James Emejo in Abuja
Rice farmers have raised the alarm over a resurgence in the smuggling of the commodity, warning that it could jeopardise their N3.4 trillion investment to make the country self-sufficient in rice production.
The Director-General of the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), Mr. Andy Ekwelem, said smuggling could also erase over 13 million jobs in the sector.
He urged the federal government to take measures, including criminalising smuggling, to arrest the situation.
Ekwelem told reporters at the weekend that there had been a significant increase in the number of integrated rice processors to about 60 operators from about 47 as well as enhanced primary production capacity in rice production, which should not be allowed to be threatened by smuggling.
He stated that the Buhari administration and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has done a lot to ensure that the tempo in local rice production is sustained as well as ensure that every actor in the value chain has a reason to continue to remain in business.
He noted that the CBN has done “wonderfully well supporting both the farmers and the rice processors and implementing programmes that are geared to make sure that Nigeria meets that target to feed ourselves.”
However, he expressed concern that smuggling constituted the greatest challenge facing the industry and urged the government to deal with the potential threat to the economy.
Ekwelem, therefore, urged the federal government to criminalise foreign rice importation and prosecute violators to serve as deterrence to others.
He said: “We have said it many times that we need to criminalise foreign rice smuggling.
“Rice is number one in the list of prohibited products in the CBN list of restricted items. So, it is assumed that any rice you see in this country now, in the market, in the shop, even in your home, that is not Nigerian-made rice, is smuggled into the country.
“First, the country is losing revenue because these guys are not paying the right duties to bring in the rice into the country. Second, they are killing our home economy. So, we need to criminalise the sale. If we come to your shop and there is foreign rice there, you will be arrested, you will be charged because it amounts to economic sabotage.
“When that is done, people will be dissuaded from buying from these guys who smuggle rice into the country.”
He called for measures against rice smugglers and sellers.