THE waivers recently granted by the Central Bank of Nigeria to four companies to import 262,000 metric tonnes of maize cast a pall over efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in the staple and continue the predilection of the government for policy violations. In a move that caught farmers and the business community unawares, the CBN not only interrupted a subsisting ban on maize imports but also committed to selling foreign exchange at a discounted rate to the four lucky firms who are to enjoy the privilege for three months — August to October. This is wrong-headed.
A purpose-driven policy should not be bent at the first sign of trouble: long-term benefits to the economy should be the guide. The CBN fails to understand that shocks and shortfalls enable countries to adapt, surmount adversity and fashion lasting solutions to problems. The apex bank should critically weigh the fleeting rewards against the ultimate goal of achieving self-sufficiency in maize and other staples.
Blessed with arable land of over 34,000 hectares that support a diversity of food and cash crops, Nigeria should have no business being dependent on food imports. Food imports cost $4.1 billion in 2017, said the National Bureau of Statistics, down from the CBN’s figure of $7.9 billion in 2015. Food security is vital for any country’s development, says the United Nations Committee on Food Security, where “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” To arrest rising poverty and joblessness, the federal and state governments must therefore invest massively in agriculture.
The resort to waivers and concessions to import maize is embarrassing and confirms the country’s notoriety for spending prodigiously importing products in which it is richly endowed. Nigeria overtook South Africa as the continent’s largest producer of maize, said the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, harvesting 16 percent of Africa’s 75 million tons in 2018. It was listed at 12th largest global producer in 2018. The CBN had only in July stopped approving forex sales for the import of maize in line with policies to increase local production, stimulate recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced meltdown, conserve reserves and boost support jobs. Since 2016, the CBN had also imposed direct forex sales on 41 items, while imports of rice, wheat and cassava had been similarly restricted. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has also restated his opposition to food imports and ordered the release of 30,000MT of maize from the Strategic Grains Reserve.
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