Feelers from Nigerian farmers are that smuggling of rice into the country could increase if the land borders just reopened remain porous despite the reiteration of the Federal Government that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should not give foreign exchange (forex) to any individual or group for food importation. Taiwo Hassan reports
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari gave a marching order to the apex bank (CBN) not to give forex to importers and firms for food importation in the New Year (2021) in a bid to arrest the rising inflation rate and protect local agric products. To make matter worse, the presidential order came at a period Nigeria reopened her land borders and the commencement of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
There is apprehension among the farming community that if the joint border patrol system put in place by the Federal Government and the neighbouring countries works, coupled with the standing order to avoid giving forex to importers, Nigeria’s efforts in terms of food security could still be on course. However, if smuggling is not controlled based on the reopened land borders and AfCFTA, price of parboiled rice could reduce marginally as local brands are forced to compete with smuggled rice, a situation that may cause farmers and processors to abandon rice farming in particular as production may remain unsustainable for them. However then, agric stakeholders are agitating that there is need Nigeria prevents smuggling and save local farmers and processors from business collapse. In addition, how should Nigeria protect revolving CBN interventions facilities in agriculture in the face of opening of the land and coastal borders for trading?
With the crucial three decisions taken so far by government on forex ban on food imports, AfCFTA and border reopening, there is need to shift focus on protecting the CBN huge investments in rice development via the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, especially how these interventions should be protected and expanded to all states of the federation for greater impact on food production in line with the agenda of the apex bank’s move to partner with 36 state governors on production via ABP. And also, injection of more inputs and funds for food production infrastructure.
The road towards attaining food sufficiency in rice production in the country could be traced to the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari, when in 2015 the CBN unveiled its ABP to boost agric and manufacturing value chains in line with the Federal Government’s economic agenda to improve the revenue earning from the country’s non-oil sector of the economy. Particularly, that same year, the CBN launched the ABP in 14 states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Adamawa, Plateau, Lagos, Ogun, Cross-Rivers and Ebonyi for rice and wheat farmers to advance their status from small holder farmers to commercial or large growers. According to the apex bank, the effort, which was part of its development agenda, would not only create millions of jobs but that it is also capable of lifting thousands of small holder farmers out of poverty in the country. During the flag-off in Birni- Kebbi, Kebbi State, the CBN set aside N40 billion out of the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF) to be given to farmers at single digit interest rate of maximum nine per cent per annum under the ABP. However, in the space of five years, the ABP has demonstrated as a surgical solution to Nigeria’s quest to boost her non-oil sector profile by empowering millions of farmers in the country’s agric sector.
The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, in a chat with New Telegraph, said that the commencement of AfCFTA agreement (AfCFTA) and reopening of the land borders could disturb Nigeria’s hope to attaining a seamless trade facilitation in the continent with resurgences in smuggling of agricultural products, particularly imported rice and poultry, considering the porous nature of Nigeria’s land borders.
He emphasised that it was expected that illicit smugglers would fine-tune their smuggling activities this year. Yusuf said there was high expectation that the commencement of AfCFTA could see Nigeria being a destination for imported food products in the absence of adequate border monitoring measures this year.
Yusuf explained that the most challenging task expected to face the country’s agric sector in a bid to rallying food sustainability in boosting domestic food production and minimize food supply gap in the New Year would be AfCFTA, insecurity and borders reopening, which are expected to dominate Nigeria’s agric products in 2021 despite government’s ban. According to him, government’s ban on importation of rice, poultry and other agricultural commodities still subsists amid border reopening, but this will brew renewed sophisticated smuggling of agric products into the country with the AfCFTA scheme already in place except Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other government security agencies are properly equipped with modern gadgets to assist them in their monitoring activities.
He said: “Looking forward, we see the Central Bank of Nigeria sustaining its intervention in the agricultural sector in year 2021 in a bid to boost domestic food production and minimize food supply gap. While ban on importation of rice, poultry and other agricultural commodities still subsist amid border reopening, however, there is risk of resurgence of smuggling of agricultural products into the country considering porous nature of Nigeria’s land borders.
“This combined with the commencement of AfCFTA could see Nigeria being a destination for imported food products in absence of adequate border monitoring measures.” The National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc. Kabir Ibrahim, said in an interview with this newspaper, that it was true that local farmers are wary of their investment in rice production via ABP following government’s land border reopening and AfCFTA takeoff in the country. According to him, AFAN always support government’s policies even the land border and AfCFTA. But the fears among the farming community despite government’s assurances of ban on agricultural products, are that many rice farmers have not finished paying the CBN loans over the ABP. “Yes, AFAN supports the Federal Government on its agricultural policies since they are geared towards promotion of local agric development and food sufficiency.
We are grateful to government for sticking to the ban of agricultural products from coming through the borders despite the announcement of lifting ban on land borders and Nigeria’s participation in AfCFTA.
So it is true that we need to protect investments in rice production through the CBN ABP because many of our members into rice cultivation are yet to fully pay in full their loans.” On his own part, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammad Sabo Nanono, dismissed the fears that the coming on board of AfCFTA and land border reopening will affect Nigeria’s agriculture rather than saying that the country is in a better position to massively benefit from AfCTFA this year and future years to come.
While listing the strides of Buhari’s administration in agriculture, Nanono submitted that the agricultural revolution initiated under the president has catapulted Nigeria to the position of number one rice producer in Africa and 13th globally. These feats, Nanono pointed out, has translated into the healthy proliferation of hundreds of rice milling industries across the country, resulting in the meaningful employment of scores of thousands of previously unemployed youths.
Dr. Femi Oke, the AFAN chairman, Lagos chapter, said that nothing was wrong with government’s decisions to reopen the land borders, AfCFTA partipaition and forex import ban on food imports, saying that government had demonstrated its unflinching support for Nigerian agric sector and need to protect local market. On whether Nigerian farmers are happy with the border reopening, Oke said: “The farmers are very happy with the initial closure of the border because they got value for their produce. But with the reopening of the borders, we are excited and happy since key agric commodities are still ban from coming in into Nigeria.”
In conclusion, local farmers are saying that government’s opting for enforcement of restriction of foods import, reopening of the land borders and AfCFTA partipaition will only protect the CBN’s ABP and rice development in the country.