HEADLINE | Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2024

FG opts for duty-free imports of rice, wheat, beans, others

By Yinka Kolawole & Gabriel Ewepu

ABUJA—The Federal Government is planning to suspend duties, tariffs, and taxes on some essential food items imported through land and sea borders.

Vanguard gathered yesterday that the decision was informed by the need to bring down the cost of food items which have hit the roof, making life unbearable for Nigerians.

Consequently, the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture, NACCIMA, and Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprises, CPPE, in a swift reaction, lauded the government’s decision, saying it would have a positive impact on inflation.

A source also said the listed food items, which include maize, wheat, husked brown rice, and cowpeas, would enjoy a 150-day duty-free import window.

The source said the government recognised the fact that the prices of food items have over the past several months increased in all parts of the country, making life difficult for the people.

‘’The affordability crisis in our food security system has been indexed by the data from the National Bureau of Statistics which by the last count, had put food inflation at 40.66%.

‘’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 were 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 Bola 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,’’ the source said.

According to the source, ‘’There is no doubt that food inflation is a direct consequence of a number of factors. Agricultural production activities have been hampered in some parts of the country by a number of factors resultingb in the inability of smallholder farmers to contribute optimally to the country’s food basket.

‘’This has 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 a number of 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 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.

‘’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.’’

Vanguard further gathered that the difficulty caused by the increasing cost of food items informed the reason President Tinubu constituted the President constituted the Presidential Economic Coordination Council, PECC, in March 2024, under which the Economic Management Team, EMT, recently presented to the President an Accelerated Stabilization and Advancement Plan.

Sources said further that a N2trillion package was recently approved ‘to be spent on actualizing the Accelerated Stabilization and Advancement Plan of which Agriculture is a key focused sector.

‘’The EMT has been meeting day and night working out the best modalities to achieve the best results for Nigerians.

‘’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: They include 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 (RRP).

‘’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.

‘’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.

‘’Engage relevant stakeholders to set a Guaranteed Minimum Price, GMP, and mop up surplus assorted food commodities to restock the National Strategic Food Reserve; Continuous ramp-up production for the 2024/2025 farming cycle; 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 down the cost of production and boost productivity; collaborate with sub-national to identify irrigable lands and increase land under cultivation.

‘’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 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.

‘’The Renewed Hope National Livestock Transformation Implementation Committee will be inaugurated on Tuesday, July 9, 2024, with a view to developing and implementing policies that prioritize livestock development and ensure alignment with the National Livestock Transformation Plan.

‘’Enhancement of Nutrition Security through the promotion of production of fortified food commodities and offer necessary support to scale up the Home Garden Initiative by the Office of The First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

‘’Over the next 14 days, in close collaboration with the Presidential Food Systems Coordinating Unit, PFSCU, and the Economic Management Team, EMT, we will convene with the respective agencies to finalize the implementation frameworks.

‘’We will ensure that information is publicly available to facilitate the participation of all relevant stakeholders across the country. The PFSCU will manage a dashboard for Mr. President, providing him with direct visibility into these interventions and ensuring accountability.

‘’The success of the measures aforementioned, is contingent on the cooperation and collaboration of all relevant MDAs and stakeholders. As our nation confronts a critical food security challenge, let me reiterate Mr. President’s unwavering commitment to attaining food security and ensuring that no Nigerian goes to bed hungry.

‘’To this end, I can assure all Nigerians, that my team and I, will swiftly and diligently actualize these crucial policies to ensure food security for everyone in the country in the immediate term as we also continue our strategies for long term interventions to address the underlying causes and ensure sustainable and resilient food systems in the country,’’ the source said.

NACCIMA hails FG’s decision

Reacting to the development, the National President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture, NACCIMA, Dele Oye, commended the Federal Government’s decision to suspend duties, tariffs, and taxes on the importation of key food commodities.

Oye said in a statement that the decision represented a significant step towards mitigating the severe food inflation currently impacting Nigerian households.

The NACCIMA President also applauded the 150-day duty-free import window for essential items such as maize, husked brown rice, wheat, and cowpeas, describing it as a commendable move that would stabilize food prices and provide much-needed relief to millions of Nigerians.

The statement read: “On behalf of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture, NACCIMA, we commend the federal government’s decisive action to suspend duties, tariffs, and taxes on the importation of key food commodities.

“This initiative represents a significant step towards mitigating the severe food inflation currently impacting Nigerian households.

“The 150-day duty-free import window for essential items such as maize, husked brown rice, wheat, and cowpeas is a commendable move that will likely stabilize food prices and provide much-needed relief to millions of Nigerians.

“By addressing the multiple factors contributing to rising food prices, including infrastructural challenges and market profiteering, this policy demonstrates a comprehensive approach to ensuring food affordability.”

Reiterating the need for stakeholders’ engagement, Oye said: “However, while we applaud these measures, it is imperative that the government immediately engages with stakeholders across the agricultural value chain.

“This engagement is crucial to ensure that Nigeria is not turned into a dumping ground for commodities where we already have reasonable self-sufficiency. Protecting local investments and sustaining the growth of our agricultural sector must remain a priority.

“NACCIMA stands ready to support the government in these efforts, ensuring that the strategic importation of food commodities complements rather than undermines our domestic agricultural production.

‘’Together, we can secure a balanced approach that safeguards both the immediate needs of our citizens and the long-term sustainability of our agricultural economy.”

CPPE reacts

Also reacting last night, the Director-General, Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprise, CPPE, Muda Yusuf, said: ‘’Food inflation, at over 40%, is perhaps the biggest challenge the country is currently faced with, especially from a social perspective.

‘’The implications of surging prices of food are quite scary. It is an emergency situation which demands an emergency response.

‘’It is in this context that I will agree with the decision of government to explore the trade policy option to tackle the problem.

‘’In my view, it is a step in the right direction. This, of course, is without prejudice to current efforts to boost domestic food production.’’

Farmer, ActionAid boss react

More Stakeholders in the agricultural sector have expressed mixed reactions to the Federal Government’s decision to remove tariffs on rice, maize, and others.

Speaking with Vanguard, Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Andrew Mamedu, said the tariff removal was needed at this point because there is serious hunger in the land.

Andrew said: “There are implications of the removal of tariffs on maize, rice and others, there is a need to do that. But it is the tip of the iceberg, the price will not crash because you removed the tariff.

“You need to encourage the small scale farmers, address the high cost of transportation, also eliminate the middlemen factor, and the coat of food will reduce.”

Chief Executive Officer, CEO, EA Daniels Farm, Sapele, Delta State, Engr. Daniel Ijeh said: “The removal might benefit people in the short term but local producers should be encouraged, if not, it will affect local farmers because the importation is coming from big farms.

“The farmers in Nigeria should be protected. The future of Nigerians need be put into consideration.

“Government should incentivised local production as the tariff is removed. They should also not allow the importation for too long.”

Also, Philip Jakpor said: “It is important to remove tarrif due to hunger in the land and because of flood and insecurity.

“There will be cheaper food, that is what Nigerians need it at this time. But let us see how government will implement it.”



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