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The federal government may have made good its plan to ban importation of fish and other food products into the country.
According to a report by Leadership, the federal government has stopped importation of fish into the country since October 31 this year.
A concessionaire of a leading fish terminal in Apapa Port told our correspondent in an exclusive interview that the terminal and other terminals have stopped receiving fish product cargoes, which Bill of Laden were dated later than October 31, as they have been directed to do so by the federal government.
The General Manager, Port Operations, ENL Consortium, Mr Mark Walsh, said the new fish policy had now added to such others as the ban on cement and rice, which had seen the terminal losing up to 800,000 tons of rice in about 10 months.
He said: “The government banned fish importation since October 31 this year. Before we were doing 20,000 tons of fish every month, but now, that is gone. Any bill of laden after that date cannot be brought to Nigeria. What we have coming in now are those imports with earlier bills of laden dated before October 31.
“I talked to a lot of the fish association and they have said that by the end of December, there will not be fish in the cold rooms. So it is a serious situation because it will affect everybody in the country.”
The ban on fish came barely three months after the Agriculture Minister, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, disclosed at the inauguration of the Special Growth Enhancement Support Scheme for fisheries and the aquaculture value chain in Ado-Ekiti on August 6, that the federal government would soon place a total ban on the importation of fish and other aquatic consumables.
The federal government in recent times appears to have intensified its zeal to discourage importation of certain goods that can be produced locally, including food products such as rice, chicken and fish; and automobiles such as cars and buses in order to improve local production of the products.
According to figures provided by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, between 2010 and 2012 Nigeria imported an average of 780,000 metric tonnes of frozen fish annually from Europe, Latin America and Eastern countries, worth about N100 billion.
With annual fish demand estimated at 2.66 million metric tons (MMT), Nigeria currently produces about 0.78MMT leaving a demand-supply gap of about 1.8MMT.
Regrettably, the shortfall of fish supply in the country had led to a low annual per capita fish consumption rate of only 7.5 kilogrammes as against 15 kilogrammes per annum recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
It is expected that increase in national fish production would not only diversify the country’s resources base, but also complement efforts aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The government also expects production of 4.0MMT annually from its fish production programme, which could conveniently meet the national demand of 2.66MMT, as well as generate considerable export earnings, provided adequate and effective policies were put in place to drive the industry.
But most Nigerians are of the opinion that the steps are good ones taken before the right time.
“It may not be totally ideal to stop fish for now, but placing a ban on some kinds of fish such as Croaker will be fine because Croaker is a tropical fish and we have enough of them in our waters,” said a fish vessel controller at Blueseas Marine, who preferred not to be mentioned.
“From the ban on cement to the increase in the tariffs on rice and now fish is no longer coming in, it has been very difficult. We have lost up to 800,000 tons since January this year. But you see rice in the market. All the vessels bringing rice are going to Cotonou and the rice is somehow making its way across the border.
“So, you can still go the market whether in Apapa or any other place anywhere in Nigeria and still find rice, why? So you can see there is a problem. Cotonou does not make rice. They are Thai rice, Indian rice getting into Nigeria somehow. So the government increasing the duty only affect the government itself because all the duty on that rice is going to the government of the Benin Republic,” Walsh said.
But the Chairman of Nigeria Ship Owners Association (NISA), Dr Isaac Jolopamo said the new fish policy would help save a large chunk of about N2 trillion which the country loses in freight as capital flight to other countries from where Nigeria import fish.
The minister had said that the ban would be imposed only if arrangements being put in place by the government to that effect worked as planned.
Represented by the Federal Director of Fisheries, Mrs. Foluke Areola, the Agric minister had stressed that the country had no business importing fish, given its huge natural and renewable resources.
“The value chains are to create an enabling environment for increased and sustainable production of over one million tonnes of fish within the next four years, generate employment and pursue gradual reduction of fish imports,” the minister said.