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Sustainability: Saving food sector from extinction

Nigerian Dishes

*The Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOTOB) has raised the alarm that the challenges facing the food sector of the Nigerian economy may lead to its extinction

Web Editor | ConsumerConnect

At a media forum in Lagos, the Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOTOB) has raised the alarm over the challenges facing the food sector which may lead to its extinction.

In the last six years, the food industry has been accorded attention by the Federal Government as a pillar of the economy.

With agriculture positioned as an economic bedrock, new entrants into commercial food production have increased and players are extending their product base to expand.

However, the situation in the sector is disheartening as it is faced with various challenges.

Unless urgent steps are taken, experts said the sector might face extinction.

The experts spoke at the Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB) forum.

Specifically, they raised the alarm, calling on the relevant authorities, especially the Federal and state governments, to intervene.

Describing the industry as the life of any nation, which must be taken care of, for it to survive, the National President of the union, Comrade Jimoh Oyibo, said since assumption of duties last June, members of his team had held meetings with member companies of the association. He said many challenges were tabled during the meetings.

He noted that the backward integration of the Federal Government for manufacturers to source raw materials through establishment of farms would fail due to insecurity across the country.

Oyibo, who spoke at interactive meeting with members of the Labour Writers Association of Nigeria (LAWAN), said many companies which had keyed into the programme, by setting up farms, were having issues of harvesting their products due to insecurity as a result of bandits   attacks, kidnappings and Boko Haram insurgency.

He said though the programme could stimulate economic development and help reduce reliance on raw materials import, but it would fail due to insecurity.

According to him, manufacturers’ hope could be dashed, making them to continue to rely on imports.

He listed these as increased rate of expatriates competing for jobs that could be handled by Nigerians; difficulty in sourcing foreign exchange, and bottlenecks in clearing of goods from Apapa Port.

Most times it took months to clear goods from Apapa Port, thereby incurring demurrages due to bureaucracy and traffic gridlock.

He called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in Apapa, and reconstruct the entire port area.

The FOBTOB chief also called on the government to divert cargoes to other ports.

On sourcing of foreign exchange (Forex), he said it was unthinkable that manufacturers could not easily source Forex while those who have nothing to do with manufacturing are in possession of hard currencies.

Oyibo also noted that the disbursement of Forex for import of raw materials has indicated that the nation’s currency has lost its value in the last one year, to an unacceptable level.

He said there is a strong nexus between the exchange rate pressure and the manufacturing sector, as they rely on dollar-driven importation.

“We are not only contending with weaker currency, but it is an unfortunate situation of non-accessibility of forex and a spike in capital outflow for most companies.

“Our industry is full of players with genuine intention and would do well if the Forex is made available to them to increase the importation of raw materials,” stated he.

Oyibo called on the government to stop the plan to raise excise duty on non-alcoholic drinks, as many of them are suffocating.

“The justification is that non-alcoholic drinks manufacturers are making fortunes and that there is 30 percent excise levy on alcoholic drinks.

“This is not enough justification to subject companies that are struggling to survive to another financial burden.

“We are using this medium to call on the government to engage stakeholders constructively.

“This is to arrive at a more beneficial conclusion to save the already struggling companies in our sector that are only surviving’’ on a small profit margin,” Oyibo said.

Speaking further on the issue of influx of expatriates in the sector, he said many of them should not be in the country as they are doing the jobs that could be handled by Nigerians. He called on the government to apply its big stick and send packing expatriates that should not be in the country.

“Our movement round the companies is to get acquainted with the challenges they are facing.

“One of the challenges, which has been historical in nature, is the issue of expatriates.

“We are seriously disturbed by the increase in the numbers that had flooded the companies in our industry.”

He added: “This is disheartening and unacceptable to us; this attitude alone has led to continuous taking over of jobs that are exclusive rights of indigenous workers.

“Although we have tackled the menace headlong in the past and I am using this medium to state that we will continue the struggle to save our jobs.”

The newly-elected President of FOBTOB vowed that his administration would not tolerate any company in the food and beverage sector that breaches Labour laws as it concerns members, promising to see to the welfare of the association’s members. (The Nation)

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