By Eromosele Abiodun
The federal government has alerted Nigerians of the unhealthy status of smuggled imported rice being dumped in the country and cautioned against their consumption.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who gave the advice at a press conference in Lagos, said the agricultural revolution in general and the rice revolution, in particular, have taken millions of Nigerians out of poverty.
He said 60 per cent of rice eaten in Nigeria is produced in Nigeria,Â adding that the rice revolution alone is enough to guarantee re-election for President Buhari, if he decides to run again.
Nigeria, the minister added, has never been closer to self-sufficiency in rice, a national staple, than now.
He appealed to Nigerians to complement the efforts of the government by consuming only locally-grown and processed rice which he said â€œis fresher, tastier and healthierâ€™â€™.
According to him, â€œWe donâ€™t know where or how imported rice is made or how old it is. It is reported that most of the rice dumped on us are old and probably rejected. The citizens of those countries do not eat this rice. The citizens of Benin also do not eat it. But they send it to us. Unhealthy foods are dangerous to health. So letâ€™s eat what we can vouch for.â€
The minister stressed that rice smuggling was the biggest challenge facing rice production in Nigeria.
Quoting the Rice Millers Importers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (RIMIDAN), he said more than two million metric tonnes (MT) of parboiled rice were smuggled into Nigeria in 2017.
He said smuggled rice was primarily sourced from Thailand and India and came into Nigeria through the countryâ€™s borders with Benin, Niger and Cameroon.
He said: â€œIn Benin Republic, the total demand for white rice (white rice is consumed in Benin, against parboiled rice in Nigeria) is 400,000 MT. Yet the country, with a population of about 11 million imports between one million and 1.2m MT of rice annually.
â€œWho are they importing for?-Nigerians of course. In fact, as Nigeriaâ€™s rice import falls, Beninâ€™s rice import increases. Most of the parboiled rice imported by Benin eventually lands in Nigeria through smuggling.â€
The minister said that smuggled rice costs between N11,000 and N13,000 per 50kg bag, while Nigerian processed rice sells for between N14,500 and N15,000 per 50kg bag
On why price of local rice was higher, he said Cameroon and Benin Republics had lowered tariff payable on rice to zero and five per cent respectively to encourage importation and subsequent smuggling into Nigeria.
He added that Thailand and India where the smuggled rice were sourced also gave a high level of subsidies to rice farmers and rice processors.
The minister disclosed that the local rice producers had made some representations to the government on how Nigerian rice could compete favourably in terms of pricing, with the heavily subsidised imported rice.
He assured stakeholdersÂ Â that the government would work on the presentations to formulate policies and take steps that will bring down the price of local rice.
Mohammed noted that less than three years into the rice revolution, millions of jobs had been created in the rice value chain in the country.
He added, â€œNigerians should remember that every time they eat imported rice, they are eating the jobs that would have been created for Nigerians. It is important for Nigerians to know that when they consume imported rice, they are creating jobs in India and Thailand and destroying jobs across our country.
â€œToday, we have rice farmers in all states and all geopolitical zones. In fact, most of us have friends and relatives who are farming rice. So if we donâ€™t patronise their products, we are destroying their livelihoods.â€
He said the government would embark on a massive nationwide campaign to sensitise compatriots on the need to support the rice revolution by consuming local rice.