• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Smuggling threatens Nigeria’s quest to self-sufficiency in rice, wheat production

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Except the Federal Government tackles the ongoing smuggling activities across Nigeria’s land borders, the quest to make Nigeria attain self-sufficiency in rice and wheat production within the next three years may just be a dream, experts observe.

Despite the recent launch of a special intervention programme in rice and wheat cultivation by the government, known as ‘CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme’ in Kebbi and Kano, about 70 percent of rice and wheat being consumed in Nigeria at the moment are said to be smuggled through the land borders.

Facts gathered by BusinessDay indicate that the latest policy reversal, lifting ban on importation of rice across land borders by current leadership of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is fuelling the new wave of smuggling of the commodity into the country.

Muktar A. Khaleh, managing director, Umza International Farms Limited, maker of ‘Umza Rice’ brand, at the weekend, in the commercial city of Kano, confirmed this development.

Khaleh said the move by the new NCS’ leadership to allow finished rice into the country across land borders, instead of the earlier decision of only allowing such importation from the seaports, was going to impact negatively on rice development programme of the government.

According to Khaleh, the policy reversal is already threatening the plan by his company, as well as 12 other rice milling plants presently in operation in the country, to leverage the special rice cultivation programme of government.

“The biggest challenge that is confronting the local rice industry in Nigeria is the issue of smuggling. The activities of smugglers involved in bring into the country imported rice has increased with the move by NCS to reverse earlier ban of people bringing rice in through land borderline.

“About 70 percent of the rice we are consuming in the country are smuggled rice, and I want to say that smuggling will kill the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers initiative, if not check.

“The only way the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme can succeed is for government to revert back to the earlier policy of banning the importation of rice through the land borderlines. It takes a simply logic to know that a person, who prefer to bring in rice through haulage, let say from Benin Republic pay 5 percent port charges there, pay 7 percent tariff to Niger Republic for transporting it through there, and ready to pay all the charges to Nigeria Custom, is smuggling,” he said.

Khaleh described the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme as adequate enough to make the nation achieve its goal of attaining self-sufficient in rice and wheat production within the stipulated three year.

However, he said the goal could only be achieved if the programme was effectively and efficiently implemented, and the NCS ready to put a check to the activities of people involved in the smuggling of the commodities.

As a way of keying into the programme, Khaleh said his company had already engaged 3,000 farmers in Kebbi State as well as 15,000 others in Kano, and Jigawa states in the cultivation of paddy rice for his rice mill.

In the same vein, he also disclosed his company was looking at the possibility of expanding production facility at it rice mill in Kano.

BusinessDay also observed that the other issue threatening the rice production programme of the government was the ongoing power outages being experience in the country.

It was also noted during a fact-finding mission to the factory, located at Dawaki area of Kano metropolis that the plant still depend almost totally on self generated power supply, as public supply of electricity remained inadequate.

It would be recalled that on November 17, 2015, the launch of the “CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme of Dry Season rice and wheat farming for farmers across the country was made.

President Muhammadu Buhari in Birnin Kebbi launched the programme; the scheme is a financing model for small-holder farmers aimed at assisting the famers to boost the production of the two commodities.

Adeola Ajakaiye