A report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has predicted that Nigeria’s rice imports will jump 13 per cent next year to a whopping 3.4 million metric tons, thus, making the country the world’s biggest rice importer after China.
USDA in its latest Rice Outlook released noted that China and Nigeria are projected to remain the largest rice importing countries in 2019, followed by the European Union, Cote d’Ivoire, and Iran.
In Nigeria, local production had increased more than 50 per cent since 2012 to 3.7 million tons last year after various intervention programs such as the Anchor Borrower Scheme, however, domestic demand rose by 4 per cent to 6.7 million last year. Persistent insecurity in the Middle-Belt and North-east region of the country, flooding in the main growing areas have all contributed to the drop in output of rice farmers in the country.
Recently the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had raised an alarm that the heavy flood in about 14 states might lead to a shortage of rice across the country next year. He warned that if adequate measures were not taken to replant the rice affected by severe flood in some states, Nigeria might experience a shortage of the staple by 2019.
Two years ago, the Buhari-led administration had set a target to end rice importation and become self-sufficient. He has virtually banned rice importers from buying foreign exchange, raised tariffs and encouraged the Central Bank to lend to farmers. Despite all these policies activities of smugglers from Benin has continued to surge largely due to lack of capacity to meet local demand.
Although the official shipment to Nigeria has since plummeted by more than 9.5 per cent, those through Benin have continue to surge. According to an official, smugglers offload Thai and Indian rice from the ports in Cotonou and take most of it to Nigeria’s Commercial capital, Lagos where local traders repackaged and sell it as local rice.
While the Buhari-led administration continues to boast of a decline in rice imports as evidence that the country is producing more rice, in reality, smuggling fills the gap between demand and supply.