From Uche Usim, Abuja
The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) at the weekend raised the alarm over high-scale smuggling of foreign rice into the country, describing the development as a huge threat to the existing N3.4 trillion worth of investments made by integrated, small-scale and cottage rice mill investors across the country.
RIPAN Director-General Andy Ekwelem, who made the disclosure at a media briefing in Abuja, called on relevant government agencies and stakeholders to collaboratively deal with the malaise before millions of jobs and revenue are lost to smugglers.
According to him, smuggling has remained the greatest challenge to rice farmers, processors and other stakeholders in the value chain, even as he hailed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for substantially addressing the issue of insufficient funds that was hitherto a major impediment to local rice production.
‘The Federal Government has to address this issue of smuggling or else the mills will shut down. Since 2011, our fight has been smuggling all the way. We’ve been engaging Customs. This problem is so disheartening. At a point, it abated as the Federal Government restricted border movement and then COVID-19 came. After the #EndSARS protest and border reopening, it was as if there was a smuggling competition going on,’ he said.
‘Foreign rice has flooded Nigeria and we can’t even find where to display our local rice anymore.
‘As we speak, there are no off-takers of locally produced rice. Some mills are running at half capacity. Jobs are being threatened. We are talking of engaging the youths to reduce crimes and restiveness and smuggling of foreign rice is standing against our efforts.
‘The entire rice processing industry, comprising large rice mills and cottage mills employ over 13 million Nigerians directly. Our association hosts about 3.2 million cottage mills and each employs not less than five. The integrated, small scale and cottage mills constitute a N3.4 trillion investment. We should not be the ones to kill our own effort via smuggling.
‘You can now appreciate the employment capability of the rice industry.
‘We can’t allow smuggling of foreign rice to kill the industry. We want to conserve forex, create jobs, etc. We don’t want to worsen unemployment and crime levels.
‘The Nigeria rice value chain is work in progress. We’re getting to our destination. President Buhari is making sure the tempo is sustained. CBN has worked hard to help rice farmers and processors so that we can attain food security,’ Ekwelem explained.
While pleading with the Customs and other stakeholders to tighten security at the nation’s land borders, Ekwelem called for the immediate criminalisation foreign rice since it is on the import prohibition list.
‘If we come to your shop and see foreign rice, it’s taken as economic sabotage and you will face the full wrath of the law.
‘There is also the issue of health implications. NAFDAC has to storm the markets to ensure that the various brands of rice there are edible,’ he added.
He hailed President Muhammadu Buhari for the massive investment in local rice farming and processing.
Ekwelem stressed that before 2015, Nigeria boasted about only five or six integrated rice mills.
‘But from 2016 till now, we have increased it to 47. There are many who are not even our members. If we count them, it is about 60.’
On quality assurance, the RIPAN boss maintained that members of the association have good mills to produce good quality rice.
‘We also have a code of conduct. Much as we are selling Nigerian brands, we have cottage mills who don’t have the quality of equipment for better rice processing. So, mischievous traders buy and sell them to an unsuspecting populace. We’ve written to NAFDAC, we are addressing that,’ he assured.