Upon all the government’s talk of having given priority status to agriculture as a means of creating jobs and diversifying the economy, which it touts as one of its cardinal achievements, Nigerian farmers are in now in quandary over the report that some companies were given approval to import maize, which will invariably crash its price in the country.
Katsina State Governor Aminu Bello Masari and Senator Muhammad Adamu Aliero recently raised the alarm that a ship laden with 50,000 tonnes of maize had recently berthed in Nigerian ports. They blamed Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun and Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh for granting licence to importers to bring in maize from Brazil. They made the accusation in Kebbi State during the All Progressives Congress [APC] governors’ working visit to the state led by Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha.
Aliero, a former governor of Kebbi State said, “We have it from a reliable authority that your ministries issued the licences to them. This will not help our local farmers. We have agreed that there should not be importation of any grain into the country.” The ministers two however denied the allegation. While Ogbeh said his ministry didn’t know anything about it and that it was the responsibility of the Customs to stop them, Adeosun said she didn’t know anything about it either.
Nigeria Customs Service [NCS] however confirmed that some companies often make bulk importation of maize and the service ensures it collects five percent as the duty rate. It said maize and other grains are not on the import prohibition list or even among the 41 items that the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] denied access to forex from official sources. It is also gathered that the maize imports are mostly for industrial use, which has been coming through the sea in large quantities like other grains.
Nevertheless, Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh who raised alarm over the imminent shortage of maize following invasion of armyworm disease ravaging maize farms across the country some weeks ago, said the infestation made it difficult to meet local demand of 15.5million metric tonnes of the crop. The current production stands at 10.5million tonnes, leaving a deficit of 5million tonnes. The Buhari administration has set a production target of 20 million metric tonnes from the local requirement of 15.5 million tonnes.
National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Kabiru Ibrahim, an architect, said the implication for farmers would be enormous. He said the goal of the government was to discourage the importation of whatever can be produced in Nigeria. Presently a bag of 100kg of maize sells for N15,000 to N19,000 in various markets in the country. First of all there is a disconnect between the various government organs concerned. It does not project the government working in harmony that the ministers of Finance and Agriculture would claim ignorance of such an important issue that naturally they should be aware of.
Furthermore, the fear of farmers should be addressed by establishing marketing boards to stabilise the price of grains. The silos should also be put to use by storing the grains for future use, not to make them another ‘abandoned projects’ littering our landscape. This support would encourage them to work harder and produce more. But the moment the price of their produce crashed with no way to recoup their expenses, they would abandon it which would be detrimental to the government that is aggressively pushing people into farming.
Therefore the country should do all it could to discourage importation by putting higher tariff, but it has to be able to fill the gap of the deficit as well. We believe the government can do this with commitment, because maize is an upland crop that can grow anywhere and doesn’t have special requirements as rice does, for example.