We will stop at nothing to reduce smuggling, says Lokpobiri

Heineken Lokpobiri

Smuggling of agricultural produce has been identified as a major challenge due to its multiple effect on local production. Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri told Journalists in Abuja, how the current administration is engaging Benin Republic to address the issue. JOKE FALAJU reports.

Fish production has declined remarkably due to unwholesome practices, what is your ministry doing bout this?
What we are doing is to see how we can restock some of our lakes, we can’t restock our rivers. We have a programme in the department of fisheries where from time to time we take a thousand fingerlings and put them in the lakes and after few months, fishermen can go there and fish.

But generally, fishing offshore has increased in the country; more people are bringing trawlers, they are being licensed to go fishing offshore. Nigeria’s shrimps are the best in the world and we are exporting them. In fact, anywhere you see those jumbo and big shrimps in any part of the world, know that they are from Nigeria.

The problem is being addressed in a sustainable basis; we keep restocking in order to encourage people to keep off some of those areas to ensure that the fish can grow. Generally, all over the world, this problem exists.

Fresh water fish has declined because of pollution. When growing up, when we do go to the riverside to fish, there were no speedboats. Right now, there are unlimited number of speedboats and pollution activities; there is so much pollution of the rivers because of excessive use of petrol. Also, there is a new interest in fishing activities because people know that there is a big fortune in fishing activities. It is not as if in the last few years people were not fishing because there were no fish in the rivers, that was not so, but generally, everybody abandoned agriculture.

But I believe that with the stocking and the increase in offshore fishing, we will continue to increase our production as far as fish production is concerned.

How much is smuggling affecting local production?
When we give fishing licenses to people, we do tell them that fish import is restricted only through the sea borders; no land border is allowed to bring in fish, or chicken, every frozen food is prohibited through the land borders. But what we have discovered is that smugglers bring in all sorts of proteins that are in demand.

Unfortunately, we are not in charge of the borders, but we are constantly in touch with the Customs. I am a member of the Presidential Committee on smuggling, headed by the Vice President to see how we can address the issue of smuggling. Somebody who is smuggling rice is also smuggling fish. We also know that Republic of Benin has been our most troublesome neighbour, and so, we are constructively engaging the officials of that country. If you remember recently, the President of that country came to Abuja to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, with a view to resolving that issue. We will stop at nothing to reduce the rate of smuggling. Unfortunately, smuggling is one thing you can never eliminate completely.

Despite the sophisticated US security, drugs and other substances are still being smuggled into the US through Mexico.

Unfortunately, some of those smugglers are having state support for what they are doing and we are trying to see how we can, within the provisions of the rules; within the ECOWAS protocols handle this issue.

How about exporting our own fish since you mentioned earlier that your regime increased local production?
In fact, if I have my way, we will prohibit fish export because the gap between the national production and the national demand is still very huge. But we are allowing it to encourage investors to see how they can sell or export, because it is a free market economy in Nigeria. If anybody feels that they want to export, of course, we can’t stop them. Atlantic shrimpers, for instance is exporting shrimps but we can’t stop them despite the fact that we still have a huge gap between national demand and our production.

What is your ministry doing to assist farmers with loan facilities to fund their businesses?
The CBN has a lot of intervention programmes in agriculture, the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) is being recapitalised so that young men who want to go into farming will be able to access fund to set up different types of farming activities they aspire to do.

CBN has several billions of naira for agriculture intervention programmes. What you need to do is go to your bank and your bank will review your business proposal and make recommendations and then you can access up to N2 million. If you want to go from small to big scale, those funds are available.

There is a lot of money we have put into the BoA, so when you go there, you will be able to access some small loans to be able to invest in agriculture.

Do potential farmers have any hope of benefiting from this loan?
The loans are available to every Nigeria. What you need to do is to go to the nearest branch of BoA with your business plan and they will review that plan, do some background checks, they would also want to locate the land you want to farm on. We want to avoid a situation where we give people cash. Most of the loans that you see today are given in kind. You want to be a farmer, where is the land, how much do you need to prepare the land? They will give you the seed; they’ll give you only a small component, which constitutes labour cost.

Everybody who is interested in farming has access to such funding. We can also start farming in a small scale from our backyards, get a small fishpond. We are also trying to encourage people to do small poultries in their farms, around your area so that your children can eat the eggs. So, you don’t need to get millions of naira before you can start investing in agriculture.

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