Benin Rep imports rose to 1.647mmt
Against the backdrop of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s policy of zero allocation of dollars for the importation of 41 items, including rice; import of rice from Thailand to Nigeria dropped from 1.23 million metric tonnes in 2014 to 23,192 metric tonnes as at November 2017. According to data on the Thai Rice Exporters Association website, the value of these exports also dropped to 324 million Thai baht (from 8.2 billion Thai bhat).
Curiously though, Nigeria’s neighbours, Republic of Benin, recorded an astronomical increase in rice imports from Thailand, from 805,765 metric tonnes in 2015 to 1,647,387 million metric tonnes as at November 2017 — leading to suspicion that the drop in Nigeria’s import may not have to do with the claim by the Federal Government that the country now produces enough rice for domestic consumption, but the zero dollar allocation that has placed the burden of sourcing foreign exchange for the importation of the effected 41 items on the importer.
Though no government official could confirm, Sunday Telegraph notes that the staple may have been smuggled to Nigeria through land borders. The Comptroller General of Customs, Hammid Ali (rtd) had in 2006 announced a ban on the importation of rice from the nation’s land border, even as government has also disclosed that it would further place the staple on import prohibition list this year.
He argued that the move would encourage patronage of locally made goods, but it led to immediate increase in the price of the staple. “I have directed a zero-tolerance to rice imports through the land borders irrespective of volume with immediate effect. Importers who have already initiated import processes will have a grace period ending Friday March 25, 2016 to clear their consignments,” Hameed Alli, said in 2016.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had last week told journalist in Lagos that in line with a directive given by President Muhammdu Buhari, it has donated a total of 421 trailer loads of rice totaling 252,666 units of 50kg bags valued at N3, 789,990,000 in the last 22 months to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in four states of the country.
This was announced by NCS in Lagos at a media briefing by its Spokesman, Mr. Joseph Attah, on the activities of the agency in the year 2017. Attah, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs, disclosed that the sustained customs anti smuggling efforts have kept customs warehouses filled with seizures despite the various donations made by the agency to the IDPs.
He said: ‘’Despite tonnes of rice and other relief items already transferred to the IDPs, Some NCS warehouses are still filled with rice.
This only shows that the sustained onslaught against unrepentant rice smugglers continues to yield positive results.
‘’The ones in the warehouses now are either awaiting court condemnation or forfeiture to the Federal Government or have been already allocated to governments of the affected states who pay the Army Corp of Transport and Logistics for their transportation to the IDPs ‘’Eventually , the seized rice and other perishable items presently in the warehouses will be given to fellow Nigerians affected by the unfortunate insurgency in the North -East.”
He further disclosed that while the agency collected over N56 billion as duty from imported rice in 2014; it could only collect slightly above N500 million duty from rice in 2017, meaning that aside the locally produced rice, most the rice eaten in the country this year were smuggled.
On June 23, 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced that it would no longer provide foreign exchange for 41 items including rice, cement and tooth picks.
The CBN also stepped up the anchors borrowers programme to create a linkage between companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers (SHFs) of key agricultural commodities.
The programme provides inputs to farmers to improve production and the farmers supplies produce to the processing company at harvest in exchange for the cash equivalent.
Last year, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, said the country’s rice imports from Thailand had dropped to 20,000 metric tones from 644,000 metric tonnes it was importing by September 2015 Thailand used to be one of the three major exporters of parboiled rice to Nigeria until a policy by government banned the export in 2015, to stimulate local production of the food staple.
The minister said the figures were released by Thai Rice Exporters Association, which complained that customs curbs in smuggling had led to reduction in rice importation.
He also said some Thai investors had indicated interest in establishing rice milling plants in Nigeria. The step is one of the ways to end Nigeria’s dependence on imported rice and ensure self-sufficiency in rice production by next year. The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at an other forum said Nigeria is inching towards achieving its 7 million targets in rice production by 2018.
Mohammed said attaining that target would leave the country with a surplus of 700,000 metric tones as the current local demand for rice is 6.3 million metric tonnes.
He premised his optimism on the inauguration of two private owned rice mills in the country this year. The mills include the WACOT Mill in Argungu, Kebbi State, with an installed capacity to process 120,000 metric tonnes of parboiled rice annually, and the integrated Dangote Rice Mill, projected to produce 1,000,000 metric tonnes per annum.
“Today, in continuation of these efforts, we are happy to tell Nigerians of a giant stride made by the administration in the agriculture sector, specifically rice production: Nigeria is inching closer to achieving self-sufficiency in rice, due to the success recorded by the administration in the local production of rice. There is more good news to report,” Mohammed said.
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