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USDA partially admits wrong data on Nigeria’s rice imports

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has partially adjusted its data on Nigeria’s rice imports, which was found to be flawed in a fact check published by BusinessDay in November, 2018.

The USDA in its December 2018 report titled “Grains: World Markets and Trade”, had to make elaborate explanations on Nigeria’s rice production and importation, even though it failed to directly respond to media enquires questioning its methodology and data sources.

USDA has now reviewed Nigeria’s 2019 rice import downwards by 600,000 metric tonnes, from 3 million metric tonnes to 2.4 million metric tonnes. The reason for the change is described as “higher estimated domestic production”. For 2018, Nigeria’s rice import was equally reviewed downwards by 500,000 metric tonnes, from 2.6 million metric tonnes, to 2.1 million metric tonnes. This according to USDA was because of “larger domestic production”.

The changes are however still flawed and do not factually represent Nigeria’s rice imports. As stated in previous BusinessDay reports, Nigeria’s local rice production is yet to become sufficient for all citizens to purchase (and consume), and much of demand is filled through smuggling from neighbouring countries particularly Benin Republic. However, the USDA has offered no data sources where the volume of rice smuggled into Nigeria was captured. Worse still, its grossly understated data for Benin Republic in previous reports was retained in the December report, along with that of other countries. The adjustment in Nigeria’s figures could be attributed to the attention generated by the ensuing discourse.

As retained in the USDA report, Benin Republic is stated to have imported 450,000 metric tonnes of rice in 2015/16, 525,000 metric tonnes in 2016/17, and 550,000 metric tonnes in 2017/18 with a projection of 650,000 metric tonnes for 2018/19.

However, using data from the Thailand Rice Exporters Association and All India Rice Exporters Association, a simple addition of exports from both countries shows 2.05 million metric tonnes of rice was exported to Benin in 2016, against 450,000 metric tonnes the USDA claims. The USDA figure only represents 21 percent of what Benin imported from just Thailand and India; its total imports understated by at least 79 percent. Also, whereas exports to Benin in 2017 was at least 2.51 million metric tonnes from India and Thailand alone, the USDA stated the country had a total import of 525,000 metric tonnes.

The USDA stated that Cameroon, another country sharing borders with Nigeria, imported 500,000 metric tonnes of rice in 2015/16, increasing to 600,000 metric tonnes in 2016/17, and 650,000 metric tonnes in 2017/18. The country is projected to import 700,000 metric tonnes of rice in 2018/19.

However, from just two countries; India and Thailand alone, 797,268.75 metric tonnes of rice was exported to Cameroon in 2017, which is almost 200,000 tonnes more than the figure indicated for the country by USDA. Similar discrepancy exists in the 2016 estimate, and even though the figure may look marginal, the fact that exports from only two countries far exceed USDA’s total import data leaves much to be desired.

While Cameroon’s estimates may appear passable, that of Benin Republic, and especially Nigeria suggested a highly distorted data released to the international community by the USDA.

As BusinessDay previously reported, the potential damage of such misleading data for Nigeria is enormous considering that in the last three years, there have been multi-million dollar investments as the country aims for self-sufficiency in rice production. Even though the local production of rice is yet to attain a level where it is abundantly available, inaccurate information suggesting the country will throw its ports open to a volume of ‘legal’ imports which has not been seen in over five years, is capable of discouraging potential investors.

The USDA in the December report, which could be described as an effort to ‘correct its error’, described Nigeria as a “significant rice importer over the past several years”. It however acknowledged the Nigerian government has been promoting the concept of greater self-sufficiency in rice by supporting local production and aiming to curtail foreign trade. It stated Nigeria is the top rice producer in Africa.

According to the USDA, the government has imposed various measures, from increased tariffs to restrictions on the use of foreign exchange to limitations on transport across land borders, in an attempt to reduce the quantity of rice imported.

“These have been effective to some extent, with the direct importation of rice into Nigerian ports down sharply,” stated USDA.

Meanwhile, less direct and more circuitous routes have augmented and sustained Nigeria’s imports. The skyrocketing imports of parboiled rice into ports of nearby countries – where parboiled rice is not traditionally consumed – has pointed to the increasing role of transhipments in Nigerian rice importation, noted USDA. The volumes of these shipments have however not been determined empirically.



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