Influx of imported bananas unhealthy for Nigerian producers

Imported banana, with low prices, has flooded Abuja markets, raising concerns about the country’s food security, the livelihoods of banana farmers and traders as well as the health of consumers. An investigation by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, at various markets and supermarkets in Utako and Maitama districts of Abuja on Tuesday revealed that the foreign banana was conspicuously displayed on several shelves.

Even the roadside fruit hawkers were not left out, as they apparently gave more priority to displaying the foreign banana than the local variety. The sellers and buyers, who spoke to NAN, said that the imported banana had received high patronage due to certain factors such as its fresh appearance, smooth skin, size, taste and lower prices.

The banana imports notwithstanding, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) identifies Nigeria as one of the largest banana and plantain producing countries in Africa. Recent statistics indicate that Nigeria produces about 2.74 million tonnes of banana annually, making the crop one of the important staple crops in the country.

However, some of the sellers and consumers of the imported variety of banana said that it was receiving high patronage because of its fresh look, packaging, size and taste. NAN observed that the imported banana is usually displayed for sale in a bunch of five fingers, 10 fingers and 15 fingers, depending on the species.

A consumer, Aminu Danlami, said that the imported banana was cheaper than the local species, adding that it also had a longer shelf-life when compared to the local banana. He also said that the unique taste of the imported banana had made it more appealing to most banana consumers.

However, Rachael Oke, another consumer, bemoaned the flooding of FCT markets with imported, low-priced fruits whose sources could not be easily ascertained.

She said that the imported fruits included apples, small grapes, plums and all kinds of exotic fruits.

But Ms. Oke particularly frowned at banana importation, insisting that banana was cultivated in great quantities in many states across the country.

She emphasised that if the trend was not reversed, it could force thousands of banana farmers and traders out of business, while exerting more pressure on the shaky food security of the country.

One of the major banana importers at Utako market, who preferred anonymity, said that he used to import banana and other fruits from Togo, Cameroon and at times, Benin Republic; depending on the security situation and the prevailing currency exchange rates at different points in time.

He said that his banana importation business was very lucrative because he had many retail outlets in Abuja, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and Kogi states, while the patronage for imported banana was constantly increasing, when contrasted with that of the local variety.

He also added that the imported banana could retain its freshness for three weeks without losing its taste or look. “It is easier for me to import banana than to import rice or vegetable oil because Customs (Nigeria Customs Service) will not disturb me.

“At times, I buy grains from Dawanu market in Kano and ferry them to Niger or Benin Republic or buy things from Taraba and take them to Cameroon. In those countries, I buy fruits and eggs for sales in my country,’’ he said

The man also noted that the imported banana could be preserved for a long time, unlike the home-grown species, adding that the same situation applied to other imported fruits like berries, apples and tangerines.

A fruit distributor, Angulu Dangazuwa, said that it was better for him to sell the imported banana than the local banana variety.

“Hardly can you incur losses on it (imported banana) because it does not get spoilt easily; it sells faster and it is sweeter and readily available, if compared to the local variety,’’ he said.

Mr. Dangazuwa said that a box of imported banana with over 40 fingers cost about N2, 500, adding that a similar quantity of the local banana variety, which had a shorter shelf-life, cost about N3, 500.

He argued that the home-grown banana was still one of the most expensive fruits in the country nowadays. A fruit seller at the Maitama Fruit Market, who simply identified himself as Abdulkareem, corroborated Mr. Dangazuwa’s viewpoint.

He, however, noted that in spite of the stated qualities of the imported banana, foreigners living in the country still had a preference for the local banana. Mr Uzordima, a banana farmer in Gwagwalada, noted that the growing craze for imported banana had somewhat posed a serious threat to local banana farmers, their productivity and the country’s economy.

He also said that the activities of the middlemen had negatively affected banana and plantain cultivation in the country. “For a big bunch of plantain which is supposed to be sold for N1,200 or a big bunch of banana that is supposed to be sold at N300; the middlemen would force you to sell them at N800 and N100 respectively,’’ he said.

Mr. Uzordima grumbled that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development was apathetic towards the development, while the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had done little or nothing to prevent smugglers from saturating the country’s markets with imported fruits.

He underscored the need for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and other stakeholders to develop the food and research components of the agricultural sector to enable the sector to cope with emerging challenges.

A source at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development confirmed that the government was worried over prevalence of imported fruits in markets across Abuja.

The source, who spoke to NAN on condition of anonymity, said that the issue was fast becoming a national embarrassment and a threat to the food security programme of the government.

He conceded that the government was conscious of the potential threat of imported banana, particularly in relation to the local banana, the fruits markets and the national economy.

He said that the government was working round the clock to curb the illegal importation of fruits into the country.

According to the source, the ministry is working in concert with the NCS and the security agencies at the airport, which serves as one of the point of entry for the produce, to curb illicit fruit imports.

He said that the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) is also working assiduously to monitor the importation of agricultural produce (plants, fruits and animals) into the country.

The source, however, noted that the agencies could not be too rigid with regard to efforts to regulate food imports because Nigeria was a signatory to the protocols of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). He said that Nigeria, which was also a signatory to a protocol on the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, needed to be more observant concerning the safety and security of food imports.

The source said that the ministry was striving to address the challenges hindering the efforts of farmers to boost their productivity. He said that government was adopting a value chain approach to enhance productivity, increase agro processing and facilitate access to markets.

All the same, analysts underscore the need for the government to redouble its efforts to curb indiscriminate importation of fruits, particularly those fruits that are widely produced in the country.

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