President Muhammadu Buhari: SSSN describes his order on food importation as “a right policy, right timing but wrong approach’’

Prof. Bashir Raji, the President of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria (SSSN) has reacted to the recent pronouncement of President Muhammadu Buhari, that Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should not to give “a cent’’ to importation of food.

Raji described the move as “a right policy, right timing but wrong approach’’.

Buhari had on Tuesday in Daura, Katsina State, directed the CBN to stop providing foreign exchange for importation of food into the country with the steady improvement in agricultural production and attainment of full food security.

He said the foreign reserve would be conserved and utilised strictly for diversification of the economy, and not for encouraging more dependence on foreign food import bills.

Buhari noted that the country had achieved food security, and for physical security “we are not doing badly’’.

Raji, who emphasised that the policy would be good if properly articulated, however, advised that the president should put into consideration the nation’s food production as well as consumption.

The don specifically noted that the country required about eight million tonnes of rice annually, adding that “currently the country is producing just about 3.7million tonnes’’.

Raji decried that the country was not meeting up to 50 percent of its needs.

“With the outright ban there is no way the country can meet up with the required 50 percent in one year,’’ he said.

He suggested that the Federal Government embark on the ban gradually over the next five years putting in place incentives and measurable targets to ensure that the 50 percent shortfall was met during the period.

“But now the way we are going, definitely there will be a lot of inflation, there will be high prices and considering the economy at the moment a lot of people will suffer.

“The president must have been fed the impression that because of the drop in the importation of rice through our ports, the rice we consumed in this country is produced locally which is not true.

“There is a lot of increase in the production of rice locally but there has been increasing smuggling from neighbouring countries which eventually ends up in Nigeria to complement what is produced locally.

“The policy if properly articulated will be beneficial on the long run but is quite clear that we still rely a lot on importation of food and outright banning is likely to bring about inflation.

“It will also bring about pressure on the black or parallel foreign exchange market and high cost of food, especially rice.

“We don’t import yam, we don’t import cassava, beans and we don’t actually import most of our staple food; the ones we import are basically rice maybe wheat, milk, sugar and some of the exotic foods.

“Unless we can produce one and a half times what we required, it will not be a good decision to ban outright importation of food, especially now that a lot of people are suffering economically,” Raji said.

The SSSN president decried that a lot of populace were currently not eating local rice as it ought to be due to series of complaints.

He advised the Federal Government to give incentives in terms of free seeds of the varieties to enable people to eat locally produced rice.

Raji urged the government to consider issues regarding production and processing by buying some of these medium-scale processing mills and giving them to cooperative farmers at 50 percent discount.

“Government should give incentives in terms of input and processing so that the rice can meet the standard required by the people.

“Such incentives will go a long way in assisting the country to meet the required target of rice production and consumption in the next five years before banning importation,” he said.

Raji pledged the readiness of the society to work with the Federal Government to ensure that land degradation and climate change mitigation safeguards were put in place following the envisaged massive farming activities the policy might generate.