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Intrigues as rice farmers, processors fear resurgence of smuggling

By Vincent A. Yusuf (Abuja), Abubakar Akote (Minna), Ibrahim Musa Giginyu (Kano) & Mahmoud Idris, Katsina   In the last two years, Nigerian rice farmers…

By Vincent A. Yusuf (Abuja), Abubakar Akote (Minna), Ibrahim Musa Giginyu (Kano) & Mahmoud Idris, Katsina


In the last two years, Nigerian rice farmers and processors have had relief from the menace of smuggling, which for years made the country a very good market for perpetrators.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and restriction of movement, smuggling activities went down, but recent reports of massive arrest of smugglers by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the availability of foreign rice in the markets raise the concern that smuggling is perhaps back.

Smuggling is driven by the desire of some Nigerians who still believe imported rice has superior processed quality than the Nigerian rice.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that some processors and traders are adopting different techniques to survive in the market.

Some dealers who trade in smuggled rice don’t display it for buyers to see. A buyer has to demand for it and agree to the price before the rice is brought out, especially in areas likely to be raided by men of the NCS.

The desire for foreign rice by some Nigerians has pushed the country’s local rice processors to adopt the use of foreign addresses and contacts on their packaging materials as measures to woo consumers to patronise their products.

It was gathered that despite the mantra that Nigeria is self-sufficient in local rice, there is still foreign rice everywhere in the country, with some reports suggesting that processors do not have enough paddies for processing, while smuggling is coming back in full force.

Some processors in Niger State said they had enough paddy rice but were constrained by the desire of some Nigerians who prefer foreign products.

Investigations revealed that a larger percentage of bags of rice with foreign addresses in the Nigerian market were locally processed and packaged in Nigeria.

Processors lamented low patronage from consumers due to ineffectiveness of the federal government’s policy on ban of importation of foreign rice.

The local processors dismissed the insinuations that they didn’t have enough paddy rice to process and take to the market, the reason the foreign ones still flood the Nigerian market,

Abdulkadir Nurudeen of Yabcom Rice Mill, Bida said, “There are many factors, but the major one is inconsistency in government’s policy, in the sense that the government could not effectively enforce the ban on importation of foreign rice. Also, government is only empowering political farmers instead of real ones. For instance, the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) was only empowering politicians rather than the real farmers.

“Some of these politicians would buy up to 7,000 hectares of inputs, which are being sold to the direct market instead of the farmers. They will come back to the market and compete with producers and small-scale businesses that are into processing. 

“The problem is that they consider anything when they are buying because they also need to buy to recover, having sold up their inputs, which are supposed to be used for farming. So, when the time for their recovery comes they go to the direct market with money to compete with people that are processing, leading to scarcity of paddies. So the producer will end up not having enough paddies to process.”

“The same government trying to fight for producers and encourage indigenous rice production is also killing it through inconsistency in policy and inefficiency to build up the policy it came up with.

“In fact, the policy only causes the masses and local rice processors more hardship. It is not as if the country doesn’t have enough paddies to process and take to the market, they are being mopped up by government’s agents to serve as their own recovery because they were given money to produce what they didn’t produce. Therefore, after the mop up, you know what they give them as a recovery sum. Somebody like me cannot buy it, and even if I want to, I will do it at a give-away price.

“For example, on the pyramid they did in Abuja, they told us that we would be given allocations, and some of the prices they gave us were obtainable in our local markets. Eventually, we learnt that even the allocations they gave us were also being sold to a bigger company. So, the whole thing is just a cycle of corruption,” Nurudeen observed.

Another processor, Maikudi Sani, told our correspondent that it was not true that local processors did not have enough paddies to process and supply to market.

“The problem we have with our people is that they prefer foreign things. Even when there was sensitisation that local rice is better and more nutritious than the imported ones, our people just want to be seen eating foreign rice. Sometimes, even if we process, you would see people asking to buy foreign rice in the market, they don’t buy our own.

“We have enough paddies that can sustain Nigeria, but we are discouraged with low patronage because you would spend your money and process and package rice and at the end of the day, people won’t buy. If there is a market, we have enough paddies to process. We went as far as collaborating with some cooperatives to encourage their members to patronise us, but it didn’t work out,” he said.

The Niger State programme coordinator, International Fund for Agricultural Development Value Chain Development Programme (IFAD-VCDP), Mathew Ahmed, also debunked the report that local rice processors did not have enough paddies at their disposal.

He revealed that most of the rice in sacks with foreign addresses in Nigerian markets were locally processed, pointing out that local processors have devised a way of wooing Nigerians to patronise them with the use of foreign addresses on their packaging materials.

“The rice being produced in Nigeria is self-sufficient, but our markets are being littered with foreign rice because of the mentality of Nigerians that anything that comes from abroad is better than what is being locally produced. So, most of the processors will go and print their branded sacks and other packaging materials and put foreign addresses as if they were coming from Thailand and all that. There are enough paddies at the disposal of our local processors. It is not true that we don’t have enough paddies.

A trader in Kure Ultra-Modern Market, Minna, Niger State, who spoke in confidence, confirmed to Daily Trust on Sunday that most varieties of the rice they sell in foreign sacks are locally processed.

“Because they don’t get patronage, some local processors have stopped using their company names. They use foreign brand names; and they are selling. So, it is not every rice you see in foreign sacks that is actually imported, they are processed here in Nigeria.”  

A customer who shared his experience with our correspondent said, “During the month of Ramadan, I bought a bag of 50kg rice I thought was rice, but when I got home and opened it, I discovered that it was local rice packaged in a foreign bag.”

In Kano State, despite the proliferation of many rice mills, investigations conducted by our reporter revealed that rice paddy is not an issue for now because milling companies have been receiving it constantly.

A visit to UMZA International Farms Limited, producers of Sarauniya Rice and other three brands of milled rice in the state revealed a very long queue of trucks loaded with paddies waiting to be uploaded. According to one of the truck drivers on the queue, he had spent two days waiting to be uploaded. 

Similar scenarios were observed in most of the mega rice mills visited, such as Popular Rice Mills.

One of the millers, Alhaji Isa Nasiru, told our reporter that for now, the market seems to be saturated with paddy and mills are having more than enough despite the said border opening. 

“Look around here and at other mills, you will find out that we have enough paddy supply from many parts of the country. To be honest with you, I am afraid if the mills would be able to mop up the paddy in our markets,” he said.

It was gathered that most of the paddies are from dry season farming and farmers are presently getting ready for wet season. It was also revealed that supplies to Kano were from Taraba and Gombe states and other North East rice-producing states, as well as neighbouring African nations.

Another miller, Usman Bello Bulama, said that despite insecurity challenges and other issues, coupled with the border reopening, rice paddy supply to mills in the state remains stable. According to him, millers are getting the paddy at an average of N17,000 per bag. He added that the only issue negatively affecting millers was the cost of transportation due to diesel price hike.

“Millers’ major concern in Kano State for now is high cost of transportation. We are facing about a 100 per cent increase in cost of transportation,” he lamented.

But the same cannot be said of Katsina State, which is battling insecurity and making it impossible for farmers to provide adequate paddy for millers in the state.

Aminu Murtala, a rice miller in Funtua, said that sustainability in rice production required huge investment in irrigation system to complement rain-fed production.

“No matter the volume of rice produced in wet season, it hardly reaches us to April; and we are not as lucky as farmers in the far northern part of the state that have Sabke, Ajiwa and Zobe dams for irrigation farming. What we have in this Funtua zone are few small irrigation dams that cover only production of tomato and other vegetables,” he said.

Murtala added that their hope for the construction of gigantic Jare dam in Bakori is fast waning considering the slow pace of the work.

He further said that before the escalation of insecurity in the North West and Niger State, millers sourced paddy rice from Bagudo in Kebbi State and some parts of Niger.

“Insecurity is now hampering us from sourcing paddy rice in Kebbi, Niger and Kwara states; that is the main reason for the escalation of market price of the produce,” Aminu Murtala said.

On the issue of smuggling in of foreign rice, Sagir Sani, a rice dealer at Funtua Market, said he could not say what is actually happening at the borders, but the demand for foreign rice remains low when compared to the last five years.

“Restaurants and other food sellers are now the major buyers of foreign rice because it is more profitable to them despite its high market price. The general demand of the produce is on local rice, considering its availability and low price,” he said.

Sani added that because of the stiff restrictions on foreign rice, they were purchasing a 50kg bag at not less than N29,000 and selling a measure at N1,800.

On the other hand, a local milled rice was sold at N48,000 per 100kg bag and a measure sold at N1,300.

He said there were indications that the market price of local rice would continue to rise in the next three months.

Sule Bello, one of the rice millers in Dandume, said most of them were mere service providers to consumers.

“Because it is becoming hard to source paddy rice, we resorted to providing services of milling rice for individuals at the rate of N2,500 per bag of paddy. And the cost of diesel and dwindling electricity supply are not helping matters in the business,” Bello said.

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