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Rice smuggling’s big comeback

Central Bank of Nigeria’s [CBN] Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari late in 2015 and it quickly spurred thousands of people…

Central Bank of Nigeria’s [CBN] Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari late in 2015 and it quickly spurred thousands of people to debut as rice growers. At the launch, Buhari said Nigeria was spending not less than one trillion naira annually on the importation of food items that could be produced locally, thus contributing to the depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves. 

Governors Akinwunmi Ambode and Atiku Bagudu of Lagos and Kebbi states also forged ahead with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that eventually produced the now famous Lake [for Lagos-Kebbi] rice. In April last year, Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Colonel Hameed Ali announced a ban on the importation of rice through the land borders. Together these measures were meant to spur local rice production and oust the consumption of imported rice. However, barely one year after, producers and farmers have raised an alarm that smuggling of imported rice is on the rise.

Chairman of the Association of Rice Processors Alhaji Muhammed Abubakar Maifata recently said all the gains being recorded in local rice production are being rubbished by smuggling. Maifata, who is also the chairman of Umza Farms Rice Mill, said Nigeria has not recorded as much rice smuggling since 2012. He said over one million metric tonnes of rice have been smuggled into Nigeria since February this year, which local rice millers couldn’t compete with.

Rice smuggling is so lucrative to smugglers that they now use bullion vans and every other means to smuggle it. The danger is real that two billion naira worth of investments made by farmers who borrowed the CBN funds will not be recouped. We are even yet to optimise local rice production through the provision of vast irrigation facilities to achieve year-round rice farming. Rice farming in Nigeria also needs higher yielding seed varieties to ensure higher yields per hectare. The current national yield per hectare is between 1.3 and 1.8 tonnes. Highly improved varieties like Faro 44, C90, C20 and L34 are said to be effective in this regard. The varieties are at present yielding between 4.2 and 4.5 tonnes per hectare at the Olam Rice Farm in Nasarawa State. 

There is the additional need for mechanization of rice farming instead of the current heavy use of manual labour. Tractors, planters, sprayer machines as well as combined harvesters are all required to accelerate rice production. Availability of other inputs like fertilisers and herbicides are also crucial in growing rice. All categories of farmers in Nigeria have a problem of access to fertiliser which contributes to the current low yields. Herbicides are also needed to control weeds in rice farms, though farmers must be trained in handling pesticides. 

Even though CBN’s Anchor Borrower Programme has made a big impact in the area of access to finance for rice farmers, there is still a long way to go before all desiring farmers get easy access to agricultural financing. Then also, there is the need for modern milling machines all across the country for processing the paddies. This will address the stone problem usually associated with our local rice and will allow more patronage and enable our local rice compete with the foreign ones.

At present, however, our concern is how to preserve even the little gains that have been made in local rice production. Smugglers are threatening to wipe out even the small gains that have been made and all the plans now underway to improve local rice production through all the additional inputs mentioned above could be jeopardised. This is a major challenge for Col Hameed Ali and the NCS Command and they must rise up and prove their mettle. A major national economic project is unravelling under their eyes while they were busy with plans to collect duty from vehicles that slipped through the borders in the past ten years or more. Smugglers should be halted in their tracks at the borders.

 

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