â€˜Why Nigeria Should Declare A Five-Year Ban On Rice Importsâ€™
NIGERIA should declare a five-year ban on rice imports, during which it should concentrate efforts to produce enough to meet national needs and displace imports, former minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Charles Ugwuh, has canvassed.
During the five-year period, he wants the Nigerian Customs Service to protect the nationâ€™s rice economy against smuggling. â€œAll hands should be on deck by the financial sector, local distributive trade, all agencies of government, and all stakeholders to support the national initiative on rice.
â€œIf we drive this to success, it would encourage even greater success and confidence to tackle other products and programmes that are relevant to prosperity and well-being,â€ he stressed.
In an interview with The Guardian, he made a strong case for a viable rewards system to be established to encourage patriotic zeal and drive towards enforcement of compliance by agencies of government, and stressed the enormous benefits to the nationâ€™s economy if rice is grown locally.
â€œWe can grow rice and save over US $2.6 Billion per year we currently spend on rice imports.â€ Ugwuh was emphatic that Nigeria could be self- sufficient in rice production.
His words: â€œWe call for a total ban on rice imports for at least five years to enable Nigeria to bend down and produce its own food with the enormous natural resources and endowments we have. The nation can be self-sufficient in rice.
We can eliminate food imports and save US$9 billion annually on wheat, rice, sugar, and fish. Nigeria cannot afford to waste such a huge amount and export vital jobs overseas, when massive unemployment is such a great challenge threatening our national survival.â€ He gave further details: â€œNigeria has suitable ecology to grow rice paddy virtually all over the country.
With dedication, perseverance and national commitment, Nigeria can grow and process rice to meet its domestic needs, and indeed, export to other African countries at least, where a ready market exists for over 15 million tons from West through Central and Southern Africa.
He said that Nigeria has been striving hard to grow its capacity in paddy production and processing through massive investments in production infrastructure: power, water, irrigation facilities, dams and processing industries and technology but lamented that this has not yield fruitful result.
He said: â€œUnfortunately, each time we make earnest efforts to grow our rice capacity to displace imports, our traditional rice suppliers from South East Asia (India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, among others) double up their efforts through Diaspora merchants to beat us down.
â€œWith their production efficiencies, low cost of production, better quality milled rice and other trade malpractices and gimmicks, they are able to weaken our resolve and erode our competitiveness, forcing us to buy from them and to abandon all our well-laid plans, investments and import-substitution strategies.
In the meantime, we commit up to US$2.6 Billion to buy 3.0 million tons of rice per year. â€œWe export various desperately needed jobs out of Nigeria to South East Asia.
We further pauperise our people by collecting additional toll as import tariff of over US$1 Billion. In the process, we also enrich smugglers and sundry merchants and traders with another US$1.2 Billion.â€
He went on: â€œOverall, we bleed from our economy US$4 Billion to US$5 Billion per year on a product that we can well produce with little effort and determination.
From 2008/2009, we embarked on another cycle of investments in integrated new rice mills, farms, seeds production, infrastructure, and technology and rice agronomy christened import substitution strategy, a component of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).
â€œSuddenly, we reversed our policies in May 2014 and allowed rice merchants (parading as investors) to dump over two million tons of rice on Nigeria between June 2014 and January 2015.
The consequence is a total collapse of the rice market. This was through legitimate import quota, smuggling and discretional waivers granted by â€˜higher authorities.â€™
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