Experts have called on the Federal Government to rescind its decision to ban milk importation by 2022, to prevent overwhelming malnutrition among the populace.
They said if the Federal Government makes good its decision to ban the importation of milk, Nigerian children who rely on milk for their daily dietary intake risk stunted growth.
The experts also warned that the decision may lead to spike in incidents of eye problems, diabetes and heart disease among vulnerable segments of the population.
This followed disclosure by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, that plans have been concluded to ban milk importation into the country in two years’ time.
Nanono spoke during the commemoration of the 2020 World Food Day in Abuja on Wednesday.
He said the agric ministry was doing everything to ensure that the ban is realised, adding that the country has the capacity to produce milk that will meet Nigerians’ needs.
“We are planning this in the ministry and, watch my words, in the next two years, we will ban the importation of milk into this country.
“And ask me why: we have 25 million cows in this country to produce five million litres per day,” he said.
Continuing, Nanono said, “The issue now is logistics, which we have started by setting up milk processing plants across the country.
“I see no reason why we should import milk in the next two years. We should stop the importation of milk.”
It may be recalled that in 2019, the Central Bank of Nigeria said milk and other dairy products might be added to its list of restricted products, so as to boost local production of dairy products and increase investment in ranches across the nation.
According to the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, importation of finished and raw milk gulps between $1.2bn and $1.5bn annually.
He said the huge import bill contributes to food insecurity and is one of the reasons behind the CBN’s decision.
Emefiele said when the policy comes into effect, milk imports will no longer be eligible under payment terms known as ‘bills for collection,’ which allows importers to buy on credit.
He said importers would need to fund their naira accounts and open letters of credit which will significantly reduce the profitability of importing milk and dairy products.
The implication of this, experts however predict, would have far-reaching effects on nutrition in the country.
Tsekohol Denison, a nutritionist and farmer, said the move was good, but ill-timed.
Denison said before an essential nutritional commodity like milk could be banned, a substitute must be put in place.
He noted that already, the cost of purchasing rice, one of the staple foods consumed by Nigerians, is high, and that banning milk should not be an option at the moment.
“Milk is consumed by virtually everyone and is used to make a variety of food and pastries.
“More importantly, it would impact negatively on babies that rely on milk as an additional source of nutrition,” Denison said.
According to the World Poverty Clock, higher milk prices might compound the malnutrition challenges in Nigeria, with an estimated extreme poverty rate of 44 percent.
The World Health Organisation said malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy or nutrients, adding that it can lead to serious health issues that include stunted growth, eye problems, diabetes and heart disease.
Malnutrition, the United Nations Children’s Fund noted, is a direct or underlying cause of 45 percent of all deaths of under-five children, and that Nigeria has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five.
Milk and dairy products, according to the UN, are vital sources of nutrition, especially for children, noting that good nutrition, access to adequate diet and health are essential for child growth, development, body maintenance and protection from both infectious and non-communicable diseases in adult life.
The UN emphasised that adequate dietary intake is especially critical in the period from six to 18 months of a child’s life when growth rate is high.
It explained that at six months, breast milk alone can no longer adequately support normal growth and mental development, and that nutrient-rich complementary foods must be introduced, including animal-source foods.
“Milk contains numerous nutrients and it makes a significant contribution to meeting the body’s needs for calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5),” the UN noted.
Meanwhile, a report by Chapel Hill Denham, leading independent investment banking, securities trading and investment management firm, warned that malnutrition for children under the age of five would be one of the major implications of the proposal to ban milk imports.
According to reports from Asoko Insight, a platform for Nigeria’s dairy industry, dairy consumption in Nigeria is rising faster than the pace of production.
It noted that Nigeria’s dairy industry is cultivated on a subsistent basis and characterised by low productivity.
The report stated that despite the abundance of natural resources required for milk production, Nigeria’s milk production estimated at 600,000 MT, accounts for only 13 percent of West African production.
“Currently, domestic production dwarfs local demand (estimated at 1.3MMT), leading to a shortfall that has often been met by imports.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, said as at 2018, Nigeria had a cattle population of 20 million, accounting for 1.36 per cent of the global total and making it the fourth-largest cattle population in Africa after Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania.
The body noted that of the country’s total herd, 11.5 percent is used for dairy, while 88.5 percent is consumed as meat.
“Most of the cattle in Nigeria are found in the northern region states of Kaduna and Kano.
“The majority of cows are local breeds, representing over 90 per cent, while the remainder comprises cultured breeds imported from the Netherlands and South Africa. It is these breeds which are mainly used for dairy production.
“Unlike other countries like Kenya where cattle are managed in stable units such as ranches, Nigerian cattle are reared under nomadic systems, where cattle are moved across states in search of food and water.
“The nomadic system affects the nutrition and management of the animals, which in turn impacts their weight and milk production.
“Milk output of nomadic herds is usually lower than that of cattle managed in specially built units where feeding is controlled.
“On average, cows in Nigeria have a maximum weight of 300 kg and produce about 1.5-2 litres of milk daily, compared to Kenya where cattle weigh between 700 kg and 1,000 kg with daily milk production of 30 litres.
“Domestic milk production increased by six per cent between 2014 and 2018, to reach a total output of 641,000 tonnes in 2018,” the UN body stated.
It, however, noted that the increase is not enough to keep pace with consumption, which grew by approximately eight per cent from 943,000 tonnes in 2014 to about one million tonnes in 2018.
In September 2017, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, said cows raised in Nigeria are the worst milk producers in the world.
He noted that an average cow in the country produces less than one litre of milk per day, compared to those from other countries where a cow could produce 100 litres per day.
Presently, Nigeria’s national dairy output per annum is 700,000 metric tonnes, while the national demand is put at 1.3 million metric tonnes annually, leaving a gap of 600,000MT, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.