Uche Usim, Abuja
The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) has hailed the Federal government over its recently-launched Exercise Swift Response which has led to heavier policing of the nation’s land borders and subsequently curbed rice smuggling that robs Nigeria over N300 billion annually.
The association said from January till date, over one million metric tons of rice valued at N150 billion ($400 million) has been smuggled into Nigeria from Benin Republic via porous land routes.
Speaking at a media briefing in Abuja on Thursday, the National Chairman of RIPAN, Mr Mohammed Abubakar Maifata in company of his Vice Chairman, Mr Paul Eluhaiwe urged the government not to listen to the pleas of the Beninoise government to reopen or relax security at the land borders as they remain the beneficiary of the smuggling, while Nigerian rice farmers suffer losses of gargantuan proportions.
According to Maifata, prior to the military and paramilitary exercise at the land borders, many mills had closed.
“Smuggled rice was everywhere. Millers can’t buy rice paddy. Rice farmers were frustrated.
“But as we speak, all mills are open. Procurement of paddy is ongoing. We expect a bumper harvest in October because of good rains.
“So, we support land border closure and will support government in whatever way they want us to. It’s for the good of Nigeria. We will supply them information, statistics etc.
Insinuating we cannot feed ourselves is not true. It’s the sermon of saboteurs and smugglers to remain in business. Average consumption is 4-5 million metric tons per annum in Nigeria. RIPAN and existing small-scale rice millers can produce that annually. We can meet local consumption once smuggling is curbed. Our milling capacity is 1.5 million metric tons. Other existing local millers currently produce 2.5 million metric tons but they’re not as organized as we are. Dangote promised 10 mills this year. Bua is also coming with mills.
“But In terms of supply, we won’t hike our price in an attempt to take advantage of the situation. We will sell N13,500 minimum and maximum not above N14,000 ex-factory. It’s our commitment to government in writing and not just verbally. Distributors will sell at N15,000 maximum. Let the consumers report those trying to make rice expensive. We expect saboteurs may want to come into the scene to scuttle this plan but we will sanction any miller that goes above this price level”, he stated.
The RIPAN boss further explained that the association has carried out series of investigations and port survey to determine that all the shiploads of parboiled rice that arrive Benin Republic are totally smuggled into Nigeria.
He said: “As we speak, about half a million metric tonnes of rice has already been booked in Thailand and India for onward journey to Nigeria preparatory to the Christmas season. The consignment is expected to land in October.
“This would no doubt have a ripple effect on rice processors in the country as their activities would be hampered if this impending illegal importation is not checked with the attendant colossal loss of $400 million revenue.
According to him, the closure of the Nigerian Benin Republic border would go a long way to curb the menace of rice smuggling so that local producers would have a breather.
Rice farmers and processors have relentlessly cried out to the federal government that despite concrete and visible interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) via the Anchors Borrowers Programme (ABP) on the rice sub-sector of the Nigerian economy, over 70 per cent of rice in Nigeria markets remain foreign or imported.
RIPAN and other stakeholders had in a three-week survey on the rice market across the six geo-political zones in the country observed that foreign rice such as Mama Gold, Royal Stallion, Rice Master, Caprice, Falcon Rice and Basmati are sold alongside Nigerian rice.
He said his association join other stakeholders in the rice subsector, namely, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), in commending the central bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the timely intervention and banning of rice since 2015, a development that has seen growth in local production of rice and serious saving of foreign exchange.
He commended the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for its current and rigorous fight against smuggling of the commodity, and enjoined the various security agencies who are mandated by the current directive to raise the bar of the fight to check the various porous borders.