Basic food products importation have been one of the major factors dragging back the economic development of Nigeria over the years, and it needs to be addressed before the country can make any progress economically.
Basic food importation also help ground local industries because the farmers will be discouraged to produce raw materials to feed the industries which will be used to produce locally to satisfy demands.
Government over the years took steps to reduce the level at which some food item which can be produced locally are being imported and smuggled into the country.
Over the years, these efforts by the government to encourage farmers to produce locally have hit the brick wall following continued smuggling of food item which sometimes are sold cheaper than the locally produced ones.
It is on this premise that the Federal government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, called a stakeholders consultative meeting on illegal importation of food items into Nigeria.
During the meeting, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said the government would ensure that smuggled food products are not sold in the country.
He also dismissed the notion that locally produced food items are more expensive than the imported ones, stressing that the imported food items are not cheaper. NBC To Empower 15,000 Youths, Stakes $900million On Improved Production
His words : “The Federal Government will do everything possible to ensure that these smuggled products are not allowed to be sold in Nigeria, this is just the first step, so our appeal is that the citizens and stakeholders should try and patronise made in Nigeria rice, and that is the only way we can sustain the rice farmers, we have 5 million rice farmers and more people are going into rice production, we are also feeding the entire West Africa sub-region, but despite all that, Thailand, India and some other countries, see Nigeria as a threat.
“What we have discovered is that contrary to what people say that the foreign products are cheaper, our survey shows that the foreign products are not cheaper, it is just looking bigger”.
Some of the stakeholders said the problem is that the cost of production in Nigeria is a bit high, assuming a kilogram of local chicken is sold for N1000 and the imported chicken is sold for N750 per kilogram, people will rather go for the one sold for N750 without considering the health implication, that is the challenge, and that is why we are taking it from the production level, how do we reduce cost of production.
The stakeholders in the poultry industry said if quality maize is produced at a guaranteed price, it will impact on pricing of our chicken as well.
The poultry stakeholders who spoke through one of their members said “We are already relating with the Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), because information is important, of course people buy these foreign poultry products due to unawareness, they don’t know the difference between the foreign poultry products and the local one, so we have to sensitise and create awareness and we felt that NOA is one agency that we can collaborate with.
“We need to create a poultry village where our meet processors can establish their poultry, especially some states in this country where there is high consumption of poultry products, Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Warri, Abuja, Owerri, Kaduna, Kano and Jos, we are trying to Liaise with the government of these states, if they can give us land, we are ready to develop it.
In fish production, the stakeholders said they recently wrote about smuggling of fish across the border, which the government took up as a challenge, although it can never be wiped out totally but they want more efforts from the government to help them so that the smuggling across the border can stop so that Nigeria can have good quality fish.
Emmanuel Ochoga, Deputy Director, Finance at Sheraton Hotels said: “All our chickens are purchased from Nigeria, it is only rice that when we buy, we subject them to test before we present to our customers, even the fish too, we buy them locally, so we are not actually getting things from abroad.
He urged the government to procure modern fishing equipment or encourage the private sector to embark on such venture to increase our local capacity in fish production, which will satisfy local demand and discourage importation.
“We have Atlantic Ocean here in Nigeria, it is not too much of a cost if the government organise a private sector or if they can get modernized fishing equipment into the country, we have these fishes in our seas here that can actually be gotten, then we can sell them to Nigerians, instead to depend on the ones that we import, maybe we can supplement what ever we get here, but if we get these machines in here and we are doing it which I don’t think should be above people who are interested in doing it, Ochoga said.
The representative of Shoprite said: “In Shoprite we sell made in Nigeria rice, 76 per centof the products on our shelves are made in Nigeria, which also includes poultry products, fish products, we only have 24 per cent of our products imported, they are properly checked and confirmed before we import.
“If the government can support farmers the more for them to give us quality products and also at affordable rate in terms of providing subsidies and so on, and we also need to communicate from the grassroots to the top for everybody to be aware of the quality of what to be consumed at affordable rate.
The Secretary-General of the Nigerian Association of Agricultural Products Dealers, Kingsley Chikezie, called for a proactive measure in tackling the menace of smuggling, adding that there was need to check some of the porous borders in the country.
His words: “We need to take a proactive action to end this menace, it is a terrible thing that is affecting our members, if we don’t fight is holistically and seriously, it will continue to occur, we have so many porous borders in Nigeria, the Customs can only check what is coming in through the approved borders.
The representative of Next cash and Carry said they have about 85 per cent locally made in Nigeria products. Government was also urged to do more to support local manufacturers of rice, so that they can meet up with the demands of these big shops.
The Director General of Consumer Protection Council, Babatunde Irukera, said the real and most effective solution is to buy what is already subjected to regulatory process within the country.
He noted that “many times when you are importing these products, the vast majority of these importers, are credible, so it is not that all the people who are producing poultry and other food products outside Nigeria lacks credibility, but we are talking about food, there are those few who are not credible and those few who are not credible can constitute a great market that result in fatality and so we can look at this from a percentage stand point”.
However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said over 1 million tons of rice is currently on the waiting at Benin Republic to hit the Nigerian market through the land borders this festive period.
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said the rice which is on the waiting to be smuggled into Nigerian is not been consumed in Benin Republic because it is parboiled.
Lokpobiri, explained that the Nigerian government had not banned the importation of rice, instead, he said that every rice imported into the country must be subjected to test by relevant bodies to ascertain the quality of the rice.
According to him “what is more disturbing is that Benin Republic do not eat parboiled rice, the over 1 million tons that we are saying that are in Benin Republic, are not meant for them, they don’t eat it, it is meant for the Nigerian market, and they know the economic implication on Nigeria.
“And I think it is only we that can save Nigeria, that is why the Federal government have directed that everything should be done to stop smuggling, we start with engagement, if the engagement fails, we go into coercion, because every government in the world has the primary duty to protect the interest of its people”.
Senator Lokpobiri therefore, said that the government is taking measures to draw more farmers into rice production through provision of farm mechanisation, quality seeds, fertilizers and other farms inputs to upscale rice production in the country to satisfy local demand.
There is urgent need to address the issue of smuggling which has been ravaging the nation’s economic activities over the years. The government needs to put mechanisms to check smuggling of basic food items.
Also, there is need to improve on the checks at the land borders because it is on record that majority of the smuggling takes place at the several unmanned borders across the country.