Upsurge in smugglers’ activity endangers local rice production

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Adebayo Obajemu

Self sufficiency in food production, and agriculture in general has been one of the policy thrusts of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
On the need to deepen agriculture, especially rice production, government has introduced so many incentives ranging from the supply of fertilisers to Anchors Borrowers Programme (ABP), to interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria. These measures to lift agriculture ,especially rice production, is under threat, as the activity of rice smugglers and the sabotage by unscrupulous rice traders have increased in recent times.

According to latest report by Economic Confidential and the United States’ Department of Agriculture, over 70 percent of rice in the market is foreign.

In a survey by Economic Confidential across the six geopolitical zones of the country, foreign rice such as Mama Gold, Royal Stallion, Rice Master, Caprice, Falcon Rice and Basmati are reportedly selling alongside Nigerian rice namely: Umza and Fursa Crown from Kano, Mama Happy from Niger, Labana Rice from Kebbi, Olam Rice from Nasarawa, Abakaliki Rice from Ebonyi, Ofada Rice from Ogun State, Swomen Dama from Plateau, Lake Rice of Lagos/Kebbi States among others. This is in spite of the federal government’s ban on imported rice in 2015.

Muhammad Adamu, secretary of Rice Millers Association of Nigeria ( Kogi state chapter) in a telephone conversation with Eandel was full of praise for the Buhari administration for its agricultural policy but blamed the Nigeria Customs for not doing enough to stop the activities of smugglers. “The current administration is trying , but as you can see the effort of government to encourage agriculture, especially rice production is being undermined by smugglers.

Only recently, Audu Ogbeh, former Minister of Agriculture, said Nigerians no longer patronise imported rice ,but checks by this newspaper contradict the minister’s claim. At various markets in Lagos, Daleko, Mile 12, Oshodi, Pelewura, Oke Odo, Sango and Ajegunle, foreign rice outnumbered local ones.

Last month, the United States Department of Agriculture said in 2018 alone, Nigeria imported three million metric tons of rice, about 400,000 higher than in 2017.
It also alleged that between 2016 to 2018, local production of rice dropped significantly compared to 2015.

Checks conducted by this magazine revealed preponderance of foreign rice in the markets. Traders interviewed said they make enormous profits from foreign rice, which they say is much more than what they make from the local rice. Majority of those interviewed believed local rice has more nutritional value than the foreign one.

This magazine learnt that rice dealers buy local rice at about N13,000 per 50kg bag, while they sell it customers for between N15,500 to N16, 000. The same merchants pay about N11,000 for the smuggled foreign rice and sell to consumers between N17,500 and N19,000 per bag.

Awawu Jolayemi, a rice seller at Daleko market in Lagos said most of them prefer selling foreign rice because it is cheaper and also it yields enormous profit. ” Local rice is costlier and there is no much profit. We buy it at N13,000 and sell between N15,500 to N16,000, whereas we buy foreign rice at N11,000 and sell between N17,000 to N19,000.As you can see we are in business to make money,so we prefer foreign rice. ”

Another trader at Mile 12 market said :“There is more market for us in foreign rice because it’s cheaper At the various markets surveyed, the merchants all agreed that local rice is expensive ,and that most customers prefer foreign rice. ” Government needs to bring the price of local rice down, if they mean business, as for me I prefer foreign rice but they say the local rice is more nutritional “, said,Oladele Awoyemi , a banker, who this reporter saw purchasing a bag of foreign Caprice rice at Daleko market.

Mrs Janet Amaechi, a rice seller at Ajegunle boundary said :“I try as much as possible to buy foreign rice because my customers prefer them and they are cheap.” Asked whether the quantity of local rice in the market is more than the foreign rice is, she said no!

The spokesperson of the Nigeria Customs Service, Joseph Attah, blamed the smugglers for the upsurge of imported rice in spite of the efforts of the Nigeria Customs.

“All our warehouses and available places are filled up with seized smuggled rice. The smugglers are becoming so deadly as a number of death have been recorded from our confrontations with them.

“In fact, the federal government recently gave a directive that rice and other relief materials in the warehouses should be distributed to orphanages and Internally Displaced People Camps to address the plights of the victims as well as to free the warehouses.

Meanwhile, late last year, Economic Confidential recalls that the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) debunked the report by the United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade that Nigeria imported three million metric tons of rice in 2018.

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