Should FG Ban Importation Of Rice? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Should FG Ban Importation Of Rice?

Posted: Jul 3, 2015 at 1:42 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

In this special report of last part, our reporters across the federation, investigates how the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy change is in line with the believe that Nigeria can attain its true potentials by stop importing rice into the country by reviewing the list of other imported items as it becomes comfortable that these items can be produced locally if we apply ourselves sufficiently.

Challenges faced by millers

A cleric, Mr. Israel Ajayi who also encouraged Nigerians to venture into agriculture said rice plantation should be the main focus of Government considering the level of consumption.

According to him, the cultivation of cassava that started during the administration of an ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, went to waste.

He noted that it was high time Nigeria divert human and material resources towards agriculture particularly rice plantation.

To him, lack of encouragement on the part of government has made many to think rice plantation had no future.

Sharing his experience as rice farmer, the cleric who was involved in other agriculture produce before now said, he switched to producing rice knowing that it was in real demand in Nigeria.

Reeling out statistics on the importation of rice, Israel stated that: “Our country is the world’s second largest importer of rice with 2.1 metric tonnes per year. This costs over N356bn per annum for the budget”.

One of the major challenges is fighting hungry birds which destroy rice plantations. However, the solution has been discovered:

He said, “We divided the plantation into four sections and put at least 10 people in each section armed with catapults and whistles. We also used drums,”

Anisulowo Kolapo, who had been involved in rice plantation for many years in Osun state, urged the people to take advantage of agriculture particularly rice plantation, adding that it was profitable.

He said: “People should take advantage of locally produced rice because if you buy one bag of local rice, you are helping the farmers. If we mill one bag, the bulk of money goes directly to the farmers. That is why the government has vowed to support local farmers throughout the country”

Explaining why the country still import rice, Chairman, Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RPAN), Mohammed Abubakar, stated that this was so because country does not have enough paddies to meet the demand and attain self sufficiency.

Speaking recently at a press conference organised by the Nigeria Rice Investors Group, Abubakar puts local production at about 2.5 million to three million tons.

He added that only about 800,000 tons are processed annually by the country’s 24 integrated rice millers, contending that what the integrated rice millers’ produce is cleaner than those produced by remote rice farmers.

Expressing optimism that Nigeria may put an end to importation in three years, According to him, Abubakar added that the five million tons of rice consumed annually could met with the current effort geared towards production of paddy rice.

“We have a long way to go. That is why we are advocating that you, me, and everybody should come and join the centre so that we can produce more paddies which will translate to more rice and eventually translate into stopping importation of rice into Nigeria.

President, Nigeria Rice Investors Group (NRIG), Mr. Tunji Owoeye, who appreciated existing challenges, observed that businesses in the industry are doing well than expected presently.

On his part, chairman of Patriotic Rice Association of Nigeria (PRAN), Alhaji Habilu Maishinkafa, told Daily Independent that the massive smuggling of the commodity through the land borders through Benin Republic poses a threat to rice millers in the country.

He said: “given the free rein of smugglers in the nation’s borders, a bleak future lies ahead of local rice growers and traders.”

Maishinkafa explained that the higher tariff and the resultant higher market prices encourage smugglers to push large volumes of rice into Nigeria with zero duty.

These he observed would unsettle government’s effort to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production, contending that large scale investments in the farming and milling industries by private businesses are already in jeopardy as smugglers beat Customs with ease.

Condemning the porous nature of the country’s borders he said, “All manner of contrabands, from ammunitions to banned food items like frozen chicken to vegetable oil are pushed through the borders.

“But the smuggling of rice, through the Benin and Niger Republics and Cameroun, have become scandalous and a major embarrassment. It brings along with it plenty ill omens for the Nigerian economy in terms of lost revenue, compressing investors’ expectations and crippling local production of the commodity and all the value-added chain”, he said.


Volume of consumption

According to the figures computed by PRAN, some 80,000 metric tonnes of rice is smuggled into Nigeria from Benin Republic every month with lost revenue amounting to N10 billion.

Differing on the figures, the Nigeria Customs Service, whose duty it is to police the border puts the figure in the region of N27billion.

He lamented that presently there are vessels laden with hundreds of thousands metric tonnes of rice from India and Thailand waiting at ports of Benin Republic and Cameroon to discharge their contents in Nigeria.

A local rice farmer in Kogi State, Bolaji Kabiru said: “We as Nigerian investors have made sacrifices by paying higher duties for the importation of rice through the official channels, while some of our members have begun the backward integration process for rice value-chain. We cannot allow smugglers to keep destroying these investments.”

He described as mere pronouncement government’s ban of importation of rice, contending that the NCS have compromised the integrity of the country.


Beyond Ban

As the debate on whether the Federal Government should ban the importation of rice continues, an importer, Mr Okey Wilson has said that the move by the government is a good one that but that there other measures government needed to take before banning the importation of rice.

He further stated that he would support ban only if the commodity could be mass produced by farmers in the country locally, adding that banning rice when Nigeria cannot produce enough for Nigerians to consume would amount to an effort in futility.

Okey  posited that in as much as he believed the Federal Government  had the right to ban but consider the capability of the country to make up for the production locally.

He suggested that the Federal Government and the importer should first of all empower rice farmers across the country with funds and equipment to farm, adding that Nigeria has large expanse of arable land for rice cultivation.

Government ,he said should look at both sides of the issue before taking a final decision ,warning that if rice was banned with no sufficient production locally, people may result to smuggling the product into the country.

Also supporting the ban, the former General Manager, Corporate Communications, Air Nigeria, Mr Francis Aiyigbe, emphasised the need adequate production for domestic consumption.

Advocating for quality production, he posited domestic production must meet the standard of imported brand.

He challenged the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to wake up to its statutory responsibilities.

According to him, “Do we have Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) that standardises the quality and quantity of rice that is produced anywhere within Nigeria .More also that we can say that any rice produced in any part of Nigeria is standard and exportable. If the rice produced locally cannot make export standard, then there is no point.”

To buttress his point, Ayigbe pointed out that when people see a product made in China, what readily come to mind is that it is inferior and when people see products made in Germany, what strikes the mind is quality.

Conversely, when you say a particular item is made in Nigeria, what strikes you is the quality. We should advocate, work and go for standard because it is extremely important in every aspect of our production line; whether it is rice, beans, medicine, equipment, shoes and everything we produced in the country or imported standard is important.”

He contended that producing rice locally was not the issue, but whether the quality of rice produced meets international standards.


Empowering Farmers

Reacting to suggestions in some quarters that the Federal Government should empower rice farmers in the country with funds, equipment and other things necessary for them to farm and further expand the acres of land they farm, the former General Manager, Communications, Air Nigeria, stated that going by the praises the farmers showered on the former Agriculture Minister, the rice farmers should have associations and unions by now.

He added that if the farmers after these years had not asked for assistance or support from the Federal Government, it is either they had not asked or they had asked and nobody listened to them.

“Empower to do what? Farmers should form trade association which they already have, trade association, which I supposed is already in place. If they have not been asking for assistance, why are they just asking now .Why are they just asking for it now? Was it that they have been asking and nobody was listening? But we saw how they have been commending the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina and so we would expect that by now we should be harvesting very soon the fruit of that commendation. If that happens, we would be rest assured that we are on the right track.” he said

He advised that Nigeria should embark on mass and quality production of rice, adding that the two go together.

He further argued that if Nigeria mass produce rice and the product falls below the quality of rice the country had been importing from Taiwan, it would create another problem.

The former spokesman contended that if that happens, Nigeria would have ended up mass producing another Ekpoma rice full of pebbles but that fall below the known quality rice that Nigerians are used to .

Ayigbe stated that if Nigeria had improved on Ekpoma rice all these years and created standard for it, by now, he said the country would had gone far in rice production, adding that Nigeria has the capacity to be among the 10 leading rice producing countries in the world.

According to him, “We should also go for mass production and quality production and without that, we would just be producing Ekpoma rice full of pebbles .But the production of Ekpoma rice should have been encouraged a long time ago if there was serious efforts at maintaining standards and standardisation but that did not happen.”

He continued, “If we had encouraged the production of this rice, we would not be at the level we are now. If we had maintain standard in the production of Ekpoma rice by now we would have seen multiple positive effects ,as it would have generated a lot of jobs for farmers, rice millers and  bag sellers .We are missing so much opportunities by not encouraging the growing  and standardisation of Ekpoma rice.

If we had grown Ekpoma rice, by now it would also contribute to the revenue of the country.”