The United States Department of Agriculture’s World Markets and Trade Report has reignited the controversy over federal government’s claim that local rice production now accounts for up to 90 percent consumption in Nigeria.
In the October report, the Department of Agriculture stated that more than three million metric tonnes of rice have been imported into Nigeria this year even with three months left before 2018 ends.
The report, which was released in October, showed that since 2016, Nigeria had consistently imported 3,780,000 metric tonnes annually which is a reduction from 3,941,000 metric tonnes recorded in 2015.
The report also stated that Nigeria’s local rice production dropped from 2016 to 2018 compared to the situation in 2015.
Reacting to the report, Laid Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, described the report as fake news.
Mohammed, who said he had contacted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Customs Service, the Minister of Agriculture and rice millers on the authenticity of the report, argued that they all dismissed the report as untrue.
According to him, whereas 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria in 2014, the figure declined to 644,000 in 2015 and went further downward to 25,000 in 2016
The minister also faulted the claim by the report that local rice production in the country was declining, saying instead, local rice production capacity has risen to 4.9 million metric tonnes.
After the federal government restricted access to foreign exchange for rice importation in a bid to prop up local production, foreign rice imports by neighbouring Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon from Thailand spiked astronomically.
Experts and maritime practitioners stated that rice importers found refuge in neighbouring countries which were used to smuggle imported rice into Nigeria.
According to data from the Thai Rice Exporters Association, rice imports from Thailand to Benin Republic rose from 805,765 MT in 2015, when Nigeria introduced the policy to 1,427,098 metric tonnes (MT) in 2016.
It further rose to 1,814,014MT in 2017, importation from January to May 2018 has risen to 625,863 MT in first five months of the year.
Cameroon also experienced an upsurge in importation from 449,297 MT in 2015 to 502,254 MT in 2016, and 749,008 MT in 2017. The tiny central African country bordering Nigeria has recorded 185,707 MT of imported rice from Thailand from January to May 2018.
On the other hand, the importation of foreign parboiled rice by Togo increased from 54,086 MT in 2016 to 132,978MT in 2017 and currently stood at 100,996 as at May 2018.
Ironically, while the rice vessels call to Nigerian ports have continue to decrease, neighbouring countries continue to experience increase in vessels.
Statistics showed that importation of parboiled rice into Nigeria decreased from 1,239,810 MT in 2014 to 644,131 MT in 2015. It further decreased to 58,260 MT in 2016 to 23,192 MT in 2017, and January to May statistics showed that Nigeria has imported a paltry 2,351MT in 2018.
Large scale smuggling of rice through Nigeria’s immediate neighbours was aided by the fact that after the federal government imposed 60 per cent levy in addition to 10 per cent import duty, Benin Republic crashed its own tariff from 35 per cent to a paltry seven per cent, while Cameroon introduced a zero per cent duty policy on the commodity, down from 10 per cent is fueling smuggling of parboiled rice into Nigeria.
In the entire West African region, only Nigerians eat parboiled rice. Benin Republic with a population of 8.02 million and Togo’s 7.06 million people cannot consume the massive rice imported to their countries.