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Stakeholders weigh options of maize importation ban

The recent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy excluding maize from the list of commodities eligible to obtain foreign exchange was the subject of a virtual discussion among a group of stakeholders, who explored challenges related to the fresh procedure.

Godwin Emefiele
Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)

At a webinar titled “Nigeria’s Ban on Maize Importation: Sustaining Productivity, Backward Integration and the Way Forward” and held on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 at the instance of Wandieville Media, experts from different segments of the value chain attempted to discuss the new policy, seed production, opportunities therein and sought to chart a way forward.

The panelists for the session were Mr. Elenwor Ihua, Deputy Director, Development Finance at Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Team Lead of the CBN Maize Initiative; Mr. Folarin Okelola, Technical Advisor to the Director General of the National Agriculture Seed Council (NASC), representing Dr. Philip Olusegun Ojo, DG, NASC; Mr. Olumide Ibikunle, Commercial Lead, Corteva  Agriscience Seeds, West & Central Africa; Dr. Loretta Balogun, CEO, LoryB & DP Ventures Limited; Mr. Ayodeji Balogun, CEO AFEX Commodities Exchange; Mr. Akinyinka Akintunde, Vice President, Financial Market, AFEX Commodities Exchange; Dr. Bello Abubakar, National President, Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN); and Wandie Kazeem, CEO, Wandieville Media, who moderated of the discussion.

Mr. Elenwor stated that the intention of the policy is to ensure that smallholder farmers are productive and able to get value for their labour.

He explained that Nigeria has the capacity to meet the local demand for maize and the policy was more of a commitment to ensure that the country harnesses its capacity to supply the required quantity of maize.

He said: “We felt Nigeria has the capacity to meet the demand; the smallholder farmers were having the rough end of the stick. We had to reduce use of scarce foreign exchange to import what we can produce. We need to look at a backward integration strategy on how we can produce maize in-house.”

Mr. Okelola, on his part, said that the basis for success in the intervention is to deploy quality seeds, improved technology, hybridisation, and parental materials.

He said that the decision of the CBN is well intended but he suggested that authorisation on the importation of parental materials would be pivotal to the success of the intervention pending when a Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Law is passed.

He solicited the support of stakeholders which include the CBN, PAN, MAAN, etc. to help pass the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Law to ensure that certified seeds are supplied to farmers.

“We need to have a common portal for agencies that deal with seed importation,” he said.

Mr. Ibikunle, however, emphasised that despite the available vast land for cultivation, gaps in the system must be identified and addressed promptly.

According to him, the importation of parent seeds must be authorised for a short period of time to build a more resilient structure to achieve the intended success of the intervention.

He noted: “We need to still bring in the stakeholders and come together to find the gap…we have land but we don’t have the genetics, the seed we produce is just a third of what we need.”

He explained that an enabling environment has to be created for smallholder farmers to get the reward of their labour and this includes the development of appropriate infrastructure such as good roads for transportation of maize produce from the farm to processing companies.

Dr. Balogun stated that the policy is commendable but ill-timed with the current trends militating against food security such as the COVID-19 pandemic and unpredictable weather conditions.

She suggested that the intervention should be properly phased, planned and worked on to achieve the intended goal.

She noted: “The policy compounded the problem and made prices go off the roof completely. Stopping something in the middle of an already difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, unpredictable weather patterns and already high price as at July 13, 2020 when the policy was announced makes everything difficult.”

But Mr. Akintunde commended the intervention of the CBN as, according to him, it benefits the country from a macroeconomic standpoint, and it ensures capacity development of the smallholder farmers.

His words: “The CBN has provided a framework for all the value chain to be taken care of  right from the input phase, providing access to finance for smallholder farmers via the initiatives that have been put in place. If we do not have this intervention in place in a timely manner, there’s no way we can lay the foundation for increased production on the smallholder farmers’ part.”

According to Mr. Ayodeji Balogun, the sector has potentials that can be harnessed in the next few years.

He added: “It is the first time I have seen a double-sided intervention in the value chain. When the CBN as well as other regulators are saying. Let us have a double-sided intervention, supporting the supply and demand side simultaneously with access to credit, to high variety, access to the agronomy, building an organized market for the sector.”

He described the development as “the way to ensure food security in the country”.

Ms. Kazeem emphasised “that this is an opportunity for investors to put in resources to address issues regarding post-harvest losses and other challenges in various segments along the value chain to make the intervention a success”.

The policy benefits the smallholder farmer, Dr. Abubakar explained, even as he informed attendees on some farmers’ resolution to switch from the production of other crops to maize.

According to him, the policy will lead to the creation of job opportunities in all segments across the value chain.

He said: “Farmers are well encouraged to go back and farm maize. Also, there is an increase in the rate at which people are engaged in terms of job opportunities.”

He further addressed players in the processing and poultry industry by emphasising that the increase in price will prevail only in the short run and all stakeholders should work together to achieve the goal of the intervention.  

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