In 1987, self-proclaimed President, General Ibrahim Babangida first announced the ban on importation of maize and wheat and thus started the Federal Government policy to starve the livestock industry of feedstock.
The paucity of feedstock raised the costs of livestock production and many investors were forced to abandon their farms all covered in debt. Even the storied Obasanjo Farms was forced to shut down in the aftermath of the ban.
The policy reversed the steady growth of livestock production in Southern Nigeria. Prior to the ban on maize imports, Nigeria was achieving a near sufficiency in poultry production and was in fact exporting chicken and pork to neighboring West African countries.
The mischievous ban on maize imports precipitated a crash in livestock farming in Southern Nigeria from which it has never been able to recover. There were panic sales and a large divestment and many went out of the business. The result is that today and for decades since, Nigeria has become a net importer of poultry products through active smuggling routes from Benin Republic. Smugglers bring in expired and contaminated chicken beef through Continuo and Loma ports.
Industrialized maize production has been the underlying propellant of industrial revolutions and the creation of the modern age. Maize is the most versatile crop both as food for humans and as feed for livestock. Maize also finds essential use in many other areas of human life, as starch, oilseed, sugar, gruel, pastries. As the oil in corned beef and sardines, nearly everyone consumes maize in one form or another every single day.
Maize is not competitively cultivated in Southern Nigeria. Land preparation costs are high and soil is getting poorer without proper management. Average farm yield per hectare for maize in Nigeria is 1.6 tones, while American maize growers achieve an average of 10.7 tons per hectare, Egypt 3.6 tons per hectare and South Africa 4 tones.
Maize is the most widely utilized industrial crop and creates on its own many other industries down its value chain. The extensive cultivation of maize at much higher productivity levels brought forth the Industrial revolution. The corn belt of the USA provided the raw materials for the American food and feed industries in the Northeastern industrial belt, enabling it to become an agricultural and industrial power. America remains to this day the biggest producer of maize and many other crops to feed its food and fibre industries, creating diverse products and exporting them all over the world.
But nations that are not competitive in crop production must import from other countries to serve their raw material needs at home. China imports 1.2 million tones of grains from the US annually. Setting terms and conditions of export and imports of agricultural products between nations and regions is the major undertaking of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
It is no shame or economic setback for nations to import their raw material needs for as long as they can further process the materials into more valuable products. By processing the raw products locally, they earn premium through adding value and serving other needs.
No nation can ever provide all its raw material needs. Nigeria cannot be different. This is what all industrial nations do. Japan boasts of little or no raw resources but it is an industrial powerhouse, turning raw imports to finished industrial products. So why does the Nigerian Government ban the importation of a basic raw material it cannot produce?
The Nigerian Government turns simple economic matters on its head because of internal geopolitical considerations. The reason for the sustained ban on maize imports is because Northern political leaders want to keep Southern Nigeria as a captive market for Northern maize and other farm products including its livestock.
By banning the importation of maize and forcing every feed mill to buy grain from the North, the Government deliberately makes livestock production in the South dependent on grain production in the North. This diabolical policy has killed farm business in Southern Nigeria and has led to the perpetual contraction of the agricultural and food processing sector of the economy.
Maize is the essential raw material for many industries in Southern Nigeria, particularly the feed Mills and most feed Mills in the South are working at a fraction of their installed capacities because of the perennial shortage of their major raw input, maize. This has rendered the livestock production industry so cost prohibitive. Most livestock producers, particularly poultry farmers are running at marginal profitability.
So why does the Nigerian Government continue to sustain the unjust and harmful ban on maize imports, an essential raw material for it’s feed mills and livestock industry while at the same time allowing the importation of table ready rice with no value addition within the economy? The answer is politics. Regional politics, we’ll get back to this.
Southern Nigeria, because of its geography, is not competitive in maize production, growing just enough to eat on the cob and for local pastries. To cultivate maize on the industrial scale for the Mills and onward to the livestock industry, will requires extensive free land with the right vegetation and climatic conditions. In the South, only the Oyo, Ogbomosho and Oshogbo axis cultivate maize on a near industrial scale.
Southern Nigeria is tropical tree country as against the Northern Savannah which is grassland with a low population density, suitable for extensive grain and cereal production. The sense therefore is to make the entire Southern livestock industry totally dependent on Northern farmers for the supply of their maize raw materials.
But then the North with its staid farming practices has never been able to produce enough grains to supply Southern Mills to feed the livestock industry. Chicken are dying for lack of feed in too many poultry farms. A farmer was seen on television the other day weeping over her dying chicken for lack of feed.
While the ban on maize has been sustained since 1987, the lid on wheat was lifted after a few years. The pressure from the local confectionary industry, particularly the bakeries and the pressure from the U.S. Government through the efforts of the Greek merchant who owns the Nigeria Flour Mills was overwhelming and threatening. Ibrahim Babangida the coward caved in and lifted the ban on wheat imports.
The ban on the two farm products, maize and wheat, was a diabolical move by President Babangida to serve Northern strategic economic interests and it worked quite well. It was to make the entire Southern Nigeria a captive market for Northern agricultural products as was done for cow beef. The Northern economic policy in summary is to hold down the development of the South for the North to catch up.
Just as the ban on the grains were being announced in 1987, Babangida started a program of cultivation of “Harmattan Wheat” across all the states of the Sahel North of Nigeria to make up for the shortage of wheat for the flour Mills. The program, self descriptive as it were, was to cultivate wheat on a massive scale across the North during the months of the harmattan to supply the raw materials to industries in the South. Again, Southern industrial installations were to be held captive to Northern farmers for raw materials.
But problem was that the months of the harmattan was also the dry period in the North without rain. The earth at that time all turn to hard stone. So how was the wheat to be cultivated without moisture?
Not to worry. To meet that challenge, Ibrahim Babangida and the Northern Cartel conjured the most brazen heist in the history of Nigeria, awarding contracts in their hundreds of billions to fund phantom irrigation projects across the dry North.
Money in its billions was moved to every homer with a babanriga, to build irrigation systems or to cultivate “harmattan Wheat”. It was grandiose as was announced in the media. It was as if the man of magic, Ibrahim Babangida, had at last discovered the solution to the slow growth in the Nigerian agriculture sector and the unremitting backwardness of Northern Nigeria. An unbudgeted fund that was paid to Northern carpetbaggers was even higher than the one he stole from the Gulf War windfall.
Millions of metric tonnes of harmattan wheat were waiting to be produced from across the states of Sahel Northern Nigeria. Southern industries were all in a frenzy, stepping on one another to buy off the crops before the competition got there, so they also paid farmers in advance for crop yields they had not seen.
So many Southern investors moved money up North to acquire land for “winter wheat” as some called it. Agents with accents which forbid a “P” swarmed Lagos to acquire land in the North for Southern investors. It was all a hoax, a mighty scam to enrich the Hausa/FULANI and distract the South while depriving it of its earned incomes.
The balloon burst at harvest time. Not a single tonne of wheat was produced for all the billions sunk. It was all a scam carefully designed by the “evil genius” Babangida and the Kaduna Mafia to seize Southern wealth and transfer it to Northern hands, while with the same stroke destroying Southern food and fibre production and making Southern business dependent on Northern farmers. The hundreds of billions of naira spent on phantom irrigation projects were lost in the voluminous pockets of the elite Northern babanriga.
In any case, there was no planning, engineering drawings or budgets for the projects. So each prankster came, collected money from Government, vanished into thin air and reappeared much later with land and houses in Abuja, a brand new Honda Accord or Mercedes, and of course a new wife or two.
As was said, that era ended with the forceful intervention of the U.S Government and wheat imports was unbanned, but not maize.
Until the South takes its survival and economy seriously, believing that it is something worthy to fight and die for, southern business and economy will continue to reap darnels. The insidious ban on maize imports must be lifted now to save the livestock industry in Southern Nigeria.