Massive smuggling of locally produced rice out of the country has been identified as one of the factors hindering self-sufficiency in the country, LEADERSHIP has learnt.

Kebbi State commissioner for budget and economic planning, Hon. Zailani Mohammed, told LEADERSHIP in a chat that locally produced rice was being smuggled in large quantities out of the country to Niger Republic, Mali and other African countries for greater profit.

“Actually, a lot of rice produced in Nigeria is smuggled out to neighbouring countries of Mali, Niger Republic and the rest. A lot of rice is smuggled out and if we close the borders to stop the illegal smuggling, it will bring down the cost of rice.”

When asked about the perpetrators of the smuggling, the commissioner said, “They are being smuggled by individuals in the private sector because they are looking for a better market. We can’t curtail them but all we can do is to tell the farmers to produce more, because if we give farmers a price and they can get a better one outside, and with the falling rate in our naira exchange value, it seems more profitable to export or to illegally smuggle it out to Niger Republic. So, if we produce more, the price will come down.

Nigeria currently has a yearly shortfall of 1.3 metric tonnes as the country produces 5.7 million metric tonnes of rice as against the estimated national consumption of 7.00 million metric tonnes.

LEADERSHIP reports that Nigeria is the highest producer of rice in West Africa as well as the second highest importer of parboiled rice in the world by 2014, incurring an average import bill of N1billion on rice imports, but the interventions by the federal government and state governments have increased yields of rice per hectare, thereby reducing the country’s huge rice import bill.

Zailani further acknowledged the intervention of the federal government and state governments in boosting rice production, saying Nigeria would achieve rice sufficiency with more investments in infrastructure and technology.

“The intervention of the federal government has helped so much to increase the yield by hectares for instance, in Kebbi we have moved from 3.5MT/hectare to 5.5MT/hectare in 2018 and that is going across many rice producing states in addition to the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).”

He also stated the need for government to support Nigerian rice farmers with technology and infrastructure in order for them to be able to compete with Asian paddy rice farmers who dump their end products on Nigeria’s economy.

“Foreign farmers have advantage over Nigerian farmers because they are supported effectively by their respective governments, and more or less dump (their products) on Nigeria’s economy, but if the two prices are compared, the rice produced locally is fresh but foreign rice is on the high-sea for many months and by the time you take it, the flavour is gone. Local rice is healthier and enhances the capacity of local farmers,” he said.

The commissioner urged government to also invest massively in agriculture in order to bring down the cost of production by Nigeria farmers.

“Foreign farmers are supported by their government with technology and infrastructural facilities to produce more and this will be at a lower cost than Nigerian farmers. This is the challenge and every economy will go through this process,” he noted.

Also speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP, the president of the Rice Millers and Distribution Association of Nigeria (RIMIDAN), Tunji Owoeye, acknowledged federal government’s investment in rice so far.

He, however, called on the federal government to increase its investment in the production and cultivation of rice to make Nigeria self-sufficient.

“There are serious investments for us to make in order to meet self-sufficiency from both private sector and government. Government is investing heavily on production, enabling environment, encouraging farmers. The private sector is also investing heavily even on the valuation. The investment has surpassed what we have in the last 100 years”, he said.

Speaking on government’s proposal to shut the borders to check smuggling, Owoeye said the move would help to stop rice smuggling into the country.

He, however, noted that it might not be the only solution to the menace of smuggling, adding that equipping the Nigeria Customs Service with state of the art technology to fight smuggling at the borders was another approach that would work.

“It may not stop smuggling completely but it will help to fine-tune the strategies used. Shutting the border will help them to rejig strategies on how to go harder on rice smugglers. It will also send strong signals to the neighbouring countries that are hiding the people, that there are consequences, and that Nigeria is ready to protect its investments in rice production, but it is not a lasting solution,” he said.