Again, stakeholders in the agricultural sector have drummed up support for the Federal Government’s policies on restriction of foreign exchange to food importers and the decision to close porous borders against smuggling and illicit trading.
The Central Bank of Nigeria has been preventing official forex services for a list of about 43 items, mostly raw materials and food items, apparently to reduce pressure on the naira, prevent inflation, stabilise the exchange rate and stimulate local production.
Similarly, the partial and eventual closure of the borders have triggered local and international pressures on the government to re-open the borders, but the government has insisted, saying local production, agricultural development and economic stability are at stake if the smuggling and importation sprees continue.
The CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, fumed on Monday, expressing the readiness of the government to continue closing the borders as long as the neighbouring countries remain adamant on being used for smuggling.“We are not saying that the borders should be closed in perpetuity, but that before they can be reopened, there must be concrete engagements with countries that are involved in using their ports and their countries as landing ports for the goods that are smuggled into Nigeria.
“These engagements must be held so that we agree on the basis under which we can ascertain the kinds of products that are landed in their country and if the said products are specifically for their consumption. “But if the said products are landed in their country and transshipped into our country, then I think it is something we should not allow because it undermines our economic policy and the desire to ensure that our industries are functional so as to create more employment opportunities,” Emefiele explained on Monday.
President of the Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON), Mr Emmanuel Ibru, while explaining the long and the short-term effects of the border access restriction policy, said while in the short run, rice and poultry farmers have been feeling the impact positively in term of price stability and margin appreciation, oil palm producers have not.
However, he admitted that in the long run, and if all oil palm imports are routed through the ports with all duties accurately paid, the price of imported crude palm oil should be at per with that of locally processed one. And, if the policy survives the onslaught of pressures, he added, the long-term implication could be aggressive investments in the agro-allied sector, economic growth and development and eventual food security and prosperity through improved Gross Domestic Product (GDP.
Executive Director of the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Benin City, Edo State, Dr Celestine Ikuenobe, also backed the policies, saying though Nigerians might have to pay some price initially, the long-term economic benefits would far outnumber the temporary setbacks. Dr Ikuenobe explained that inability of the big agro-allied industry players to import raw materials would compel them to utilize the available resources to produce the materials, and in the process, create more job opportunities and trigger a kind of agro-economic revolution.
In the same vein, Professor Charles Arizechukwu Igwe, Vice Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has advocated drastic policy reformations and directions, among which are inward looking and maximization of renewable natural resources through agriculture.“The purpose of agricultural policies is the development of favourable and sustainable guidelines for the promotion of efficient agricultural practices that will guarantee food security, employment for the citizens and overall growth and development of the sector.
“It is expected therefore that agricultural policies should be able to harness the huge potential of agriculture in Nigeria in this regards,” Igwe said while delivering a lecture.Other benefits the stakeholders identified include utilization of special intervention funding such as the Anchor Borrower’s scheme.
The scheme, an initiative of the CBN, links farmers and off-takers of agricultural produce together based on mutual agreement on price of the produce, quality, quantity and input supplies. Despite various challenges associated with the scheme, the farmer is helped to secure inputs, ready markets and pre-determined prices not affected by forces of demand and supply. Part of the challenges, however, include relatively high cost of inputs and late disbursement of associated farming resources.
Chairman of Kebbi State Rice Farmers Association, Mr Suaib Augie, told The Guardian that profitability is difficult as a result of high cost of inputs from off-takers or third parties, though the scheme had empowered a good number of farmers to get back to farm.Another rice farmer and processor in Iwo, Osun State, Mr Ayoade Popoola, said as good as the scheme is, rice farmers in the zone had not benefited from it.
On this note, Mr John Olateru, chairman of the Commodity Farmers Association, Oyo State, said with the new policies, farmers in the state do hope that industrial processors would reach out to them for off-taking agreements, and assessing the various windows of agribusiness financing emplaced by the Federal Government through the CBN could become, hopefully, easier.
Shola Olunowo, Managing Director of Agropark, explained that in response to the agro-economic policies, demand for locally processed chickens had improved drastically, saying affordable financial schemes for poultry farmers would enable them to scale up production, employ more farm hands and meet up with demand to avoid demand-induced inflation.
He explained that prevention of poultry smuggling is one of the best policies to stimulate local production so far, and that sustaining such a policy is desirable if the government actually wants the economy developed through agriculture.The All Framers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) have also backed the policies, but with a caution from MAN to the government to emplace infrastructure, power generation and availability, and other enabling environments to avoid counter-productive consequences.Mr Ibrahim Kabir and Mansur Ahmed, presidents of AFAN and MAN, respectively, disclosed these to The Guardian.