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Much Ado about maize importation

There have recently been accusations and counter accusations about maize importation into the country by some private companies. While many believe that such importation will kill efforts to grow the grains locally, many others, especially those in the poultry sector, believe the importation earlier this year actually saved the industry from collapsing.

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Farmers in the country, through their President, Kabiru Ibrahim, observed that importation of maize would crash its price and discourage its cultivation by local farmers.

Poultry farmers said prior to the importation, the price of the grain, which is one of the major raw materials for poultry feed, was so high that many of them could not afford.

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The Ogun State Chairperson of poultry farmers, Blessing Isioma Alawode, said the survival of the poultry industry today was as a result of maize importation by some companies.

Recently, Nigeria’s maize harvest was blighted by diseases, which resulted in a significant supply gap for poultry feed as white maize was prioritised for human consumption. Poultry farmers were then faced with sudden inflation, which meant a huge financial impact on them.

As a means of survival, several key players in the poultry feed subsector began to import maize from USA, Argentina, Brazil and Ukraine, apparently to bridge the gap.

However, local farmers have dismissed this theory and accused some companies of championing the importation of the grain into the country, which they said led to the crash of price of maize thereby affecting local production.

There have been allegations among farmers and other stakeholders in the country that Olam Nigeria, Walcott, Premier Feed, Dangote, CFM and Fejudam have been at one time or the other involved in the importation of maize.

Most of the importation were said to have been carried out between June and August this year.

A document seen by this reporter shows that about 504, 406 metric tonnes of maize were imported by the said companies between June 15, 2017 and August 29, 2017.

Even though the companies alleged to have been involved in the importation are yet to either deny or accept their role in the exercise, and in fairness to them, there is no existing law in the country banning the importation of maize.

In an interview with Daily Trust recently, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said as of today, there was no law banning importation of maize.

He, however, said the ministry would continue to liaise with those involved in the importation to make them see reason why their actions could kill local farmers.

He said if importation of the grain continued, the price of maize would drastically reduce and this would discourage local farmers from further production and would definitely dash the nation’s hope for self-sufficiency in maize production.

Some observers, however, believe that government needs to come out and make a statement on the issue.

Mr. Jayeiola Damola, a public affairs analyst, believes that local maize farmers seem not to have the capacity to produce enough of the grains for local consumption, as well as for the poultry industry.

He said this informed the recent scarcity of the grain in the market before the importation as the ones produced locally were not enough for poultry feed production nationwide.

He said this affected the poultry farms as owners, especially the small scale ones, could hardly afford the price, adding that some of them folded up during the period.

“Let me tell you the truth, everyone is just mentioning Olam in the importation, many other companies are involved, including Dangote. However, the truth is that the intervention is needed at present because we don’t have the capacity to produce enough for the growing poultry industry,’’ he said.

Mr. Mathew Ajayi, a poultry farmer, reminded Nigerians that maize production was not for direct consumption only, but for animal feed as well.

“You see, what happens in the maize value chain greatly affects the poultry industry; so the issue must be handled carefully,” he said.

Another pertinent issue recently raised by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) is that some of this companies are importing Genetically Modified (GM) maize which many fear is dangerous for human consumption.

However, some of the companies involved in the importation have insisted that consumption of GM yellow maize for animal feed in developed markets like the United States is a norm rather than an exception and that its importation for the animal feed industry was not new to Nigeria either and that it had been a practice for other domestic players in the agribusiness over the years.

 While it is important for the NBMA to adequately monitor the movement of GM crops into the country, it is rather unfortunate that NBMA is not visible among the agencies listed for regulatory approvals for trade.

Some agencies in the list include the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Ministry of Finance and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Others are the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, the National Environmental Standard and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and the Raw Materials Research Development Council (RMRDC).

However, experts believe that while the GM yellow corn finds utility in the animal feed segment, white maize is predominantly used for human consumption and thus that the GM white maize should not be allowed into the country.

A source in Olam Nigeria, one of the companies mentioned in the importation, did not deny the maize importation allegation but said it was done alongside other players in the industry to avert potential crisis in the feed production industry.

The source said Olam Nigeria hoped that local maize crop in future would be sufficient to meet the Nigerian requirement for both human and animal needs thus eliminating the need for further imports.

 

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