Buhari should de­mand bet­ter per­for­mance from Cus­toms

The Punch - - EDITORIAL -

WITHIN the last three years, six mil­lion peo­ple have em­braced rice farm­ing to in­crease the num­ber to 11 mil­lion, thereby lead­ing to over 90 per cent drop in the prod­uct’s im­port. This rev­o­lu­tion­ary turn­around should be pro­tected if the cur­rent ef­fort to es­cape from the rice trap is to be­come ir­re­versible.

Rice, a sta­ple in ev­ery home, drained Nige­ria’s for­eign re­serves to the tune of $1.65 bil­lion an­nu­ally, un­til Septem­ber 2017, says the Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion and Cul­ture, Lai Mo­hammed. The coun­try had up to Septem­ber 2015 been im­port­ing 644,131 met­ric tons an­nu­ally from Thai­land, as against the cur­rent 20,000 met­ric tons.

How­ever, this gain is be­ing threat­ened by our neigh­bours, es­pe­cially Cameroon and Benin Repub­lic, with their zero and five per cent tar­iffs re­spec­tively on im­ported rice. The min­is­ter lamented last week that these tar­iff regimes ex­posed Nige­ria to a flood of smug­gled rice.

In graphic terms, he painted the pic­ture in Benin thus, “The to­tal de­mand for white rice is 400,000 met­ric tons. Yet, the coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion of about 11 mil­lion, im­ports be­tween one mil­lion and 1.2 mil­lion met­ric tons an­nu­ally.” This means that over 600,000 met­ric tons of the rice ends up in the Nige­rian mar­ket. A bag of this rice costs be­tween N11,000 and N13, 000, as against Nige­ria’s par­boiled va­ri­ety sold at N14,500 or N15,000 per 50kg bag. Under at­tack is not only the price, but mil­lions of di­rect and in­di­rect jobs the rice revo­lu­tion has gen­er­ated and the over N250 bil­lion in­vest­ment in the sec­tor.

Smug­gling thrives in an en­vi­ron­ment of in­ad­e­quate le­gal frame­work and in­ef­fec­tive en­force­ment. Fight­ing this men­ace will need to go be­yond the pub­lic en­light­en­ment the min­istry en­vis­ages to high­light the in­her­ent health haz­ards in eat­ing smug­gled rice. Ex­perts say much of the im­ported rice had been in si­los of the coun­tries of ori­gin as strate­gic grains re­serves for about nine years, only to be pushed to for­eign mar­kets as they were about to ex­pire.

An ef­fec­tive an­ti­dote will re­quire a strong pol­icy re­sponse from the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and the Nige­ria Cus­toms Ser­vice. The Comp­trol­ler-gen­eral of Cus­toms, Hameed Ali, should come up with ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures on bor­der pa­trol to fa­tally crush the rice smug­gling syn­di­cates. The borders are too por­ous; and mat­ters are wors­ened by cor­rup­tion of cus­toms of­fi­cials. Trans­bor­der cus­toms co­op­er­a­tion needs to be pur­sued.

The in­vestors, who had hear­kened to the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s ad­vice to hug rice farm­ing, re­cently ex­pressed con­cern about the safety of their huge in­vest­ments. The Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Agro Nige­ria, an indige­nous coali­tion, Richard-mark Mbaram, said re­cently that the de­gree of the threat from Cameroon, Benin and Niger, could only be con­tained by a dec­la­ra­tion of eco­nomic war. With­out equiv­o­ca­tion, Mbaram said, “So, Nige­ria needs to take def­i­nite and rad­i­cal mea­sures. There’s no point play­ing the big brother on is­sues like this any­more. It is about our life as a na­tion.” Noth­ing could be more forth­right.

In ret­ro­spect, Nige­ria had taken sim­i­lar ac­tion in 2003 when it shut its bor­der with Benin Repub­lic be­cause of un­remit­ting cross-bor­der ban­ditry and smug­gling led by a no­to­ri­ous car snatcher, Amani Ti­jani. This com­pelled Beni­noise au­thor­i­ties to swing into ac­tion. The un­der­world king­pin was ar­rested and handed over to Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties for trial.

On­go­ing trade dis­putes be­tween the United States and China show that coun­tries do not fold their arms when their economies are be­ing threat­ened. A few days af­ter the US re­leased a list of 1,300 Chi­nese goods to at­tract higher tar­iffs, to­talling about $50 bil­lion, China swiftly re­sponded with counter-mea­sures: 128 US prod­ucts are to at­tract 25 per cent tar­iff hike. The US has a trade deficit of $375 bil­lion, and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wants a cut of about $100 bil­lion from this im­bal­ance.

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, who be­moaned the coun­try’s 2.6 mil­lion met­ric tons of rice pro­duc­tion an­nu­ally, as against the es­ti­mated 6.1 mil­lion met­ric tons, when he launched the dry sea­son farm­ing and the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria An­chor Bor­rower Pro­gramme in Novem­ber 2015, should learn from the 2003 tough mes­sage to Benin and Us-china trade war and act de­ci­sively.

Mas­sive rice pro­duc­tion is the most suc­cess­ful out­come from the Eco­nomic Re­cov­ery and Growth Plan doc­u­ment ag­gres­sively aided by the CBN scheme. Under the pol­icy, farm in­puts and cash are given to small­hold­ers farm­ers to boost the ex­po­nen­tial pro­duc­tion in paddy rice, which the min­is­ter said had spiked from four mil­lion met­ric tons to seven mil­lion met­ric tons in the past three years.

Besides, cor­po­rate gi­ants such as Dan­gote Group and Coscharis, among oth­ers, have stepped in. For in­stance, in 2016, the Dan­gote Group launched its Dan­gote Rice Out-grow­ers Scheme in Ji­gawa State. This started with 200,000 hectares that in­volved 5,000 farm­ers who re­ceived treated rice seedling to ex­pand to 800,000 hectares within three years. Host com­mu­ni­ties are to ben­e­fit more than 10,000 di­rect and in­di­rect jobs from the project.

Con­scious of the re­al­ity that rice is a prod­uct with a ready mar­ket, of which Nige­ria is the big­gest in Africa, all states are now com­pet­ing in rice pro­duc­tion. A sur­vey con­ducted by the Ah­madu Bello Univer­sity, Zaria, in con­junc­tion with the Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Projects and Fed­eral Depart­ment of Agri­cul­tural Ex­ten­sion, showed that Niger State led in rice pro­duc­tion in 2017 with 545,700 met­ric tons, Kogi was sec­ond with 512,610 met­ric tons and Benue ranked third with 486,620 met­ric tons.

The dent on our rice im­port bill is al­ready be­ing felt by Thai­land rice farm­ers, who have vis­ited Nige­ria, seek­ing the ap­proval of the au­thor­i­ties to start rice milling here. Cau­tion is needed here. The value chains from rice farm­ing - pro­cess­ing, stor­age, lo­gis­tics, jobs, wealth cre­ation and for­eign ex­change con­ser­va­tion among oth­ers - are so huge to be tri­fled with or traded off. Act now, Buhari.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.