By Stephen Ubanna
In spite of the fact that that the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, in Collaboration with the Nigerian Immigration Services, NIS, and other security agencies, including the Department of State Security Service, DSS, at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, have succeeded in taking effective control of Nigerian borders with the Republic of Benin, Niger, Chad and the Central African country of Cameroon to stop smuggling, but there are fears that the local rice farmers may not be able to meet the demand of the local market.
This is evident going by the reports making the rounds that since Babagana Munguno, a retired Army Major general, mobilised the security Operatives to block the borders, the local rice could only be found in some places in the north, south west and other major markets across the country, particular, Sango Otta.
The situation has become so worrisome that Nigerians have appealed to the government to further throw their weight on the local rice farmers to stabilise their production before finally withdrawing to avoid throwing the country into serious rice shortage that would give smugglers from Republic room to continue their nefarious activities.
Sources informed The Value News that at present there are about 82 million hectares of arable land across the country for growing most of the country’s rice but only five million hectares are suitable for it. A source in the Federal ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development disclosed that only about three million hectares are currently being used by the local rice farmers to grow rice across the country.
It was learnt that Collectively the farmers are producing only about four million metric tonnes per year , which was a far cry from the country’s yearly rice demand. According to the African Development Bank, Afdb, about $35 billion are spent on food imports annually across the African Continent.
Ii not surprising why the Katsina state born Nigerian President has taken it upon himself to boost the nation’s Agricultural Industry in several ways such as government grants, loans offered at cheap interest rates to farmers, grants and technology given by non profit Organisations, funding from foreign agencies, such as the World Bank.
The World Bank alone, was said to have funded several schemes to boost Agriculture in the country in the last four years, including offering equipment and machines at greatly subsidized hire prices to the farmers.This is in addition to the Central Bank of Nigerian, CBN, set $130 million initiative offering farmers who have at least a hectare of hand used in growing rice as they are given loans at a 9 % interest rate , which was below the initial benchmark rate of 14 %.
Recall that Audu Ogbe, a former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development , had dropped hint of a possible shortage of local rice production in the country if appropriate measures were not taken to replant after the recent flood.
It is not surprising why he insists that the government must find a way to assist the rice farmers in Jigawa, Kebbi, Anambra and Kogi states who were said to have been majorly affected in the flood disaster.
Many rice farmers in these states were said to have lost the different varieties of rice they planted to the flood disaster. The fallout was that foreign parboiled are still being smuggled into the country through unapproved routes across the country. The Beninioise government had licensed our Companies and several other smaller ones and individuals, which were said to have flooded the Benin terminal, Cotonou and Bollore port with parboiled rice that all the warehouses and some private homes had been converted to warehouses to keep the foreign rice imports.
Note that African Agro Foods, a member of the Pan Lebanese Group has a mandate to import 360,000 or 30% of metric tonnes of both white , which is consumed in the country and parboiled rice which was re-exported to Niger and Chad through Kano, Jigawa or Katsina joint borders with Niger.
The other big time rice importers in the country include Di fezi Filo Sarl based in Dubai, which imports 300,000 metric tonnes or 30%, SONAM, a member of the Stalion Group in Dubai , which imports 240,000 metric tonnes of foreign rice into the country annually while ABC Enterprises, also based in Dubai, has a Presidential mandate to import 10,000 metric tonnes or 1%s of foreign rice per annum .
There are indications that 20 -30 smaller rice importers got approval to import 290,000 or24% metric tonnes of rice into the country. Notwithstanding the space constraint to keep all the imported rice into the country, the Companies have flooded the country’s seaports with ships load of rice awaiting to be given signal to come into Benin terminal or Bollore port to berth and discharge the items. And sail back to base in the Asian country of Thailand.
The situation in the country may have been made worse as Issoufou Mohammad, President of Niger, has banned the re-exportation of foreign rice from Benin into the country. Issoufou, may have bowed to pressure form the Nigerian President who believes that the trucks load of rice re-exported to Niger or Chad develop wings on the way to enter the Nigerian market.
The fallout was that the West African CFA Franc (XOF) which is the currency used in the West African countries of Benin, Togo, Cote D’ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mali. Burkina Faso and Niger, exchange rate to the naira have dropped significantly since the close of the borders last August. As at Wednesday, September 25, 2019, the exchange rate of 100,000.00 was put at about 1,653,801.36 West African CFA Franc.
The Value News learnt that the CFA Fran exchange rate to the naira had continued to drop every minute and automatically updated in the international currency market because the foreign rice are stocked in the warehouses and private homes without buyers who are mostly Nigerians. There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that if the borders remained closed between now and December 20119, the West Africa CEFAS Franc may turn out to be paper money that has no value. Take for instance at Seme/Krake Joint border, all the currency dealers have disappeared from the border Community as the transit cargo importers could not take take delivery of their cargoes which are scattered at the old Atlas park, in Republic of Benin and the temporary Park provided by Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller Seme Command at the land border.
This is where Talon, the beninioise, President , may have to drop his arrogance and reach out to Buhari, the Nigerian President to resolve the crisis by ensuring that his country would no longer be used to smuggle foreign parboiled rice into the country ostensibly to destroy the country’s fiscal policy on local rice production. At present , a 50 Kg bag of Thailand parboiled rice smuggled into the Nigerian mark was sold at the sum of N21,000.00 while the a 50 Kg bag of the local rice was sold at N17,000.00, which people had complained has horrible taste and full of stones.
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