The Worrisome Return of Rice Smugglers in Nigeria
By Muhammadu Dahiru Lawal
No sooner was Nigeria’s border with Benin, as well as those with all other countries closed and Nigeria’s domestic agricultural industry began to spur, no sooner were the borders reopened and the illicit smuggling of domestic rice returned, posing a threat to our already thriving domestic food subsistence.
The closure had no doubt had a transformative impact, especially in terms of youth involvement in agriculture and the market, translating in about 70 percent of those involved in the chain having doubled their agricultural income.
Rice being one of the most consumed staples in Nigeria, with a consumption per capita of 32kg has always been at the heart of smuggling.
In the past decade, consumption has increased by 4.7%, almost four times the global consumption growth, and reached 6.4 million tonnes in 2017 – accounting for 20% of Africa’s consumption, a pace that has since been rising steadily with a conservative estimate of 6.9 million tons presently.
This Presents a huge opportunity for domestic agricultural industry to thrive across the rice value chain especially given that before the border closure – between 2012 and 2015, Nigeria imported $4 billion worth of rice in order to meet expanding consumption. Yet Nigeria actually has the capacity to be a net exporter of rice.
However, as the borders reopen and contraband rice begins to flood the country, this is not only a far cry away from reality, but the successes recorded during the period of border closure is about to dwindle.
At Kano’s Singa Market, Ado Bayero road, a popular market that deals in selling food items tons of locally produced and processed rice such as Mafa, Tiamin, Optimum, Majestic among others are immediately visible in 25 – 50kg sizes, but behind this display are warehouses containing foodstuff and essential commodities most of which are smuggled foreign rice sometimes packaged in bags that portrays them as homegrown.
A Middleman in the rice dealing business who simply identified himself as ‘Prime Minister’ told Economic Confidential that local rice are much more available as foriegn rice in the market these days but reopening the border may affect this balance.
“Surprisingly, the homegrown rice is more tasty and healthy than the ones being smuggled into the country,” he said.
Just yesterday the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN) expressed its concern over the intense smuggling of rice into the country, following the reopening of some land boarders, and the take off of AFCTA trade agreement.
Mr. Peter Dama, National Chairman of RIMAN, in a statement obtained by PRNigeria, disclosed that millions of tons of smuggled rice are being off loaded at the reopened boarders on daily basis without any interruption, or checks by customs and the security agencies, for onward transportation into Nigerian markets.
Prior to this alarm, Economic Confidential has reported an exclusive intel obtained, that, about 10 Vessels of not less than an estimated 142,488 metric tons of rice from India and Thailand were early this year headed to Benin and are expected to arrive not later than January 31st 2021, after which most of the goods will find their way through various smuggling routes into Nigeria.
If this trajectory continues, Nigeria is bound to continue loosing billions of dollars in potential revenue, while killing job opportunities on the rice value chain.
In an interview with a rice farmer, Ibrahim Nasir, in Kura when asked of the impact of closing the border and now reopening, he had the following to say:
“Closing the border is a thing of joy for us because job opportunities came for the people of this community. A lot of hooligans or idle youths became engaged in one activity or the other within the rice value chain. Also, on the same note businessmen from the southern part of the country purchase rice in large quantity from us as a result of the border closure.” He said the reopening of the borders has reduced patronage of local rice by traders from Southern Nigeria.
Another rice farmer in Kura, a renowned rice farming, milling and marketing hub in Kano revealed that before the borders were closed, farmers usually incur huge loss but when the borders closed, their earnings doubled.
“Infact, we use to pray here in Kura that may the keys to the closed borders get lost in the ocean of forever, because that move has really impacted our lives, for example, I sponsor my education through this. If this will subsist you don’t expect me to graduate as start waiting for government to give me job, no way!” He said
With the influx of tonnes of contraband rice along the reopened borders, Nigeria may not just have only smugglers to contend with, but also the attended financial consequences on the rice value chain.
Muhammadu Dahiru Lawal writes from Kano