Farmers, agribusiness men say forex exclusion list still driving agric | The Guardian
Govt snobs Norwegian Seafood Council’s call for import
Agricultural stakeholders have said despite some accompanying challenges, restricted access to forex for a list of food-related items importation is still a factor driving agriculture in the country, saving jobs and preventing capital flights.
Some experts said the policy has forced farmers and agri-business men to intensify backward integration projects, where local cultivation of raw materials is encouraged as it becomes increasingly difficult to import food and food raw materials.
Though some argued that the policy has fueled food inflation, its advantages are unfolding in terms of grain production, such as rice and maize, among others.
The apex bank has continued to sustain the policy despite complaints and pressures to review the list, and this is believed to have contributed meaningfully to the agricultural sector.
The National President, Potato Farmers Association of Nigeria, Dan Okafor, said: “It is true that the forex restrictions contribute to food production in Nigeria.”
The Governor of the CBN, Godwin Emefiele, consistently defends the restriction of foreign exchange access to more than 41 import items. Although he admits the policy is restrictive of trade, it is necessary to protect the economy from the importation of items that could dampen the local production and economic growth.
According to him, the implementation of forex policy on certain items had led to improvements in the domestic production of those items and a reduction in Nigeria’s import bill.
The forex-restricted items prohibition list includes rice, cement, margarine, palm kernel, palm oil products, vegetable oils, meat and processed meat products, vegetables and processed vegetable products.
Others are poultry, including chicken, eggs, turkey, private airplanes/jets, Indian incense, tinned fish in sauce (sardines), cold rolled steel sheets, roofing sheets, wheelbarrows, head pans, metal boxes and containers, enamelware, steel drums, steel pipes, wire rods (deformed and not deformed), iron rods and reinforcing bars, wire mesh, steel nails, security and razor wire, wood particle boards and panels, wood fiber boards and panels and wooden doors.
Supporting the policy, the National President, Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), Dr Momoh Mustapha, said: “The position of the government is a good step in the right direction.”
He added: “Any nation that continues to import is empowering other nations. We must encourage local production and create jobs for our people. That’s the way to go,” he explained.
Similarly, the apex bank has refused to lift the ban on foreign exchange for importation of stockfish heads despite several complaints and appeal by Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC).
It was gathered that the stakeholders had been mounting pressure that CBN should lift the ban on forex for importation of stockfish heads into Nigeria since February, 2021, but the apex bank has refused to yield its position.
According to NSC Director, Africa, Mr Trond Kostveit, notwithstanding the CBN’s reluctance, the value of the seafood imported from Norway to Nigeria was 40,000 metric tonnes valued at N41.3 billion ($75 million), noting that the dominating products were stockfish, stockfish heads, herring and mackerel.
However, the Fisheries Consultant to NSC in Nigeria and a former Deputy Director in the Federal Department of Fisheries, Ms Abbey Cheke, asked relevant authorities to stop listing stockfish as animal feeds, stressing that apart from its nutritional value, stockfish does not compete with any fishing process in Nigeria. She noted that stockfish and stockfish heads were processed from the finest of codfish, which could only be found in the coldest of waters and could never be produced in Nigerian water.
On his part, the Royal Norwegian Ambassador, Knut Eiliv Lein, assured the stakeholders of partnering with Nigeria in the areas of making stockfish cheaper for the populace, pleading with the Federal Government of Nigeria to allow forex access for stockfish importation.
The Chairman, Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Imo State chapter and National Public Relations Officer, CAFFAN, Uchegbu Chijioke Nicholas, said: “If the government should give a verifiable support to local fish farmers in Nigeria, I will support the policy, but if it is to promote maximum beef consumption, I will advise them to liberalise the market.”
MEANWHILE, the Federal Government spent $1.68bn on food importation from January to September last year.The bank disclosed this in a report on sectoral utilisation of foreign exchange for the third quarter of 2021.
According to the CBN, the government spent $163.60m, $197.73m, and $171.05m in January, February and March, respectively, while $156.30m, $135.72m and $213.58m were spent in April May and June, respectively.
The report revealed that $184.69m, 188.88m and 271.59m were spent in July, August and September, respectively.
During a Bankers’ Committee retreat in Lagos recently, Emefiele said Nigeria could produce enough to feed its citizens, saying the government was ensuring the diversification of the economy.
“We believe that Nigeria can feed itself; Nigeria can produce what to eat. Everything needs to be done for us to move away from a situation where everything is imported.
“We need to get to a stage where we bring our manufacturing industries back to life again. For us to say that there is sustainable, inclusive growth in the country, we, as banks, working with the government, must do everything possible to diversify the Nigerian economy,” he had said.