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FG farmers’ scheme fail as smuggling persists

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By Timothy Akintola

Buhari says it is unsustainable to continually spend big on food importation.

At the inception of the current administration in 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria, whilst taking measures to reduce the surging importation of agricultural products, introduced the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme to create an economic link between smallholder farmers and reliable companies that are invested in the production and processing of farm products. According to CBN, Nigeria spent $5.03 billion in importation of food in 2014 alone. Thus, the initiative was aimed at reducing the country’s foreign exchange utilization and also ensuring food sufficiency with the provision of needed incentives to farmers.

President Muhammadu Buhari, whilst speaking at the Anchors Borrowers’ Programme which doubled as the flag off of the 2015 dry season in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State, indicated his displeasure at the humongous sum of money spent on food importation that local farmers can’t easily produce, emphasizing that it was unsustainable to continually spend about N1 trillion on importing food. He in fact argued that agriculture had been the threshold of the country’s economy in the past and with the current realities in the global oil sector, he said it was only feasible to diversify.

Rice, oil and frozen foods top list of goods smuggled into the country.

Earlier this year, Dr. Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor, revealed that at least N1 trillion had been disbursed via the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme since the initiative commenced in 2015 and in two months this year, he said N12.65 billion had been granted to farmers using the same platform. Again, Emefiele also indicated that at least, 4.6 million smallholder farmers who were cultivating 21 agricultural products had directly benefitted from this scheme. He disclosed that the Apex bank also provided N23.70 billion out of the N1 trillion real sector facilities to Waugh new real sector projects in agriculture, manufacturing and other services.

However, in spite of the government’s efforts to develop the agricultural sector to increase the food production in the country, smuggling of agricultural products have surged. Documents obtained from the Nigeria Custom Service showed agricultural products such as bags of foreign rice, frozen foods and vegetable oil were top of the list of products smuggled into the country. Stakeholders have indicated their reservations at the extent of smuggling of food products being perpetrated in the country and as such, questioned the effectiveness of the anchor Borrowers’ Programme which about N1.9 trillion had been invested into over the past eight years. The Custom department blamed this on the adamance of Nigerians who have been hell bent on frustrating the progressive efforts of the government.

Insufficient local production, reason for Nigeria’s obsession with imports.

Professor Pat Utomi, a political economist, noted that the country was obsessed with importations as a result of the insufficient local production which was further propagated by the increasing insecurity and stringent governmental policies. He explained that due to the ravaging insecurity, the access to farming was immensely cumbersome, thus contributing to low farm output witnessed in the country. Also, John Udeagbala, the President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, attributed this challenge to the shortfall of the local production.

The National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, encouraged the Federal government and Customs Service to impose the death penalty on smugglers, in a bid to dissuade Nigerians from this act. He also urged the government to extend this punishment to sellers of these imported food products. He noted that if these punishments were extended to the sellers, it would restrict them from buying these products. He revealed that in the Kastina boarder to Niger Republic, numerous smugglers were importing rice via the route.

Smuggling goods through the border now more expensive than by seaport.

The Chairman of AFAN Southwest zone, Dr. Femi Oke, stated that it was paramount for the government to continually encourage farmers, in a bid to reduce this perpetration. He expressed his hope that the incoming administration will ensure these situations are normalized. However, Lasisi Fanu, the Seme Chapter Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agent, noted that due to this cumbersome process, it had become more expensive to smuggle goods through the border than through seaports.

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