LOCAL rice farmers have alerted of the dangers posed to Federal Government’s financing policy through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by the activities of rice smugglers.
The farmers, under the auspices of Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), lamented that over one million metric tons of rice (about 20,000,000 bags of 50kg or 34, 000 trucks of rice) have been smuggled into the country in the last three months.
Their chairman, Muhammed Abubakar, told reporters in Abuja at the weekend that the government was losing a lot of money.
He said: “Nigeria currently loses huge revenues, foreign exchange and jobs to this menace of smuggling while Nigeria rice processing companies are shutting down because of their inability to gain market access and more painfully millions of small-holder farmers are stuck with their paddy because the millers can no longer afford to buy from them.”
He warned that if the menace of rice smuggling “is not tackled with appropriate dispatch, the magnitude of loss to Nigerian rice stakeholders, starting with the Federal Government, Integrated Rice Millers, funding banks, CBN, rice farmers, mill workers, rice consumers, etc. would be too devastating to cope with in an economy that is fledgling.”
He urged the government to take urgent action “to avert eventual national food emergency by combating smuggling so that we can continue to grow our local rice industry and the economy.”
Investigations, according to him, have, shown that “all our international borders have been converted to smuggler routes and our markets are filled with smuggled foreign rice.”
To address the scourge, the RIPAN chair called on the government to immediately raid the various rice smugglers market, sanction officers and employees of government agencies saddled with responsibilities of curbing smuggling.
He listed the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Agency for Foods Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), among others, as such agencies that have abandoned their enforcement duty but compromise their offices.
Abubakar said: “These officers must be fished out and punished by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for economic sabotage.
“Particularly, the government must fish out and punish multinational companies who play on both sides of the border; – those who actually drive the syndicates (the promoters).
“It is absolutely vital for government to sustain the current drive for greater investments, strengthen the policy environment and continue to implement policies and strategies that grow local capacity and protect local value chain.”
The rice processors appealed to the government to, “as a matter of urgent national importance, take strong diplomatic action with our neighbouring countries who allow parboiled rice into their country for final destination to Nigeria. The government may consider closing the borders for some time if diplomatic overtures fail.”
They also called on state governments to build relevant agricultural infrastructure that permit more one season farming such as irrigation facility, rural access roads and electricity.
He said the government should train and equip extension officers and agents so that they can provide quality training to the farmers.
“Inadequate, well trained extension agents and poor farmers training or practical guidance on good agricultural practices are undermining farming practices in Nigeria,” he noted.
He urged the government to deploy the funds from Rice Import Levy and long-term loans from multinational agencies to drive the rice production initiative.
“Such funds can be effectively deployed and limited to areas of land clearing/development, irrigation mechanisation and improved direct credit to farmers. This will reduce farmers’ production cost and invariably impact paddy cost and millers output,” Abubakar said.