Nigerians have condemned the importation of certain food items such as “garri”, rice and local soups, describing it as very absurd.
A cross-section of Nigerians, who spoke to Newsverge in Abuja on Tuesday, said that the recent importation of “garri’’, a major staple food in Nigeria, was quite embarrassing even though such importations were not new in the country.
A visit by Newsverge to some major supermarkets in Abuja revealed that the price of the Indian “garri’, packaged in a 500g.-bag and labelled ‘TRS’ (Asia’s Finest Foods), was N450.
Newsverge recalls that in early December 2016, the Tin-Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) intercepted a 20-foot container of “READY TO EAT FOODS’’.
The food items in the container include “Egusi’’ Soup, Jollof Rice, “Ogbono’’, Yam Porridge; all imported from India.
Dr Tunde Arosanye, National Coordinator, Zero Hunger Commodities, described the importation of “garri’’ and certain food items into Nigeria as a dent on the national image.
He said that the practice was abominable because Nigeria was the largest producer of cassava in the world, while the country was also naturally blessed to produce various types of food items.
Arosanye said if the importation of certain cassava-based food items was allowed to continue, cassava farmers would be affected and there would be cassava glut, thereby creating more complications in the labour market.
“It is a mystery that any Latin American or Asian country could venture into `garri’ exports,’’ he said, adding that such exporters could never break even since there were other cassava derivatives that were more lucrative than “garri’’.
“This because these investors can produce industrial glucose, industrial starch and cassava flour, among others, from cassava and these products can fetch them good income,’’ he said.
Arosanye, nonetheless, underscored the need for the government at all levels to make agriculture a priority via improved investments in the sector so as to enable the country to be self sufficient in food production.
Also speaking, Mrs Yemi Arije, a “garri’’ seller, said that Nigeria was one of the world’s largest producers of cassava, adding that different types of “garri’’ that were suitable for human consumption could be processed from cassava.
“We have white `garri’ for drinking and making `eba’, we have yellow `garri’ and there is `garri oloyo’ — a kind of `garri’ that can be used to make a meal that looks like `semovita’,’’ she said.
She urged the Federal Government to slam a complete ban on food importation into the country so as to grow the national economy and create sustainable jobs for the citizens.
Newsverge reports that some of the food items itemised in the Nigeria Customs Service import prohibition list include live or dead birds, including frozen poultry, pork, beef and refined vegetable oils, among others.
However, Arije described the importation of “garri’’ and other Nigerian cuisines into the country a big shame to the government and its regulatory agencies.
She, however, said that the food importation could have been carried out with the active connivance of some Nigerians, urging the regulatory agencies to survey markets in order to remove the offensive products.
Arije stressed that a lot of food items, being imported into the country, could be produced locally if the government and citizens of Nigeria placed much premium on value addition.
“There cannot be any economic stability in our country if our government fails to look into all the small items that stray into the country.
“Any country that fails to develop its agricultural potential and depends solely on food importation is doing so to the detriment of its people,’’ she said.
Arije said that Nigeria was richly blessed with abundant natural resources which, if they were properly harnessed, would boost the nation’s economy and create jobs for millions of citizens.
Mr Olusola Ajakaiye, a nutritionist, wondered why indigenous foods should be imported into the country at a time when pragmatic efforts were being made to boost local industries.
He described the “garri’’ import scenario as very embarrassing, saying that government had granted a zero duty regime for the importation of machinery used in packaging agricultural products.
Ajakaiye said that the zero duty on equipment imports was a good incentive that ought to spur entrepreneurs into engaging in food packaging ventures in the country.
He stressed the need for relevant government agencies to be more vigilant with regard to food imports into the country because most of the food items might not be good for human consumption.
Ajakaiye said it had become imperative for the government agencies at the country’s seaports and border posts to be very vigilant because some unscrupulous businessmen could turn Nigeria into a dumping ground for unwholesome food items.
Ajakaiye attributed the rising cases of chronic diseases like cancer, kidney failure and diabetes among Nigerians to the unregulated influx of harmful food items into the country.
He said that the government should make concerted efforts to check the prevalence of hazardous food items in markets across the country.
He said that such items included tomato paste packed in sachets and tins, which contained preservatives that were harmful to human health.
Ajakaiye also said that some imported frozen chicken, turkey and gizzards were preserved with toxic chemicals.
He stressed that if Nigeria could not cultivate, process and manufacture its own foods, its economy would continue to face myriad challenges.
Mr Olu Oloriaje, a lawyer, noted that agencies like NCS, NEXIM Bank, NAFDAC, Nigeria Export Promotion Council, Nigeria Agriculture Quarantine Services, Standard Organisation of Nigeria, among others, which were created to encourage people to do legitimate business, should wake up to their responsibilities.
He urged the agencies to embark on aggressive public enlightenment campaigns on food items that were prohibited from coming into the country.
“These agencies must work tirelessly to fulfil their statutory mandate,’’ he added.
Insisting that Nigeria could not continue to be an import-dependent nation, Oloriaje said that in the meantime, the agencies regulating the importation business in Nigeria should strive to give quality service delivery.
He also bemoaned the fact that the nation’s borders were still very porous; adding those in charge of the borders should be extra-vigilant, while designed efforts should be made to elicit the collaboration of whistleblowers in the crusade against devious importers.
Oloriaje said that Nigeria’s status as an agricultural powerhouse had declined considerably due to the sustained exploitation of its petroleum resources, to the detriment of the agriculture sector.
He added that the successive administrations in the country had neglected the agriculture sector.
Oloriaje, however, called on the three tiers of government to give more attention to agricultural productivity so as to speed up the nation’s economic growth.
He underscored the need to strengthen and enforce the extant laws banning importation of certain items into the country, while sanctioning those who flouted the laws.
In the meantime, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said, via his Twitter account, that NAFDAC had launched an investigation into the made-in-India “garri’’ saga.
He said that NAFDAC operatives visited one supermarket and seized 26 packets of the imported “garri’’ for laboratory analysis.
He said that preliminary investigations by NAFDAC revealed that the unregistered product, which originated from Ghana, was packaged in London.
Adewole said that the management of the supermarket was currently assisting NAFDAC in its further investigations.