FG Suspends Duty On Food Imports, Collaborates With States On Farming

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The Federal Government (FG), on Monday, announced a 150-day duty-free import window for food commodities as it stepped up efforts to tackle rising inflation which had impoverished many Nigerians.

The government also expressed its decision to collaborate with states to expand land cultivation across the country.

Consequently, the government suspended duties, tariffs and taxes for the importation of certain food commodities through land and sea borders.

Among other things, the latest directive is expected to reduce demand for forex by food importers. In 2023, Nigerians spent $2.13bn to import food items from foreign countries.

The quarterly statistics of the Central Bank of Nigeria showed that the country exported large amounts of food from foreign countries despite being touted as the food basket of Africa.

The high food import bill is a concern for the government. The country has a large agricultural sector, and there have been efforts to boost local production to reduce the dependence on food imports. However, factors such as inadequate infrastructure, insecurity, and climate change have hindered progress in the sector.

But the latest directive allowing free food imports, experts say, is a clear demonstration that the Nigerian government is yet to put the nation on the right path of eradicating hunger by 2030 as stipulated by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The government had earlier ruled out the importation of food as part of strategies to address the high costs of foodstuffs and the economic hardship troubling the country.

Speaking at the press conference held in Abuja, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, said that 150 days of duty-free imports would be valid for commodities including maize, husked brown rice, wheat, and cowpeas.

The initiative which is part of the Presidential Accelerated Stabilisation and Advancement Plan would also enable the Federal Government to import 250,000 metric tonnes of wheat and 250,000MT of maize.

It explained that the imported food commodities in their semi-processed state would target supplies to the small-scale processors and millers across the country.

Kyari said, “To ameliorate food inflation in the country caused by affordability and exacerbated by availability, the government has taken a raft of measures to be implemented over the next 180 days:

“A 150-day duty-free import window for food commodities, suspension of duties, tariffs and taxes for the importation of certain food commodities (through land and sea borders). These commodities include maize, husked brown rice, wheat and cowpeas. Under this arrangement, imported food commodities will be subjected to a Recommended Retail Price.

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“I am aware that some good citizens might be concerned about the quality of the would-be imported food commodities as it relates to the trending worries around the genetic composition of food. I am glad to reiterate that the government’s position exemplifies standards that would not compromise the safety of the various food items for consumption.”

The minister stated that in addition to the importation by the private sector, the “Federal Government will import 250,000MT of wheat and 250,000MT of maize. The imported food commodities in their semi-processed state will target supplies to the small-scale processors and millers across the country.”

Kyari explained that the advancement plan was an initiative of President Bola Tinubu to bring about food security and economic stability to Nigeria.

He noted that over the past several months, “we have all been witnesses to the escalating cost of food items in all parts of the country. There is virtually no food item that has not had its price raised to a level higher than what a good many Nigerians can afford.”

The minister stated that the affordability crisis in our food security system had been indexed by the data from the National Bureau of Statistics which by the last count, had put food inflation at 40.66 per cent.

Nigerians have battled high food prices since the president announced the removal of petrol subsidies and also floated the naira so the value of the Nigerian currency can be determined by market forces in 2023.

The policies led to an increase in the prices of basic food, with 50kg of rice increasing from about N20,000 to over N70,000 in a year.

Similarly, the rising cost of poultry products has made basic protein such as eggs unaffordable for many. An egg which was selling for N100 last year is currently sold for N200 and above, depending on its size.

The continuous increase in the prices of goods and services over the past year has made some farm owners close shops, while many farmers (both crops and livestock) have already cut down on their production amidst inflationary pressure, insecurity and extreme weather conditions ravaging rural communities.

“We have heard the cries of Nigeria over the prices of food items and condiments, with some now describing tomato as gold and proposing a variety of recipes to prepare soups and dishes with some of the overly priced food items.

“What in the past was regarded as common items such as yam, plantain, and potato now command excessively high figures and Nigerians are right to wonder how and why things are the way they are.

“As a government under the leadership of President Tinubu, members of the Federal Executive Council and indeed all other operatives in the MDAs are fully aware of the hardship occasioned by the high cost of food items in our country. There is no doubt that food inflation is a direct consequence of several factors,” Kyari stated.

He said agricultural production activities had been hampered in some parts of the country by several factors resulting in the inability of smallholder farmers to contribute optimally to the country’s food basket.

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This, he said, had opened a new dimension to the food challenge from affordability to availability of sufficient food commodities.

“As you may recall, earlier in the year, there were several interventions by the Federal Government to make food available and to dampen their prices. Those interventions include the release of 42,000MT of assorted food commodities from the National Strategic Food Reserve, 58,500MT purchase of milled rice from the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria and an additional 30,000MT of rice.

“Regrettably, prices have continued to escalate, and in some cases these days, food items are becoming unavailable. The Government cannot allow this situation to persist. While there are ongoing agricultural initiatives, programmes and projects under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, and state governments also have theirs, we must respond to the creeping availability crisis,” he said.

“As the government continues to encourage agricultural production on a sustainable and profitable basis for farmers, the time lag between cultivation and harvest makes it inevitable for the government to kick in stop-gap measures that will bring tremendous relief to Nigerians.

“For instance, harvest for 2024 wet season farming will not be due until October-November. On the one hand, while the measures aim to alleviate immediate food shortages, we will strengthen domestic production capabilities to enhance long-term food security,” the minister added.

Kyari pointed out that the causative factors in the country’s food inflation figures include infrastructural challenges, multiple taxes and levies, and the sheer profiteering by marketers and traders.

Speaking further, the minister added that the government would collaborate with state governments to identify irrigable lands and increase land under cultivation.

The government further pledged to ramp up production for the 2024/2025 farming cycle, through, “Sustained support to smallholder farmers in the ongoing wet season farming through existing government initiatives, strengthen and accelerate Dry Season Farming across the country.

“Embark on aggressive agricultural mechanization and development to reduce drudgery, drive, reduce the cost of production and boost productivity, collaborate with Sub-National to identify irrigable lands and increase land under cultivation and work closely with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and Sanitation to rehabilitate and maintain irrigation facilities under river basin authorities across the federation.

“Development of a strategic engagement for youth and women across the federation for immediate greenhouse cultivation of horticultural crops such as tomatoes and pepper to increase production volume, stabilize prices, and address food shortages.

“Fast-tracking ongoing engagements with the Nigerian Military to rapidly cultivate arable lands under the Defence Farms Scheme, while encouraging other Para-Military establishments to put secured available arable lands to cultivation.”

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