Prince Wale Oyekoya is the immediate past chairman, Agriculture and Non-oil Export Group, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).
In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Shulammite’Foyeku, he speaks on the challenges faced by the Nigeria Customs Service in the fight against smuggling of poultry products and the need for government to create an enabling environment to encourage local farmers bridge the gap between demand and local supply of poultry products in the country.
If you go to the market, you will still see tons of imported frozen poultry despite the fact that they are on the import prohibition list.
Why is this so?
In the first instance, the question we should ask is how did the poultry get to the market? We still have some bad eggs that still need to be shown the way out of the system. Of course this is usually done in connivance with customs officers. The smugglers even use the vehicles of some of these security agencies to convey the poultry products at night. There is no doubt about that because I have seen it and all of this is happening because we still have some bag eggs in Customs that are destroying the image of the Service that still need to be shown the way out of the system especially the officers at the borders.
Another reason is because our borders are too porous and it has been said that there is no nation that can survive economically if the borders are too open and all kinds of goods find their way into the country. We have raised this issue at the National Assembly and I think they are looking at this issue to see how we can tighten our borders in order to reduce the influx of importation of poultry products and other goods.
If you look at most of the markets we have today, 80 percent of the poultry products that we are eating today are all imported. So this tells you that the local farmers have not been really encouraged. Most of them have folded up and not because they don’t want to produce but because the environment is not there. The enabling environment is not there because there is no way you can be processing poultry products without having 24-hour electricity. That is why value chain in Nigeria is nothing to write home about because the environment is not conducive for anybody to go into processing.
Do you think Customs operation ‘Hawk Descend’ has been effective in combating smuggling of poultry products?
Smuggling of poultry can only be eradicated if Customs take their work seriously. Operation ‘Hawk Descend’ was a very good initiative. It is just a way of reducing or curbing smuggling of poultry products.
During the launch of the campaign, most of the smuggled poultry were seized and destroyed. But, we still expect them to do more because our borders are so loose and that has been the greatest challenge because it is human beings that are manning the borders. They have the power to go to warehouses and markets and raid smugglers of these poultry product that is killing Nigeria citizens because I see this as an issue of national emergency.
If the customs cannot do it alone we have the police to assist them because what we see in the market is more than what is in the warehouse and they do this in the middle of the night. So for Customs to say they cannot go to the warehouse, they are not doing the nation any good because if they see something that is not good that is killing the citizens and they are saying they can’t raid the market then they should go to the national assembly and get order that they need to raid the market.
What do you think is the way out to ensure that local farmers are empowered?
We have been talking to government officials especially the Minister of Agricultural that the only way we can stop smuggling of poultry products is to empower the local farmers. Once we are able to produce in excess it is going to bring down the price and once we can compete with the foreign poultry products, it is going to make life easy for the farmers and the citizens of the country.
The only way they can do it is by adopting the buy back method whereby the farmers will produce some of these things and the government can buy from them and process and some private investors can take over the processing unit of it. This is what we call value chain. Things will take shape and definitely fall down the price of these products and it will be able to compete with the foreign products.
But if you look at what is happening in Nigeria now, most farmers just produce and everybody hit the market at the same time, so there is no price control. If they hit the market at the same time, it is just a matter of demand and supply and when you have too much supply; the demand is going to overtake the event of the supplies. So let the farmer be producing while other people can be processing and others can be doing the marketing but the government input is very important. This is because, if you look at the commercial banks we have, they don’t assist the farmers because there is no way you can go the bank today and take a loan of 28 percent, that is more than a quarter of the loan you have taken that is going back to the bank. The farmers must be well taken care of.
Do you think the war against importation of poultry products can be won if government empowers the local farmers?
With the circumstances surrounding our system, it is going to be very difficult unless they can take care of the cabals because the people smuggling these things are not ordinary people like every other persons. They are real cabals in the helms of power. These cabals have the power, the money and the will. So it is going to be very difficult but with the new government we have today that believes that no one is above the law, I believe it is achievable, it could be done but a lot still needs to be done by creating awareness especially in host communities that smuggling is indeed killing the economy of the country. If corruption can be wiped out of our system also in Customs, then the war against poultry importation can be won.
How can the government help the farmers to bridge the deficit gap that has continued to exist?
Farmers do not really need all this physical cash but you can give them improved seeds, fertilizers and modern equipment and at the same time provide a processing centre or production centre for most of the farm produce so that it can be processed and marketed to the people.
Adequate provision of infrastructure is the only way to can encourage farmers. What the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to do is to set up an agenda like providing seedlings, I mean high breed seedlings for farmers and at the same time give them fertilizers. They have not discussed how they are going to it but that was what the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe said. They also need to carry along the stakeholders that are in farming and into processing of agric produce and as well encourage the youth which will help create employment for the youths because if you look at the age bracket of people doing farming now, they are between 60 and 70 years.
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