Foreign rice has flooded Nigerian markets despite the ban imposed on the product by the federal government to encourage local production and self-sufficiency.
Findings have revealed that the recent reopening of some land borders has aggravated the illegal importation of the commodity.
Stakeholders in the value chain, including local processors and growers, have expressed dismay over the development, saying it would reverse the gains recorded in the last few years.
However, some observers have blamed millers for mopping up paddy rice and processing it in piecemeal, to attract more profit, thereby sabotaging the effort of the federal government in making rice affordable to Nigerians.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in December, 2020, directed that the four borders that were closed in 2019 be reopened.
Some traders told our correspondents that even while the border closure lasted, foreign rice was a common sight in almost every shop.
The new trend is now a source of worry not only to processors who are struggling to compete with their counterparts abroad in terms of quality, but also growers who are apprehensive that if the trend continues, they may be forced out of business.
Situation in states Lagos
Reports from Lagos along the Mile 2 Badagry Expressway up to the Daleko Rice Market revealed a remarkable presence of foreign rice. The product is being illegally imported from the neighbouring Benin Republic before being repackaged for distribution to different parts of the country.
The centres for rebagging are opposite the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (ACOED), Iyana-Era; the Igbolerin Junction by Jolag; and the Alaba Rago Market, all along the Mile 2- Badagry Expressway.
At these centres, smugglers, mainly women, bring in foreign rice in small bags which they repackage in bigger ones for onward distribution.
At the Igbolerin Junction, one of the smugglers told our correspondent, who disguised as a customer, that they ferried the rice from Benin Republic into Nigeria through unapproved routes near the Seme Border after paying tokens to urchins known as “crossers”.
The smuggler explained that, “It is the crossers who will then bring the rice to J-5 Park at Seme, from where they are handed over to their owners. At J-5 Park, owners are charged by the bus drivers according to quantity. It costs at least N2,000 to transport a bag of rice from Seme to the Alaba Rago Market.”
At the Rago market, which is a big distribution point for foreign rice, merchants said the profit they got far outweighed what they got from local rice and our reporter saw foreign rice in bags with local names aimed to beat customs officers.
According to a Ketu-based marketer, Khadija Amar, Nigerian rice is no longer selling, saying many people have lost interest in consuming it.
Amar said, “A bag of local rice which we ought to sell at over N20,000 is now being sold at N17,500. Some of us have N3,000 shortage, and for others, it’s N4,000. So we prefer to deal in foreign rice. Another dealer, Miss Ibeh Mary Abigail, said, “We have foreign rice everywhere in the market because it moves faster than local rice.”
Reports from Port Harcourt in Rivers State showed that many markets and shops now have large quantities of foreign rice in stock. At the Mile 1, Mile 3, Borokiri, New Road, Oyigbo and Eleme markets, foreign brands of rice are gradually taking over the markets and are openly displayed without any challenge.
A trader at Mile 1 who pleaded anonymity, said the rice was brought in from Lagos and Calabar.
In Plateau State, our correspondent who visited the Yankwalli Market reported that foreign rice had flooded the market with many shop owners displaying it unchallenged.
Aminu Mubi, a dealer in the market, told Daily Trust that although there was foreign rice in the market even before the ban on border was lifted, the product was flooding the market now and threatening local rice.
Mubi explained that, “When the border was closed the price of a bag reached N27,000, but it has dropped to N23,000, and there is a possibility that it will drop further.”
In some supermarkets in Kano, foreign rice is now freely on display unlike in previous months, but the price has dropped. At the Singer Commodity Market, a 50kg bag of foreign rice is now selling at N23,500 instead of N26,000.
A dealer at the market, Sanusi Hassan, said, “The local rice is now endangered as people prefer to buy foreign rice which is sold at almost the same price as the local rice.”
Hassan added that, “Government must do something to salvage the situation and protect the local industry.”
A visit to some markets in Abuja indicated that foreign rice is still sold in large quantities with traders displaying it outside their stalls.
A trader at the Wuse Market, Agatha Ezekiel, said she sold a bag of foreign rice at N26,000 and local rice at N19,500.
In Katsina, our reporter observed an influx of foreign rice, but some of the traders said it had nothing to do with the recent border reopening, as Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic at Jibia, Kwangwalam and Mai’adua were still closed.
A trader, Tasiu Sani, said, “All our goods are old stock and that is what we are selling.”
Daily Trust gathered that the goods come in piecemeal on daily basis through bush paths under the name “Hatsin Hajiya” in which a bag is divided into three to pass checkpoints.
Some rice farmers said they watched with dismay the resurfacing of foreign rice in many markets across the country despite the effort to sustain local drive. Abdullahi Lapai from Niger State attributed the ugly situation to the activities of smugglers, who he said were gradually having a free time following the border reopening. Lapai said, “If the local processors are unable to sell their produce, it will affect the price of paddy, which will in turn discourage local farmers from more production.”
The National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kabir Ibrahim, said bringing in foreign rice would draw the country back from the gains made so far.
According to him, smuggling does not really happen often unless it is aided by law enforcement agents and the citizenry. Ibrahim said, “If there is any contraband displayed in a shop and it is freely sold, then it goes beyond government and the officers charged with border control. The entire citizenry must stand against it for it to stop.”
Processors on edge
A rice processor, Alhaji Nasiru Yahaya, raised alarm that many local processors were in shock following the influx of foreign rice, adding that the situation was affecting local producers.
Alhaji Yahaya further said most of the processors borrowed money to invest when the government announced the country’s rice sufficiency drive.
He explained that, “This is not about us only, millions of direct and indirect jobs will be lost if local brands are relegated to the previous position.”
A small holder miller in Sabon Wuse, a Niger State community along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, Nuru Jiya, said the volume of local rice sales had reduced drastically following the presence of foreign rice in many shops.
‘Nemesis catching up with processors’
An agriculturist, Ibrahim Kunle, said although there was the need for relevant authorities to check any form of smuggling, local rice processors should get no one’s sympathy, noting that they were the architects of the current hike in the price of local brands. Kunle alleged that, “We all know when some of these processors are deliberately causing artificial scarcity of local brands with the aim of hiking price.
“What they do is to mop up paddy from farmers and store them instead of milling them and selling. This is causing serious concerns even to the government.”
Another agriculturist, Mallam Audu Ishak, said, “These people will go and take money from the government, promising heaven, but let me tell you, they are part of the problem, and thank God government is now realising that.”
A stakeholder who craved anonymity, said government was being careful in giving money to some of the processors because of the way some of them betrayed agreements.
Although these claims against the processors have not been confirmed, a source at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture told our reporter that government was concerned about the continued rise in the price of local rice despite the huge effort and resources being committed to rice production in the country.
The Director General of the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), Andy Ekwelem, promised to get back to our reporter when a call was put across to him but did not up to the time of filing this report.
What should be done – Experts
Experts in the sector want relevant security outfits to intensify border patrol to further check the activities of smugglers.
Mathew Inawole, an agric economist, said effective border control would go a long way in reducing the volume of foreign rice crossing into the country, adding that there should be a total clampdown on those selling the foreign brands as they were contraband.Mallam Abdullahi Baba, an agriculturist, said government should orientate the citizens on the dangers involved in eating some smuggled items.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Zone A, Theophilus Sunita, in a telephone interview, said the zone, as an enforcement unit of NCS in charge of Lagos and Ogun states, had always been on top of its game.
Sunita said several thousands of bags of foreign rice had been seized by operatives from the zone from diehard smugglers.
He added that, “However, we rely on members of the public to avail us with useful and timely information.”
We’re working with security agencies to clamp down on smugglers – CBN
Responding to the allegation that rice millers could not successfully bring down the price of the commodity because the apex bank had collected the loans given to them, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) acting Director, Corporate Communication, Osita Nwanisobi, said, “Rice millers are not funded under the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) as the programme is to encourage production by smallholder farmers.”
Nwanisobi explained that, “The bank established the Paddy Aggregation Scheme (PAS) to provide working capital requirement for rice millers to off-take paddy during the peak season and help moderate prices during peak and off-peak seasons.
“The PAS is a short-term facility that allows millers to mop up paddy at harvest and control a significant stock that can guarantee production during the off-peak season. The millers are also qualified to access the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) to finance their operations.”
On disbursements, he said, “N321.96bn has been disbursed to 1,709,249 farmers that cultivated 1,830,511 hectares in 36 states and the FCT as of end of 2020.”
On paddy rice hoarding, Nwanisobi said, “The news of paddy hoarding by millers has been going round since November 2020, and the bank has actively engaged the millers and measures have been taken to sanction defaulters.”
He added that, “Our holistic strategy is to enhance efficiency along the value chain and facilitate seamless transition of paddy from the farmers to the millers. The CBN has also requested beneficiaries of the ABP to repay the loan using output of their farms so that millers can have access to paddy quickly.”
He reiterated that, “The CBN has been working with security agencies and fiscal authorities to clamp down on smugglers and the effects of those collaborations will be felt in the market in the shortest possible time.”