Despite concrete and visible interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) via the Anchors Borrowers Programme (ABP) on the rice sub-sector of the Nigerian economy, over 70 per cent of rice in Nigeria markets are foreign or imported.
In a three-week survey on the rice market across the six geopolitical zones in the country, Economic Confidential team observed that foreign rice such as Mama Gold, Royal Stallion, Rice Master, Caprice, Falcon Rice and Basmati are sold 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.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the CBN have reacted to the latest report.
Stakeholders in the rice subsector, namely, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN) and Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) however gave kudos to the apex bank 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.
The stakeholders in separate interviews laid the blame for the inflow of the banned commodity on the doorsteps of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), adding that for the federal government to make meaningful impact in its fight against smuggling of the commodity, serious attention must be paid to the various porous borders which the Nigeria Customs Service has the constitutional responsibility to man.
The development is coming almost four years after the federal government banned the importation of the commodity through land, sea and air.
As part of efforts to reach different markets across the six geopolitical zones of the country, the investigative team spread its dragnet to Singer Market Kano; Utako Market, Abuja; Terminus Market Jos; Mile 3 Market Port-Harcourt;, Main Market, Onitsha; Ogbete Market in Enugu, G-Cappa Market, Lagos and Jimeta Main Market – Yola.
On-the-spot checks by this intelligence magazine show the preponderance of foreign rice in these markets by merchants who said that profits coming from foreign rice far out-weigh the local rice which majority of those interviewed believed has more nutritional value than the foreign rice.
The 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.
Speaking on the disparity between the cost of local rice and smuggled foreign rice, Paul Nwadike, a rice distributor at Ogbete market in Enugu said: “My brother, let me tell you that gains we receive from selling foreign rice are more than the local rice because local rice is more costlier.”
Auwal Mukhtar a merchant in Singer Market Kano said: “There is more market for us in foreign rice because it’s cheaper.”
Mr Nwadike said. ‘tell them to bring the cost of local rice down” he pleaded.
Another rice merchant, Mustafha in Utako Market, Abuja, noted that “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, he said no!
The same goes for Terminus Market Jos, Mile 3 Market Port-Harcourt, Main Market, Onitsha.
The traders were reluctant to disclose how they got large supplies of foreign rice.
One of them said: “Bros (short for brother) you want to spoil our business? How can we tell you the source of our business?”
The rice traders in separate interviews attributed the upsurge of rice smuggling to the ineffectiveness of Customs service urging the government to take necessary steps to overhaul the Customs and its strategies to combat the menace.
When contacted, the spokesperson of the Nigeria Customs Service, Joseph Attah, lamented the deadly activities of rice smugglers in Nigeria.
Attah said: “How much efforts are really enough. 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.
“We now urge the major stakeholders to join us in the campaign against the deadly activities of smugglers through advocacy and sensitizations that will lead to attitudinal changes in the part of the smugglers.”
Also speaking on the same vein, the Central Bank Director of Corporate Communications, Isaac Okorafor, said local rice has more nutritional value than foreign rice. He, however, disagreed with our survey that the quantity of foreign rice in Nigerian market far outweigh the local arguing that the apex bank through its intervention has put smiles on the faces of rice farmers and other stakeholders in the value chain.
“I don’t know the parameters used in your survey in terms of quantity of rice both foreign and local. But I can assure you that Nigerians would not like to go back to the dark days of rice importation”, the CBN spokesperson said.
However, 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.
The US report had said the import figure is 400,000 metric tonnes higher than the quantity of the product that was imported in 2017.
The report also stated that Nigeria’s local rice production dropped from 2016 to 2018 compared to the situation in 2015.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s neighbour, Republic of Benin, however, recorded an increase in rice imports from Thailand, from 805,765mt in 2015 to 1,647,387mt as at November 2017.
Though the government had claimed a reduction in the importation of the commodity, existing statistics should be a cause for concern as only Nigeria consumes parboiled rice while Benin prefers white rice, an indication that rice imported to Benin residents are being smuggled to Nigeria through the land borders.
Economic Confidential wholly agrees that while legally imported rice continues to decline, the majority of rice in the Nigerian markets are imported smuggled rice for which the country loses huge revenue that should have accrued to it.
Despite the ban, smuggling of rice has continued to thrive as huge quantities of the commodity flood the local market daily.