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Rescuing poultry sector from catastrophe

THE alarm raised recently by poultry farmers of imminent shortages, business closures and prohibitive prices gained instant credence in the markets across the country as prices galloped and layoffs hit the sub-sector. Just as consumers noticed a spike in prices, the Poultry Association of Nigeria raised the alarm that shortages of maize, a major feed for birds, along with prohibitive prices, were driving the poultry industry towards collapse along with other prior conditions and new realities triggered by President Bola Tinubu’s measures.

Poultry products – mainly chicken and eggs — are a major source of protein for Nigerians, while the business is a significant employer of labour. Saving and rejuvenating the industry should therefore be a priority for the federal and state governments.

Nigeria is currently facing debilitating food shortages, partly propelled by insurgency and banditry that have made farmers flee their farms, and discouraged the youth from agriculture, unprofitable practices and obsolete tools, among others. Other factors include the foreign exchange crisis that has starved feed millers and poultry farmers of access to forex to import inputs, including machinery, feedstock, and spare parts.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says the crisis constitutes a great threat to protein intake for the population as poultry products constitute the biggest supplier of this essential food class to Nigerians.

Drawing attention to what it calls “a disaster waiting to happen,” PAN said, “At the moment, the poultry industry in Nigeria is on the verge of total collapse if urgent intervention is not channelled to it without further delay.”

The price of eggs, a daily protein source for many, has soared by over 118.34 per cent after maize importation fell by 97.91 per cent. The National Bureau of Statistics said the price of one medium-sized egg rose to N89.17 by May 2023, up from N40.84 in May 2020. Importation of maize, a major component of poultry feeds, fell to $1.82 million by the end of 2022, down from $87.08 million in 2020, according to the International Trade Centre.

Maize constitutes 60 per cent to 70 per cent of poultry feed and the current scarcity and high price is caused by dwindling production and a ban on its importation, which have translated to a rise in the prices of eggs and chicken.

In 2020, the Federal Government included maize among 43 items banned from directly accessing foreign exchange for importation by the Central Bank of Nigeria as part of efforts to stimulate local production. This has not had the desired effect as sustained banditry and Islamic insurgency in the North, Fulani herdsmen attacks, and kidnapping across the country have driven many farmers from their farms.

Though the government later gave concessions to four companies to import 262,000 tonnes, the gesture has not solved the 400,000 metric tonnes of maize production shortfall. Despite the low production occasioned by feed scarcity, there is an ironic glut of eggs as 20 million remain unsold. This became more pronounced between January and March this year due to the scarcity of naira, the attendant problems created by the CBN’s naira redesign policy, poor storage infrastructure, inflation, and inadequate government intervention in the poultry sector.

According to the FAO, Nigeria’s maize production in 2018 was 11 million metric tonnes, while consumption was 11.4 MMT, leaving a 400,000 MT deficit. Analysts said about 950,000 tonnes of maize is consumed monthly in Nigeria. The US Department of Agriculture stated that production rose to 12.5 MMT in 2019, 12.7 MMT in 2022, but slumped to 12 MMT in 2023.

Nigeria is the world’s 14th largest corn producer, according to Atlas Big, an online resource. It is the second largest producer in Africa, adds PwC, which said that 45.5 per cent of its maize production is used to manufacture animal feeds. Nigeria should therefore not be lacking enough for poultry production, or importing. But poor policy implementation and a persistently adverse operating environment have brought the country short.

Maize cultivated in May/June in the South-West does not contribute to industrial consumption but goes largely to domestic consumption because harvesting is in the peak of the rainy season, meaning there is no way to dry it for industrial use. The June/July cultivation in the North that is harvested between September and November forms the bulk of Nigeria’s commercial grain trade, while the August/September cultivation in the South is harvested in November/December, and contributes a part of what is sold as commercial dry grains.

The poultry business contributes about 25 per cent to Nigeria’s agricultural GDP, says the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, and is worth about $4.2 billion, adds the FAO. Estimates of the number of persons employed full time and part time along its value chain vary from 14 million to 25 million.

Given this and its importance in protein intake across age and income segments, it is imperative for the national and sub-national governments to accord it top priority. Fears have been raised on the possibility of malnutrition among children if chicken and eggs disappear from the menu.

The three tiers of government should give incentives to maize and poultry farmers to encourage production. With private sector partnership, governments should buy products from farmers whenever there is a glut. There should be welfare schemes to provide essential protein-rich food to the most vulnerable households and communities. In a country with 63.3 per cent of its population adjudged to be poor, this is very necessary.

Tinubu’s declaration of a ‘state of emergency’ on food production should include stimulus programmes for the maize, feeds and poultry segments. He needs to mobilise the state governments to revive agriculture by resuscitating farm settlements and agricultural extension services, and by attracting private investments across the value chain.

Reviving agriculture should be private sector-driven, with the government providing credit facilities and funding support. State governments should provide strong incentives to farmers, and prioritise basic rural infrastructure, and storage facilities.  The CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme that rebooted rice production should be extended to maize and poultry and other produce.

The poultry industry should not be allowed to flounder; the federal and state governments should urgently roll out policies to save it.

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