Smuggling will Erode Gains in Rice Revolution, Farmers Warn

  •   Claim 20m bags smuggled in three years

James Emejo in Abuja

The Chairman of Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), Mr.  Mohammed Abubakar, has warned that the gains so far recorded in the rice production revolution in the country, particularly the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP), could be jeopardised by the activities of smugglers if not confronted head-on frontally by government.

He also raised the alarm that over one million metric tonnes of rice (about 20 million bags) had been smuggled into the country within the last three months.

As a result, he said Nigeria currently loses huge revenues, foreign exchange and jobs to this menace as rice processing companies continue to shut down operations because of their inability to gain market access.

The RIPAN chairman said, “more painfully millions of small-holder farmers are stuck with their paddy (rice) because the millers can no longer afford to buy from them.”

Speaking during a media briefing over the weekend, Abubakar said the recent CBN interventions had impacted greatly on integrated processing capacity, which increased from 800,000 metric tonnes in 2014 to 1.6 million metric tonnes in 2018, in addition to about 3.9 million metric tonnes of finished rice milled by thousands of cottage millers scattered across the country.

He expressed worry that all these achievements may go down the drain, if the activities of smugglers go unchecked.

Among other things, the association recommended the immediate raid of the various rice smugglers market across the country.

He further called on the federal government to begin to sanction officers and employees of agencies of government, including Customs, NAFDAC and SON, which are saddled with the responsibility of enforcement.

According to him, these agencies compromise their offices or fail in their various responsibilities.

He said: “Government must note that some officers working in these government agencies are in collaboration with these smugglers. These officers must be fished out and punished by the EFCC, for economic sabotage.”

Abubakar said government must as a matter of urgent national importance, take strong diplomatic action against its neighbouring countries who allow parboiled rice into their country for final destination to Nigeria, adding that the government may consider closing the borders in the meantime should diplomatic overtures fail.

“Government must deal firmly with smuggling and severely punish infractions in a way that makes smuggling too costly to risk. Government must begin to fish out and punish multinational companies who play on both sides of the border; – those who actually drive the syndicates (the promoters).

“It is absolutely vital for government to sustain the current drive for greater investments, strengthen the policy environment and continue to implement policies and strategies that grow local capacity and protect local value chain.

“We appeal to state governments to build relevant agricultural infrastructure that permit more one season farming  such as irrigation facility, rural access roads and electricity.

“With regards to extension services/research and support, government should train and equip more extension officers and agents so that they can provide quality training to the farmers.

“Currently inadequate, well trained extension agents, poor farmers training or practical guidance on good agricultural practices are undermining farming practices in Nigeria.

“Using funds from rice import levy and long term multinational agencies loans, the federal government can drive the rice production Initiative to great success. Such funds can be effectively deployed and limited to areas of land clearing/development, irrigation mechanisation and improved direct credit to farmers. This will reduce farmers cost of production and invariably impact paddy cost and millers output,” he explained.