Despite rising Nigeria domestic rice production profile, imported and smuggled rice continue to make consumers first choice in the market and it’s everywhere, investigations by Daily Trust on Sunday have revealed.
Domestic rice production received a boost when President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme in Kebbi State in November 2015 to address the huge import problem.
Current statistics in the public domain indicates that in 2016, 58, 260 metric tonnes of rice was imported into the country and that by November 2017, the figures have dropped to 23,192 metric tonnes; this figures further shrink to just 6, 277 metric tonnes in 2018.
However, despite that figures of local production and various brands in the market, many wonders where all the foreign rice that floods the country comes from even with the official ban on rice importation through the land borders.
With more speechifying claims around the rice revolution, Daily Trust went to the producing states to investigate the nation’s drive to achieve self-sufficiency in rice. And also to understand the underlying issues that may drive down production and how the local rice fares in the market vis-a-vis the imported or smuggled rice.
How smuggling erodes success, threatens investments
Millers and other stakeholders in the sector are of the belief that smuggling of foreign rice is threatening their confidence.
Mr Babatunde Ajibola, Head, Media and Communications, Elephant Group Plc, said in Lagos that the massive rice smuggling into the country was threatening the confidence and ability of local rice millers and farmers.
He noted that a visit to major rice markets, such as Iddo, Daleko, Ketu, Mile 12, Alaba and Sango-Ota, revealed that the various brands on display were imported with few or no local ones.
“This unprecedented flooding of the nation’s major markets with smuggled imported rice is of great concern to investors in rice, Agro companies and farmers in spite of government’s ban on the products.
Observers said thousands of tonnes of rice come through the porous borders floating the market and making difficult for investors.
In Katsina State, the acts of bringing in commodities most especially Rice, Vegetable oil and other consumables is called ‘Fito’ and is the most thriving and lucrative business and commercial activities being perpetrated by the majority of people residing across the Nigeria- Niger border along the state.
This act involves ferrying commodities most especially rice across the border through the numerous illegal routes due to the porous nature of the border.
People of these Border communities knowingly or unknowingly see this act as just another way of making a living despite several fracases with law enforcement agencies like the customs in which many lives have been lost.
In Katsina, there exist some recognised border points namely Magama in Jibia, Dankama in Kaita and kwangolom in Daura and Babban Mutum in Baure. However, these smugglers to evade customs and other security operatives by using untarred roads and difficult farmlands to drive in their commodities.
Their operational cars popularly referred to as “Rai banza” are old rickety Peugeot which normally gets overloaded with rice and other items to move into the country.
Also, big time importers engaged these youths to either use motorcycles, J5 buses or Peugeot cars to ferry Rice across the border in which each bag is charge N300 from Dan Isa town in the Niger Republic to get into Nigeria, a distance of 5km.
Sometimes, the trailers mostly from Cotonou, Benin Republic carrying the rice reaches Hirji village, another border town community to unload before the youths are engaged. Hirji is just a kilometre to Magama in Jibia.
Investigation showed that a bag of rice sells between N9,000 to N11,000 at both Dan Isa and Hirji. The prices fluctuate depending on the exchange rate as business is done in French francs (CFA).
As at this week, in Magama a border town Jibia , in Nigeria, the rice sells for N11,500 and by the time it reaches Katsina the price jerks up to N12,500.
Aside youths, women are not left out in this trade as they troop to Jibia to purchase this rice from the youths and then transport to Katsina.
Sometimes they pay the youths N700 difference to ride through untarred roads to appear behind army barracks and Dubai market to Katsina town.
Hajiya Jamila, a divorcee told our reporter that she was introduced to the business after the demise of her husband.
“ I make a living from this and people come from Kano even to get supply some times they make available monies to help them get it across’ she added
Most of the routes used along Jibia passes through Hirji, Bayan post, Gidan Dan Bafilace, Agangaro, Riko and Gutama.
In Kwongolom of Maiadua local government, several routes are also been used to perpetuate such act.
Towns like Maimaje, Botsotsuwa, Tsatsumburm and Yekuwa of Niger Republic are always the routes for the illegal trade.
A Nigerien, Musa said every now and then youths on motorcycles do pass by his farmland carrying bags of rice to evade officials.
A Maiadua resident Muhammad Aliyu told our reporter that the cost of carrying such rice varies on the difficulty of the roads during such trips.
‘When security is tight definitely it’s higher and can reach N500 but most at times the cost ranges from 200-300’ he said
Malam Salisu who runs a noodle joint in Katsina and hailed from Tawa state in Niger said hardly a car they board to Nigeria that will not be stocked with rice.
He said, people are tucked between bags of rice noting that even our people do help come in with rice for Nigerians, they pay us a good price of between N1000 to N1500’.
Despite the risk involved, smuggling continues in Katsina and the customs are always at fracas with them arresting and seizure people are still going into the trade.
On many occasion, motorcyclist in Large numbers can be seen carrying between three to five bags while these specialised cars are also spotted.
A lot of lives have been lost between the smugglers and officials over confrontations at different places in the state.
In January last month alone, the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the Nigeria Customs Service, Zone ‘B’, said it seized 1,520 bags of parboiled rice in Katsina with a duty paid value of N62m and two persons were arrested.
Also in the last quarter of last year, The former Area Comptroller in charge of Katsina/Kaduna command, Oyeleke Olakunle Abdulrazak said 606 bags of 50Kg foreign rice, 239 bags of 50Kg imported sugar, 73 bales of second-hand clothing, 327 jerry cans of vegetable oil, 25 motor vehicles of various kind, one truck and two motorcycles were seized.
In Sokoto state, foreign rice still dominates the local food stores and markets according to Daily Trust investigations.
A resident of Sokoto metropolis, who is privy to the rice business, wondered if the ban in the community would totally block it from gaining access to the markets and stores because of the porous nature of Nigeria’s borders.
The resident, who sought for anonymity, said the smugglers now use motorcycles to bring in the commodity through unapproved routes. “The motorcyclists are very conversant with the terrain because they are born and brought up there. The smugglers use them for their illicit business.”
He suggested intensive sensitization campaign especially in the border communities to discourage them from involving in such economic sabotage.
When our reporter visited Illela border community, he observed that their market was flooded with foreign rice.
One of the traders, who spoke to our reporter, confirmed that they were getting it from the neighbouring Niger Republic through secret routes.
When contacted the Head of Customs in the border post, DC Sa’idu Ahmed said their renewed onslaught on smugglers was the reason for the traders to be running out of stock.
According to him, they have over five checkpoints along the axis and their men were there 24 hours daily.
On his part, the spokesman of Sokoto zonal command of Customs, Magaji Mailafiya said they were not raiding market to recover foreign rice to avoid rancour.
“We emphasized on intelligent surveillance which enables us to track the movement of contraband including foreign rice from the loading point to storage facilities where it is re-bagged and reloaded for onward delivery to marketers,” he said.
He said that it was through this arrangement that they had been making a lot of seizure along Sokoto- Gusau road and Koko-Yauri road in Kebbi states, adding that the command had in January intercepted two tankers conveying foreign rice along these roads.
Our findings in the area shows that the smuggling usually crash the price of the rice per bag near the boarders.
A 50kg bag of smuggled rice can cost as low as N10500 and N11,000 at the boarder.
How upsurge in mills boost local production
One of the good things that have happened to the current drive to increase local production is the increase in local capacity to mill the rice.
Nigeria has been able to attract both local and foreign investments in the last few years into processing, leading to many local brands to debut the market.
There are currently many rice mills (large-scale, medium and small-scale) in the country producing different brands of the rice.
Olam mill in Rukubi in Nasarawa has a capacity for 105,000 capacity and produces the Mama Gold/pride, which is currently a household name in the country.
WATCOT mill is said to even have a bigger capacity of 120,000 located in Argungu, in Kebbi State. It produces the Bulls brands. Also located in the state is Labana Mill in Birni-Kebbi producing Labana and Lake Rice brand, which is a joint venture between Kebbi and Lagos states.
Popular Farm Rice Mill located in Chalawa in Kano state produces some of its parent brands by Stallion (Royal Stallion Shinkafa, the Supper Champion). Kano is also host to the Umza Rice Mill.
In Benue state, Mikap and Ashi mills have also entered the market with their local brands called Miva and Ashi.
Onynx Mill in Bida, Niger State is producing the Savanah Premium while another brand from KK mill in Sokoto state is also in the market.
In Anambra State, Stine Rice Mills produces the Anambra Rice which is a product of the Anambra state government while Ebony Rice by Ebonyi integrated Rice Limited is also a household name in Nigeria.
Another N10bn Lolo rice mill is also billed to take off in Kamba and Dangote is said to be building another N20bn rice mill which is slightly larger at Saminaka area of the state. WACOT has started the second N20bn rice mill plant in Yauri-all in Kebbi State.
Besides these big mills, there are host of many other local brands spreads across many localities.
These milling companies hunt through the major producing belts and major grains markets for paddy to feed their various mills.
Olam’s Vice President Corporate and Government Relations Olam Nigeria, Ade Adefeko, had told our agric editor during a recent interview that apart from its out grower policy, his company also source for paddy rice from major producing belt including Nasarawa, Taraba and Kwara states.
Chairman, Umza Rice in Kano, had during a similar interview, told our agric editor that the company usually takes delivery of paddy rice from Jigawa, Taraba, Kwara and other parts of the country.
A visit to the company in Kano will show long cue of fully loaded trailers waiting to offload paddy rice.
Walcott’s agent at Lafiagi also confirmed that the company also buys paddy rice from as far as Kwara state.
This, according to our findings, has been a catalyst for local farmers in the rice producing belt to expand their farm hectares.
For instance, in Kebbi State, rice production has become a serious business. Buyers go as far as to the farms to buy rice. In the state, there are farmers who have up to 200 hectares of rice fields.
Investigations revealed that the Sunday Rice Market at Kamba is usually flooded with finished rice and paddy from different areas of the state and neighboring Niger and Benin Republic. A 50kg of finished local rice is sold between N9,500 and 8,000 at the border areas. Paddy that are sold between N10,000 and N9,000 at Birnin Kebbi, Bunza, Suru, Bagudo, Argungu, Augie are sold at Kamba rice market between N7,000 to N6000.
Project Coordinator of Labana rice farms, Alhaji Umar Dodo Aliero, revealed a new strategy that will further boost production from their end and if every other thing goes well the farm is expected to realize over 198,600 bags of rice during harvesting. “We can transplant about 50 hectares in a day. We have developed our own variety of rice,’’ he said.
On a similar front, Taraba State is one of the largest producing states than many people previously thought as this investigation has shown.
A survey of the major markets in the states has shown that about four major big millers in the country- Olam Rice Farm based in Rukubi in Nasarawa State, Stallion Rice, WACOT in Argungu, Kebbi State, Umza in Kano, and other medium scale milling companies in Benue state troop to the place to buy paddy rice.
Daily Trust on Sunday went to Mutum-Biyu in Gassol, Karim Lamindo Local Government areas and Yelwa at the outskirt of Jalingo to assess production level and it was discovered that although this is not the production peak period, many millers have aggregated a lot of paddy from the state.
Olam alone collects about 430 trailers of rice annually, about half of this paddy comes from Mutum Biyu (Gassol) alone, 70 trailers from Jalingo and other places in the state. Each of these trucks carries 30 tonnes of rice.
Emeka Isaac Amakwe who is into procurement with Olam said the company gives out money to the indigene to source this paddy which the company buys between N100 to N119 per Kg.
Stallion Group has an aggregation centre for collecting paddy through various agents who are also rice farmers.
It is a common sight to see many trucks loading paddy out of mutum biyu daily as a visit to the area twice have shown- the same in Jalingo, the state capital.
Daily Trust on Sunday findings in rice producing communities of Kwara State have shown massive production of local rice. Communities along the River Niger including Lafiagi, Patigi, Paada and Shonga recorded massive production of rice in the last planting season.
Our Agric Editor, who visited some of the communities gathered that local rice milling companies like Umza, Olam, Stallion and Walcott are the main buyers of paddy rice from the communities.
Their agents were stationed at their various collecting centres to buy paddy directly from the farmers.
One of the agents, who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday at Lafiagi, Suleiman Mohammed, said over 100 trucks had already left the community since the beginning of dry season.
He said a 50kg paddy costs between N7,000 and N8,000.
At Pada, hundreds of bags of paddies are being moved to Patigi on daily basis from where agents will buy them off for their companies.
There are lots of rice productions along Kaima and Barutine axis of Kwara State from where millers buy them off to Kebbi and Kano states.
The rice producing communities in Kwara are said to be producing about one million metric tonnes per anum.
Investigations in Benue revealed that rice is produced in commercial quantity at Naka in Gwer West, Guma, Ikpayongo in Gwer East, Kwande, Oju, Ushongo, Buruku, Kastina-Ala, Makurdi, and Agatu local government areas respectively among others.
Presently, most warehouses are stocked with rice paddy while marketing points such as the one located at Daudu in Guma have overfilled their barn with more paddies still being brought for sales by the farmers.
Rice specialist and Chairman of Rice Farmers Association (RIFAN) in Benue state, Fidelis Iyorumgwa Akosu, intimated that the 6000 registered farmers of the association are currently doing exploit under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) anchor borrowers programme.
Akosu said each of the farmers under the programme is growing at least two hectares of rice farm which is expected to produce a maximum of between 120 and 160 bags of 100kg at the end of harvest with the advantage of modern technology implored and adequate rainfall.
The RIFAN chairman worried about the smuggling of rice from the state by alleged Anambara traders who go as far as re-packaging the local rice and sell same as foreign produce because according to him the quality of rice produced in the state is quite better than other.
Akosu stressed that current local rice production is rising in the state following the massive involvement of farmers in growing the crop, especially, as there are ready markets for the produce.
Our correspondent who visited rice producing and processing areas such as, Wadata in Makurdi, Daudu in Guma and Wurukum rice mills observed massive rice being processed by both farmers who brought their paddy for sales and millers doing their job to bring forth the finest of the rice for consumers delight
In Kaduna, the State Chairman of Rice Farmer Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Muhammad Umar Nungu, said that Rice farmers across the 23 LGAs in Kaduna has reached about 85 percent production capacity out of the expected target despite the fact that some parts of the producing areas in the state are affected by severe crisis.
In Sokoto state, before the FG’s interventions, farmers across Sokoto state could not produce above 50,000 tonnes of local variety.
Alhaji Salihu Ibrahim, chairman of RIFAN disclosed that the support was enjoyed by 33,000 farmers during the wet season and 10,000 for dry season which allowed production capacity to reach 175,000 metric tonnes adding that Attajiri Mill, KK polish local variety to a level that matches all attribute of foreign rice.”
The state has over 120,000 registered members with major producing communities in Goronyo, Wurno, Kebbe, Silame, Sabon Birni, Tambuwakl, and Wamakko.
Our correspondents in Edo and Kogi states report that there has been a significant increase in rice production activities despite the input challenges bedeviling the industry in some places-some like Kaduna are ridden with conflicts.
In Anambra state, the chairman of JOSAN Integrated Rice Mills and Farms, Chief Oliver Okeke, has commended the Anambra Government for the successful inauguration of the JOSAN Rice Mills, with about 10,000 farmers.
Okeke said in Abuja that the resuscitation of the JOSAN Giant Mill, formerly Omor Rice Mill, meant that the country would soon bounce back as the largest rice mill in West Africa.
Consumers’ taste, preference, a huge problem
Although this investigation has found a huge increase in rice production across all the belts, there are factors that threatening the survival of the local brands.
Many people across the market seem to prefer the “better-polished” imported rice for two reasons: its cleaner appearance, the price, which in some case is even lower than the locally produced ones.
“Since the prices are almost the same or lower, people will naturally buy the foreign ones because even in the cooking, some of the local rice melts and gums together which is why I prefer the foreign rice which has better quality,” a buyer, Mrs Emmanuella Emeka, told Daily Trust in Wuse market in Abuja and many shared her opinion.
This is a factor that shapes the performance of the foreign rice people like Mr. Jonathan Emeka who sells local brands wants the government to step up more campaign against foreign rice.
But Mrs Veronica Aremu, a resident of Ita-Amadu area of Ilorin told Daily Trust that there is no much difference between the price of local rice and the foreign ones. ‘’So instead of buying the local rice that usually melts during cooking, I will rather add the little money and get the foreign one that will rise with good quality,’’ she added.
She said in many rice markets in Ilorin, the common brand of rice you can find are Pearl, Falcon, Royal Stallion, Tomato Aroso, Thai Caprice and Moto, which are mainly foreign rice and are sold between N15,500 to N17,000 per 50kg compare to the local rice like Mama Gold and Umza which are sold close to N16,000 too.
A notable farmer at Lafiagi, one of the main rice producing communities in Kwara State, Abdullahi Ndako, attributed the differences in the quality to the poor milling process by the local millers while activities of the smugglers are crashing the prices of foreign rice at the detriment of the local ones.
A seller at the rice market in Daleko, Mushin, Lagos, simply identified as Mum Abdullah, said there was a very low quantity of local rice in the market.
She noted that only a few people have local rice, the majority of the market men and women depend on foreign rice.
She also listed Pearl, Falcon, Royal Stallion, Tomato Aroso, Thai Caprice and Moto, Tripple Seven and Oriba as common rice brand at the market, which according to her are foreign brands.
Our correspondent in Lagos reports that the Lagos State government local rice ‘Lake rice’, is sold only at a few designated locations and is not available all year round.
The way out for the local brands
These findings demonstrate that the federal government needs to deconstruct Nigerians’ perceptions of the rice produce locally. It would not be out-of-place if a subsidy is placed on the final product in the market to attract first choice preference.
Struggling is killing the millers, the farmers and as well denying the government of the huge money it can generate if the product comes through the normal seaports.
The fact that the smuggling still thrives massively across the country’s land borders, the customs and other sister agencies needs to re-strategize to protect the farmers and the millers.
In the opinion of Mr Babatunde Ajibola, Head, Media and Communications, Elephant Group Plc, investors in rice business including agro companies and farmers can only survive if government addresses the issue of illegal rice smuggling.
Mr. Babatunde Olajire, an agric economist, said apart from checking the activities of the smuglers, the federal government can grant rice producers a kind of subsidy or better still a kind of tax waivers to some of millers in order to reduce the price of the local rice.
‘’If the price is cut down, local rice will be able to compete favorably with the smuggled rice in the market and this will lead to more production. Also, the waivers or the subsidy will encourage more millers into the production and this will mean more employment for the people,’’ he said.
Mr. Olajire, who spoke with one of reporters on phone from Ibadan, said with such policy more farmers will embrace rice farming knowing fully that there are enough millers to off take the paddy rice from them.