imported rice
imported rice

Boosting Rice Production, Tackling Smuggling

The battle to end the importation of rice into the country through the illicit activities of smuggling may be far from been totally won. Yet, the determination on the part of the Federal Government to boost its production through massive local cultivation has since been unassailable.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government (FG), sometimes in November 2018, approved the sum of N60 billion to support rice production in the country and crash its market price ahead of the last festive period. Equally, as part of efforts to boost rice production and ban importation into the country, FG expressed readiness to partner with OLAM farm, in Nasarawa State.

Speaking after inspecting facilities at the farm during a visit in 2016, Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, who is the Chairman of the National Initiative for Stable Crop Production in Nigeria, congratulated Olam farm for its doggedness and self-determination in consolidating on FG’s policy of fighting importation of foreign rice into the country by encouraging local food production. The aim of the partnership, according to Gov. Bagudu then, was to support domestic food production and food security through scaling up rice cultivation.

While responding, Vice president of the farm, Mr. Regi George, who stated that they had already developed a 10,000 hectare fully irrigated paddy farm on green field sites in Rukubi, Nasarawa State, expressed belief that the country would soon achieve self-sufficiency in rice production. He further disclosed that over 4,450 hectares were already under cultivation, with a further 3,000 hectares on target for 2017 and 2018 raining season.

In February this year, the immediate past Agriculture Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, while declaring open a two-day ‘Farmers Forum and Exhibition’ workshop, jointly organised by the Kebbi Ministry of Agriculture and DailyTrust Newspapers, asserted that FG will train 100 rice farmers in Kebbi, as part of efforts to boost rice production in the country.

Ogbeh added that the training of the 100 Kebbi farmers in commercial rice production was in recognition of the success which the state government had recorded in rice production under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Likewise, a one-time Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Aisha Al-Hassan, in March last year, during the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), disclosed that FG had released about N43.92 billion (122 million dollars) to 300,000 rice farmers to increase Nigeria’s rice production by additional two million tonnes in 2018.

But amidst the courageous steps and inspiring commitments shown by both the Federal Government and State Government to boost local rice production, activity of the smuggling of the staple crop seems to be burgeoning. As a matter of fact, the protracted smuggling of the commodity appears to have grown to the extent of dominating the market, even as it sucks away the foreign exchange by way of capital flight. Almost 70 percent of rice in the local market are foreign parboiled rice, while the locally-made rice have been overwhelmed and barely has little or no place in the market.

Already, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) has said Nigeria lost over $400 million after about one million metric tonnes of the commodity was smuggled into the country from Benin Republic between January 2019 and August.

The National Chairman of RIPAN, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Maifata, disclosed this to journalists on Thursday in Abuja, after an intensive border and port survey by the association.

The RIPAN boss explained that about half a million metric tonnes of the commodity have already been booked in Thailand for onward journey to Nigeria, preparatory to the forthcoming Christmas celebration and Yuletide season.

This, according to the chairman, would no doubt have a ripple effect on rice processors in the country as their activities would be hampered if this impending illegal importation is not checked with the attendant colossal loss of over $400 million.

He noted that the closure of the Nigerian Benin Republic border would go a long way to curb the menace of rice smuggling so that local producers would have a breather, adding that the association supports the current border closure by the government.

RIPAN and other stakeholders had in a three-week survey on the rice market across the six geopolitical zones in the country observed that foreign rice such as Mama Gold, Royal Stallion, Rice Master, Caprice, Falcon Rice and Basmati are sold alongside Nigerian rice.

“We at RIPAN join other stakeholders in the rice subsector, namely, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), in commending CBN for the timely intervention and banning of rice since 2015, a development that has seen growth in local production of rice and serious saving of foreign exchange,” Alhaji Maifata said.

He applauded the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for its current and rigorous fight against smuggling of the commodity and enjoined the various security agencies who are mandated by the current directive to raise the bar of the fight to check the various porous borders.

There is no gainsaying that the activity of rice smuggling will automatically be curbed if locally-produced rice can compete evenly in terms of pricing and quality with its foreign counterpart. However, that will only happen, if the private sector is supported, and commercial rice farmers encouraged to invest in mechanized farming. They should be advised to adopt cost-effective means of processing locally-produced rice to ensure optimality in quality, as well as price competitiveness.

They also need to be supported with special intervention funds that are of single-digit interest rate and allow long term repayment tenure, together with providing easy access to land and infrastructure support for mechanized farming.

But to permanently tackle the menace of illegal importation of rice, FG must ensure that its anti-smuggling efforts are strengthened, while security officials caught aiding and abetting these economic saboteurs should be severely punished to serve as a deterrent to others.

Abdulsalam Mahmud
PRNigeria Office, Abuja