Mixed reactions trail Buhari’s directive on forex restriction for food importation

Stakeholders in the agricultural sector have expressed mixed feelings over the order given to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by President Muhammadu Buhari to halt forex for food importation.

Some stakeholders, while commending the President, said the move could encourage local production at the long run but could have some negative effect on the economy immediately.

Recall that in a statement signed by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Buhari said the restriction on forex for food importation became necessary following the steady improvement in agricultural production.

Meanwhile, some stakeholders said though the directive would strengthen the economy, but there is a need to improve and invest in local industries in order to satisfy local demands.

The Chairman, Harvest Feeds Agro-Processing, Goke Adeyemi while lauding the Presidential directive, urged the government to strengthen local industries in order to satisfy domestic demand.

“For me, I think it’s a good directive, our President has taken a very good step which will encourage our food security program in Nigeria, but going beyond that, we need to increase our local industries to process the agricultural produce into intermediate and final products.

“There are still some aspect of that we need to work on, the Presidential directive is good, but the next step should be to stimulate, encourage and accelerate local industries to process agricultural produce into intermediate and final product that will be consumed by Nigerians a d even exported to other parts of Africa,” Adeyemi said.

Also, the National Chairman, National Association of Grain Storage Practitioners of Nigeria, Chief Eric Ozongwu said the President acted rightly by issuing such directive.

He, however, cautioned that this move may lead to massive smuggling of food through the land porous borders. He also said at the immediate enforcement of the directive, the Naira may witness a drastic drop below the dollars.

“It is a good development, but the fact remains that it has to be gradual because the importer will now leverage on the fact that our borders are porous, what will not come in through the normal border will now come through the illegal borders.

“It will also affect the demand on forex in the black market, and it may cause the shooting up of dollars against the Naira.

“But in the long run, it will be something good because we have what it takes to produce what we eat, but for the fact is that our people don’t show much interest in agriculture,” Chief Ozongwu noted.

Another stakeholder in agriculture mechanisation, Mrs Patience Yusuf, said before the President would give such directive, infrastructure should be put in place to assist local production.

She maintained that Nigeria has enough infrastructure deficit, hence it shouldn’t consider restricting forex for food importation.

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“For a President to make that kind of statement is not good, before you come out to say this, you have to have a stakeholders meeting with all sectors, with farmers inclusive, the industries.

“Assuming we have enough food, there must be infrastructure for sustainability, I think we should focus more on having good roads, good transport systems in places that when the farmers harvest, they can easily transport them to the market.

“Most of our problem is not just productivity, but post-harvest losses which account for up to 50 per cent of what we produce.

“So, if we have a good road network, it will help us to maintain the little that we have.

“Especially when it comes to vegetables, they are highly perishable, if you move them from one place to another, more than half of them will spoil,” she said.

Furthermore, Mrs Yusuf said the creation of cottage industries that would produce locally and also preserve agricultural produce produced locally. Also, the power supply should be improved around the industries in order to reduce the cost of running the business.

“Our problem is to create industries that would actually work to preserve some of these vegetables because when the hot season comes, the rain goes, it will be difficult for you to find fresh vegetables.

“So we need electricity to preserve the vegetables, and also have these cottage and food processing industries working.

“For now, because of lack of electricity, it is very capital intensive operate a small cottage industry because of the money you will spend on diesel.

“If we have constant power supply, many people will step out to sit up these industries and manage them because of the cost-effectiveness. Let’s just have the basic infrastructure in place,” she noted.

However, the President, National Association of Yam Farmers, Processors and Marketers, Professor Simon Irtwange while noting that the country has not been able to catch up with the local demand, said importation has been used to supplement the demand gap which the government need to do more to meet up with the demand.

He said: “I think the policy has to very clear, if the government is saying people should source for their own forex or completely stop forex, I think it will drive up the cost of foreign food, but that does not mean that the cost of locally produced food will come down.

“The policy should be formed by the virtue of careful study so that we can design plans enough local production to meet up with what the country demand.

“I think the need to plan this properly, here is a need for this sector to be properly positioned to play its role as one of the major income earners in the country,” he added.