Farmers, experts rumble over Buhari’s decision on forex for food

Bags of grains at Mutum Biyu Grains Market in Taraba State
Bags of grains at Mutum Biyu Grains Market in Taraba State

A few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari sparked mixed reaction when he told dignitaries that visited him for Sallah that he has directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to stop giving forex for food importation.

Daily Trust on Sunday found out that the decision is also generating mixed feelings even among the key stakeholders in the country’s agricultural sector as Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad, National President, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN) said he was surprised when he heard the news.

“Surprised in the sense that I don’t know how the consultation was made before that decision was taken since I am not part of the government. But, by the way, before that decision is taken, there is a need for a roundtable meeting with all the stakeholders to ascertain critically and determine the position of agricultural development in the country.

“Secondly, there are crops in the country that the decision is definitely going to affect. Especially owners of the wheat crop. Our output production of wheat in Nigeria is very poor. Our accessibility to the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme for wheat is very low and the institutes that have the mandate to produce seeds for us are not funded well to produce the much-needed seeds we are looking for. So you see, with these critical issues on ground, consultation with stakeholders will ascertain the situation.

“It will be a good decision if all the issues bedeviling agriculture in this country has been put on deck to ascertain the way forward, project the years that we are supposed to ban the importation of such materials,” he said.

Alhaji Muhammad further stressed that such a policy could work in a situation like rice where there has been great success adding that “but in wheat, we need to have more consultation before such a decision is taken otherwise, this action may lead to a food crisis in this country if care is not taken”

However, Architect Kabiru Ibrahim, the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) thinks differently.

He believes the directive from the president was desirable and welcomed adding that it will ensure the marketability of our products because most of these produce are produced by our farmers but they are competing unnecessarily with imported ones.

The AFAN president added that the policy will make many producers to produce more to fill the gap.

Architect Ibrahim, however, wants the government to deal decisively with smuggling activities which he said is inimical to the state and “creates an unnecessary imbalance in the food system” because some people are laboring hard to produce and you are now giving them unnecessary competition.”

The AFAN president, Architect Ibrahim, suggested that the Nigerian Customs Service be more empowered in this regard by making smuggling a severe offense deserving of an equally severe punishment, as is done in countries such as Saudi Arabia and China.

He stated that the opponent’s views are not well-thought-out because every country does what he called “limited protectionism,” noting that “as the president of farmers, I welcome that decision.”

As the way forward, he wants the CBN to enlarge its window to help develop marketing networks for the farmers beside the ABP.

Professor Victor O.  Okoruwa is an expert in Agricultural Policy, Production Economics and Quantitative Method/Analysis at the University of Ibadan, Oyo state.

In an interview with Daily Trust on Thursday, he described the decision as “good and bad.”

According to him, the directive will be good if it involves those products in which the nation has a comparative advantage because of the cost of production of such products might be so exorbitant in Nigeria in view of the need to import tools or the machinery to produce such crops warning that “their prices will swell so high and besides you can’t export them.”

The Don said for the products we consume like rice which the country produces relatively well and having comparative advantage such the restriction is necessary since the nation now has good equipment for processing  good quality rice “even though it is still expensive but we are better off – it is better not to support importation again because we are faring well.”

Professor Okoruwa, however, seeks answers to many questions regarding the situation. He said,  “All these somersaulting policies that we come across all of a sudden. First I asked: how did they come about this? Which study was carried out? There is no minister of agriculture yet to tell us what is going on and the reason for such. You just make policies out of the blues. There are no facts and figures telling us what is going on and I can tell you, yes you say this one now, in another few months, we will still be in the same status quo

“My worry is that why do we make policies without proper analysis, facts and figures that we can now put in place for a time frame. We have to be strategic to be able to say that at this instance, we will go by this, but at so and so time, we are going to stop this because we would have attained this.

“The bottom line is that, did we do the proper analysis? Where are the fact and figures that are telling us that we should go this way now and what is the time frame that you have put in place?” He asked.

Although many economic experts think that the directive has wider implication for the country in view of the fact the country is not self-sufficient in most of its food crop production but is doing better in rice and maize.

Although, many other farmers believe the policy is an opportunity to scale up backward integration.

Even at that, experts say it should be gradual in order not to create a crisis in the production of crops we are not doing well at, like wheat which can spike hike in bread prices and other households consumable.

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