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Seven things Buhari needs to fix in agriculture over the next 4-years (1)

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As declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Muhammadu Buhari is to continue for another term of four years as Nigeria’s president. However, while his administration has like its predecessors, attempted to make agriculture a cornerstone in Nigeria’s economy, results in the last four years have not been entirely sterling. There are myriads of issues still bedevilling the sector, and there are some, which would require not only urgent, but also innovative solutions. Seven of these have been identified.

Farmers-Herdsmen clashes

“If one had no reserve, by now one would have committed suicide,” said Olumide Abayomi, as he recalled losses incurred after crops on his 450-acre farm in Osun state, where he invested N110 million got eaten up by cattle, which according to him were brought by Fulani herdsmen. In Abayomi’s case, there was no reported violent confrontation, but others have not been so lucky.

A report by Mercy Corps, sponsored by British Department for International Development (DFID) noted that, the farmers-herdsmen conflict in Nigeria has lasted for more than a decade with no gaze on a lasting solution. The conflict has further worsened the prevailing insecurity in the nation, contributing immensely to poverty and food insecurity even in regions, such as Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba state purported as the food basket of the country.

The report also noted that, since 2006, more than 1,400 people, including farmers, herdsmen, and locals from the host communities, have been killed as a result of the clashes related to cattle grazing (including more than 70 farmers recently killed in Benue – January 2018), and over 100,000 casualties in form of farms, houses and other valuables, have been recorded over the years with property worth $14 billion lost between 2013 – 2016 only.

The herdsmen-farmers violence has been discussed exhaustively in recent time, with a lot anger being expressed at the loss of lives and property. Equally important however, is the need to map out innovative, feasible alternatives in  the cattle business, and what stands out is that; cattle rearing needs to become a business, one driven by the private sector, and not by the government setting up ranches.

The debate over the best approach to this crisis may have gone silent in the weeks leading to the election, but the problem surely has not been solved.

Tomato Policy and Customs’ obstinate stance

The implementation of a federal government policy to stimulate increase in tomato production has remained stalled since May 2017, when BusinessDay first reported it in August last year. As it appears, the Customs service has continued to disregard the policy which would have opened up investments in greenhouse farming, address the annual challenges faced in tomato production, including pests, diseases, erratic price fluctuations, and severe post harvest losses.

The price-based measures for tomato policy, which took effect 30 days after April 7, 2017, stated that Greenhouse equipment is classified as Agricultural equipment and should attract Zero percent import duty. However, eight months later, the policy has remained comatose.

“The Greenhouse concession has not been respected by the Nigerian Custom Service,” said Emmanuel Ijewere, chairman Best Foods Limited, in an emailed response to BusinessDay enquiries.

“They (Customs service) still insist on a letter from the Federal Minister of Agriculture every time you bring in a shipment. Such letters take upwards of 3 months; meanwhile the green houses are accumulating demurrage that is usually far higher than the duty waived. Apparently this defeats the intention of bringing down the price of a green house. Actual it is now worse of,” bemoaned Ijewere, who is also vice president of the Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG).

Humphrey Otalor, marketing communications manager, Dizengoff Nigeria, which holds a significant market share in agricultural equipment imports, also corroborated the views of non-compliance by the customs service, when BusinessDay first reported it.

“Even after the Federal Government has announced the zero percent duty on greenhouse equipment, it is still yet to be implemented by the relevant government agency (Customs service), several months after,” said Otalor in an email to BusinessDay.

He explained that importers of greenhouses were still required to pay 20 per cent duty outside the government mandatory 5 per cent VAT. This, because of the simple excuse, that HS Code on greenhouses still attract 20 per cent duty, and until it is corrected on the HS code, the Custom (asserts it) has the constitutional right to continue with the 20 per cent charges.

“Someone also brought in greenhouses and was charged. Government has said what it wants, but it is not being effected,” Africanfarmer Mogaji, CEO, X-Ray Farms said at the time.

As Otalor noted, the additional charges are passed unto the end users (that is, Farmers). Invariably, most times, importers of greenhouses are constrained on the number of greenhouse to import every season, due to the heavy charges involved. Consequently, the quantum of tomato (and other crop) production which ought to have been achieved takes a hit.

Continues next week…

 

CALEB OJEWALE

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