“Our focus remains ensuring forex savings, job creation and investments in the local production of milk. For the avoidance of doubt, milk importation is not banned. Indeed, the CBN has no such power. All we will do is to restrict sale of forex for the importation of milk from the Nigerian foreign exchange market.”
These were the words of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) last week as it took pains to explain its proposed policy to boost local investments in milk production.
Typical with Nigerians, hardly had the apex bank floated the idea than it was distorted that it had banned importation of dairy products, and this gave folder to the rumour mills.
Recall that the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, had said that milk worth $1.2 billion was being imported, and that the yearly national dairy output and demand were estimated at 700,000 metric tonnes and 1,300 metric tonnes respectively, leaving a supply gap of about 600,000 metric tonnes.
He explained that an average cow in the country produces less that one litre of milk per day, as against other climes where a cow could produce 100 liters per day, blaming the movement of cows from place to place for the problem affecting the animals and milk production in Nigeria. That was what informed the ranching policy proposed by the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele.
Last year in Owo, Ondo State, during the launch of Integrated Poultry Facility, Emefiele had boasted that “we can also produce milk in our own country.”
Explaining how he intended to do this, he said: “When the issue of herdsmen came up at the National Executive Council, Governor Akeredolu said we should look at the opportunities, rather than the adversities, which the herdsmen can bring to our country. I quickly latched on to this, and thought how we could turn the adversity of the herdsmen into opportunities. I am happy to learn that Ondo State, among other states, has thousands of hectare of land where Chief Obafemi Awolowo had a ranch. I learnt that the facilities are still there to water. So what does it take to contain the herds in a particular spot, provide them with water; provide them with green grass; fatten the cows and take the milk in them? By this, we will now seize the opportunity to face those who believe that they can continue to import milk into this country to say no! We can also produce milk in our own country.
“I once told the management of the West Africa Milk Company that before I was born, we were importing milk. What does it take to produce milk if not just from the breast of cow, and, maybe, pasteurize it; turn it into powdered milk or liquid milk form. We would need the support of the state governments to ensure that we have ranches.”
Emefiele reiterated this last week at the MPC meeting, when he said:
“Yes, we have plans to restrict importation of milk because it can be produced here. We’ve seen the importation of this product for over 60 years. Spending $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion is very high, given that milk can be produced here. “What does it take to produce milk? Get your cows, position them in an area, give them water, grass, look after their health and ensure they don’t roam around. Our cows don’t have much milk because they roam around. They destroy things on their way and clash with farmers. All these can be addressed if we keep them in an area. When we considered restriction of milk some years ago, we also considered some sentiments. We called Wamco Plc and held meetings with them in Lagos about four years ago. We appealed for backward integration. We asked them to produce the milk here. It’s either they acquire lands and acquire cows and fatten them or support the pastoralists and get milk from them. They can also provide them with grass and sell it to the herders and get milk in return to recoup their investment.”
That was the innocuous plan that was twisted that the apex bank had to offer rebuttal last week. It read:
“The attention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been drawn to attempts by some interests, who feel hurt by the planned policy aimed at promoting the local production of milk in Nigeria, to mislead the general public by misrepresenting the ordinarily unassailable case for investments in local milk production and the medium to long-term benefits of the planned policy.
“We therefore wish to, once again, reiterate our policy case as it relates to the planned restriction of access to the Nigerian foreign exchange market by importers of milk:
“Our focus remains ensuring forex savings, job creation and investments in the local production of milk.
“For over 60 years, Nigerian children and indeed adults have been made to be heavily dependent on milk imports. The national food security implications of this can easily be imagined, particularly, when it is technically and commercially possible to breed the cows that produce milk in Nigeria.
“About three years ago, we began a policy to encourage backward integration to conserve foreign exchange and create jobs for our people. Included in this policy package was the introduction of the highly successful policy which restricted sale of forex from the Nigerian foreign exchange market for the importation of some 43 items that could be produced in Nigeria. Arising from the success of the restriction policy, we approached some milk importers, like we did for rice, tomato and starch and asked them to take advantage of CBN’s low-interest loans to begin local milk production instead of relying endlessly on milk imports.
“Today, although there have been some successful attempts at producing milk locally, the vast majority of the importers still treat this national aspiration with imperial contempt.
For the avoidance of doubt, Milk importation is not banned. Indeed, the CBN has no such power. All we will do is to restrict sale of forex for the importation of milk from the Nigerian foreign exchange market.
We wish to reiterate that we remain ready and able to provide the needed finance to enable investors who genuinely want to engage in milk production.
The ongoing resort to blackmail and undue politicization through the use of social media attacks can only serve to strengthen our resolve to wean our country from the clutches of powerful and highly influential traders and dealers who have kept the masses of our people hostage to foreign consumption and condemned our youths to perpetual unemployment.