FG halts food imports duty, partners states on farming

Onwubuke Melvin
Onwubuke Melvin

The federal government on Monday announced a 150-day duty-free import window for food items, stepping up attempts to combat increasing inflation, which has impoverished many Nigerians.

This was disclosed by the Minister of Agriculture, Abubakar Kyari during a press conference held in Abuja on Monday, according to The PUNCH.

The Tinubu-led administration also announced its intention to work with states to boost land agriculture throughout the country.

As a result, the government halted duties, tariffs, and taxes on the import of certain food goods across land and sea borders.

Among other things, the latest directive is designed to cut food importers’ demand for FX. In 2023, Nigerians spent $2.13 billion on food imports from foreign countries.

The quarterly statistics of the Central Bank of Nigeria showed that the country imported large amounts of food from foreign countries despite being touted as the food basket of Africa.

The government is concerned about the high food import expense. The country has a strong agricultural sector, and attempts have been made to increase local production and minimize reliance on food imports. However, challenges like poor infrastructure, insecurity, and climate change have slowed progress in the sector.

However, analysts say the latest directive permitting free food imports demonstrates that the Nigerian government has yet to put the country on the right track to eradicate hunger by 2030, as outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The government had previously ruled out food imports as part of its strategy to address the country’s high food prices and economic distress.

Speaking at the press conference held in Abuja, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, said that 150 days of duty-free imports would be valid for commodities including maize, husked brown rice, wheat, and cowpeas

The idea, which is part of the Presidential Accelerated Stabilization and Advancement Plan, would also allow the Federal Government to import 250,000 metric tons of wheat and 250,000 tonnes of maize.

It indicated that the imported food commodities in their semi-processed stage will target deliveries to small-scale processors and millers around the country.

Kyari said, “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.

“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.

“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.”

The minister stated that 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.”

He noted that over the past several months, “we have all been witnesses to the escalating cost of food items in all parts of the country. There is virtually no food item that has not had its price raised to a level higher than what a good many Nigerians can afford.”

The minister noted that the affordability crisis in our food security system was underlined by data from the National Bureau of Statistics, which estimated food inflation at 40.66 percent as of the last count.

Nigerians have faced rising food prices since the president announced the withdrawal of petrol subsidies and floated the naira, allowing the value of the Nigerian currency to be determined by market forces in 2023.

The policies led to an increase in the prices of basic food, with 50kg of rice increasing from about N20,000 to over N70,000 in a year.

Similarly, the increased cost of chicken products has rendered basic proteins like eggs unaffordable for many. An egg that was sold for N100 last year is now sold for N200 or more, depending on size.

This situation has led to the closure of many farms as a lot of them could no longer cope with the rising cost of production.

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