also the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, KEBRAM Group of Companies. In this interview with TAIWO HASSAN, he discusses COVID-19, one year of border closure and other challenges confronting the agric sector
What is your assessment of the devastating effect of COVID-19 on global agriculture sector, including that of Nigeria?
COVID-19 has affected the entire globe adversely, but depending on a country’s economic management measures, the situation will be mild or very devastating. The health and other social effects are similarlyexperienced. InNigeria, thehealthimpact has been remarkably handled by the Presidential Taskforce (PTF) through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The economic measures in place if properly and transparently managed would avert crises in Nigerian agricultural sector. For instance, the food system needs to be properly managedtoaverthungerduetosomanychallenges ranging from insecurity, flooding and the apparent mismanagement of the agric sector.
Following the pandemic’s invasion in Nigeria, all Nigerian farmers need to brace to address the challenges of providing enough food to feed the nearly 200 million mouths in the nation because the coronavirus pandemic posed a big threat to food availability in the country and globally.
For me, it is the duty of local farmers to rescue the economy at this period by providing food to feed the entire Nigerian populace. You can see that the spread of the pandemic across the globe is frightening in all aspects since it is disrupting the world economy.
So, agriculture is the last resort for the Nigerian populace at this period because food availability is key and that is where the Nigerian farmer comes in to contribute their quota.
What is the fate of poultry and fish farmers in Nigeria amid scarcity of animal feeds? Would you say their businesses have also been severely impacted by the pandemic?
The poultry industry is almost completely crashed due to the soaring prices of both the energy and protein components of feeds. The situation in the fish sector is the same. The future of these businesses is very bleak unless we get a bumper harvest and the purchasing power of Nigerians improves.
The naira is depreciating and so the purchasing power of majority of the people is dwindling. It is sad that this should happen considering that importation as well as export is at the lowest ebb due to thepandemic. Weneedtotakedecisiveactiononthe management of the economy by financial experts and the CBN. The poultry and fish businesses will continue to suffer this downward slide unless we do somedisruptiveinnovationinfeedformulationand better economic management generally.
Emphatically, the sign of grain scarcity in the country is a looming threat to food availability, and government should urgently intervene to save the day.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) banned forex issuance for importation of maize in a bid to boost local production. As AFAN president, what is your assessment, particularly looking at the timing?
The ban on access to forex by the CBN in processing maize importation is what is referred to by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as protectionism and it is discouraged, but in the circumstances Nigeria finds itself, it is absolutely necessary to do so.
As the leader of AFAN, I deeply sympathise with the poultry industry but I should also protect the maize farmers from undue competition. I am a poultry farmer myself, as a matter of fact, a onetime Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) president.
Nigeria is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in the management of food system today. All livestock farmers are adversely affected by the pandemic as even wheat offal prices are astronomical today. I hope things will change by around November when the new harvests will be fully in the market but before then it is very difficult. However, I think the CBN’s ban on maize imports is for economic reasons to stimulate growth in that sector.
You know about 25 million metric tonnes of maize is being targeted for production during this year’s planting season. The CBN through its Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) released N16 billion for the farmers to boost agriculture. This 2020 wet season programme, over 250,000 hectares of land have been cultivated by MAAN members only, with this and other partners, maize production would be doubled at the end of the harvest season.
So, the CBN has supported by providing high yielding maize seeds to all our members. With all these great steps being taken by government, we can be self-sufficient in maize production in the next few months if we all believe in the capacity of our farmers and put our hands on the plough.
We have done it before and we can achieve it again as it was done in 2005. Following the COVID-19 pandemic destruction of the Nigeria’s economy, the Federal Government rolled out N2.3 trillion stimulus plans to re-jig the economy. However, agriculture and manufacturing were chosen as sectors to revive the economy.
So far, how much have your members benefitted from the entire stimulus provided by government?
Unfortunately, some of the drivers of the recovery package have a misunderstanding of agriculture and the farming community. They are supposed to reach out to all farmers, and not any select a few. You do not have to like the person who feeds you to give them the enablement to continue to feed you.
The president needs to closely monitor the implementation of all the programmes leading up to the evolution of a veritable food system that can really and readily lead to food sufficiency in the country. We have called for a special adviser to manage issues around food security to avert food shortage in the country. However, agriculture will definitely bouncebackthroughdisruptiveinnovationandcompleteoverhaul of the management of FMARD. Besides, no nation in the world can ignore agriculture because of the role it plays in guaranteeing food security.
So the N2.3 trillion stimulus package for retooling our economy will go a long way when agriculture and manufacturing sectors are properly captured in the scheme.
It is one year after Federal Government closed the country’s land borders. Would you say that Nigeria has achieved her set objectives with the closure?
The closure of the border became necessary when our neighbours failed to protect us as good neighbours should. It was almost a deliberate attempt to pauperise our country in collusion with some unscrupulous Nigerians, who freely smuggled banned goods or refused to pay duties on imported items.
The length of time it has taken the customs to plug the leakages is prolonging the closure, which is beginning to have negative effects as against the envisaged protection.
As time progresses and our production and processing take hold, it is in our larger interest to open the borders to be able to participate in AfCFTA. It may be very difficult to put figures and authentic details with regard to gains from the closure but it will be valid to say that some gains have indeed been recorded.
The opposite is also correct in some aspects because it is a fact of life that for every advantage there is a resultant disadvantage.
Has the closure benefitted farmers?
The farmers were very happy with the initial closure of the border because they got value for their produce. Any articulate condemnation of the action and confining it to only rice might have something to do with our mindset of criticizing everything the government does in Nigeria.
In AFAN, the umbrella body of Nigerian farmers, all our members are happy with the decision taken by President Muhammadu Buhari on the border closure policy because of the multiplier effect in increased food production as we move to realize food sufficiency in Nigeria. Nigerian agroprocessing companies have been reporting a jump in sales and profits as a result of Nigeria’s closure of land borders.
The move has had a positive impact on one of Nigeria’s largest agro-processing companies, Okomu Oil. You know the company is in the business of developing oil palm plantation, palm oil milling, palm kernel processing, and the development of rubber plantation.
To generate revenue, it sells processed fresh fruit bunches into crude palm oil for resale locally and via exports. Most of its customers are manufacturers of consumer goods such as soaps and cosmetics. It also generates revenue by processing rubber lumps into rubber cake for exports.
Likewise Presco, another Nigerian company in the agro-processing space that has also seen its revenue and profits jump in 2020, a development attributed to the closure of land borders. But before the advent of border closure, these companies blamed smuggling or illegal imports as the major reasons for their revenue drop experienced.
Now these companies and others are applauding the intervention of government in closing all land borders because of the positive changes in their businesses. So, what I am pointing out here is that Nigerians should not see it that the border closure policy was not meant for rice farmers and merchants alone but all agric value chain.
Are you saying the closure has reduced smuggling of goods to the barest minimum?
The porous nature of our borders and corruption that has eaten deep into our fabric might be responsible for the presence of foreign rice in the market but surely there is a great reduction in smuggling in Nigeria. I live in Katsina, an important border state between Nigeria and Niger Republic, and I can safely say that there is a remarkable improvement in the control in activities of smugglershere.
Theinsecurityandpresenceof ammunitions is being addressed more seriously now a lot more than before and as someone from Faskari, the epicenter of banditry in the North West, I can attest to that since some of our farmers are gradually going back to their farms.
A lot more can be done in this regard, I agree, as I still maintain that the sectorial defoliation of the thick forests in Sambisa and Rugu will expand our cultivable land and stop being a safe haven for the bandits. In a nutshell, we need to thank the present administration for taking the bull by the horn to address this border closure issue.
How will the closure impact on the country with regard to AfCFTA?
I believe in no distant future we will open our borders as the AfCFTA implementation will commence in January 2021. You know AfCFTA is key fundamental for our trade relationship and growth in the continent. Besides, we have signed the Af- CFTA treaty because Nigeria is the biggest market for AfCFTA scheme, so opening the border will be strategic to the economy.
Recently you said your association would be approaching the CBN for loan to purchase fertilizer at subsidised rate. Can you shed light on the plan?
AFAN has established that it will be necessary to make fertiliser and other inputs available to the Nigerian farmers well ahead of the rains to effectively upscale their productivity. In the light of this, it is planning to approach the CBN in consultation with the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PTI) to raise a revolving N1 billion loan to buy fertiliser to sell to farmers at controlled price.
The model will be such that the money will be perpetually replenished as repayment is made. It is also to be interest free (zero interest) because the farmers should be incentivised by being directly subsidised.