Plans by the Federal Government to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production may not be realistic in 2022, following the sharp drop in local production by 315,000 metric tonnes with a value of N75.1 billion ($159.7 million). Nigeria still depends on smuggled rice from neighbouring country, Benin, to meet local consumption despite the assurance by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Sabo Nanono that the country would begin to export rice to other countries by 2022.
However, statistics by a global trade portal, Index Mundi, revealed that Nigeria imported 1.8 million tonnes or 28 per cent of local consumption last year, while local production of the grain dropped by 6.25 per cent from 5.04 million tonnes to 4.7 million tonnes in the period.
Government has been making substantial efforts for a decade to encourage rice cultivation in order to eliminate imports through subsidised loans, cheap fertiliser, free farmland and tax rebates.
Also, the Federal Government had made moves to attract N250 billion investments in rice production following plans to establish an additional 14 rice mills in the country.
However, efforts to boost domestic production have been curtailed by smuggling through the porous borders. Between January and April 2021, the Federal Operation Unit, Zone A of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in Lagos, seized 41,652 bags of 50kilogrammes smuggled parboiled rice from Idiroko and Ipokia in Ogun State and Lagos.
Also in Ogun State, 20,538 bags of rice were intercepted by the service between March and April, 2021. Last year, the Federal Government and the Republic of Benin entered into an agreement in Abuja to end smuggling of rice.
The agreement was sealed between a delegation from Benin, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) and the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari. However, a total of 1.56 million tonnes of the foreign rice, valued at N371.7 billion ($790.9 million) were smuggled to the country illegally the same year. It was gathered that 80 per cent of the smuggled grain was imported through Benin as Thailand price stood at $507 per tonne.
Meanwhile, the National Chairman of Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Maifata has said that smuggling of foreign rice would soon come down to zero level, while the local rice would fill the gap conveniently if farmers received necessary support from the government.
The chairman urged all stakeholders to join in the campaign against the activities of smugglers through advocacy and sensitisation to ensure attitudinal change on the part of the outlaws.