Daily Trust (Abuja)

24 February 2013

Nigeria: The Banana Invasion

In the beginning, they imported apples. We bought them because we don't grow apples. Then they started to import grapes, plums, and all kinds of exotic fruits, we purchased them because we don't cultivate them. Now, they are importing banana. We are buying them by the dozen even though we cultivate banana in abundance.

Before I go any further with this discussion, permit me to put a disclaimer: I am not a banana farmer. I was however privileged to be the Federal Minister of Commerce and Industry in those days. In this transformation era the name of the Ministry has changed to Trade and Investment. I have no objection to the trade nomenclature, but investment is not exactly industry in my estimation. Please pardon me if I am beginning to sound like one of those "yesterday's men" courtesy of Reuben Abati. To those who may entertain the notion that I am breaching protocols, by not channeling my observations to the relevant authorities but instead using a public forum like this one as if I am an accidental public servant, I wish to state that, my long sojourn in the public service precludes me from claiming to be an accidental public servant. About a year ago I drew the attention of my friend Segun Aganga, the Minister of Trade and Investment, on this matter. Since the problem has persisted, I found it absolutely necessary to bring this matter to the public domain, so that we can see the clear and present danger the importation of banana may pose to the socio economic well being of our dear country, Nigeria.

Now, back to our discourse. Like most of you out there, I began to notice and even purchased beautifully formed and succulent banana in Abuja two years ago. The banana is long, with a perfect tan, that if it were not a banana you will swear that it is using one of those expensive suntan lotions. The first clue that gives them away that they are not our homegrown banana is the label pasted on their side. One day before making a purchase, I curiously asked my banana vendor, "From where do you get this banana?" The girl balanced the banana tray on her head and retorted, "Me self, I no know oo. Na sell I dey sell am." Now that short response got me more curious, because, I know as a fact that Nigeria is a major banana producer in the West Africa Sub Region.

Couple years ago, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that there is an influx of imported banana in the country. In the course of their investigation, NAN found out that the banana is imported from Cameroon and Togo. The NAN investigation revealed that the foreign banana flooding the markets of Abuja, Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Plateau States were distributed from a warehouse located at the Marrarba Orange Market, which is on the outskirt of Abuja.

According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), banana is grown in nearly 130 countries. In Africa, Uganda is the largest producer, followed by Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. If Nigeria is among the top five producers of banana in Africa, then what business do we have of allowing the importation of banana to the detriment of the teeming banana farmers across the country? I posit that there is negligence on the side of authorities responsible for safeguarding our markets from all kinds of dumping of commodities. We must be extra vigilant in matters of this nature.

While serving as Minister of Commerce and Industry, I recalled how myself and officials of the ministry put up a vicious fight to stop the importation of tomato paste from Ghana. Our position based on our mandate then was to make sure we safeguard the Nigerian market for Nigerians first. It is not my intention to place the blame of this kind of lapses on the ministry, but to buttress the point that the ministry must constantly take inventory of any anomaly in the market place and quickly intervene before the situation gets out of control. I recalled before and during my tenure how the trend of allowing importation of one hundred percent fruit juice was halted to give way to at least the importation only of concentrates while packaging and other processes are done within our local industry. At best, veritable employment opportunities are created through such action.

The consumer too should be wary of buying without proper scrutiny objects of consumption. Particularly if they are agricultural products. These days a lot of genetic crop engineering is practiced to grow the perfect looking banana, mango, tomato, cucumber and many other agricultural commodities. The effects of the genetic engineering of crops on the human body are still being discovered. Perhaps, that partly explains the sudden presence of diseases hitherto unknown in this part of the world.

My angst on this matter is based on the cycle of hopelessness we are in. As a people we are taking trade with a nonchalant attitude. It is with this mindset that we lost out on cotton and textile. I remember, how in the early nineteen eighties, some of the Kano textile merchants began to outsource the production of Ankara to China, because it was cheaper. Before you know it, the market has been flooded with low price fabric consequently running our indigenous textile companies out of business.

As indicated earlier in this piece, the onus of responsibility for safeguarding our markets, and protecting our farmers as well as the manufacturing sector is for both the government and the entire citizenry to be on the alert of goods and services being dumped on us even though we are quite capable of satisfying the consumer demands of such products and services. If we continue with our lackadaisical attitude, we will wake up one day and find our supermarkets stocked up with packets of Egusi, Ogbonno and Kuka all imported from China.

Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar was at one time Minister of Commerce and Industry, and also former Minister of the FCT.

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