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The Federal Government has reiterated its determination to end the smuggling of rice into the country. It assured that with the concrete measures it has put in place, the smuggling of rice into Nigeria would soon be a thing of the past.
This assurance was given by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, while commending Dangote Industries Limited for investing $1billion (about N165 billion) in commercial rice farming and modern integrated rice mills in Nigeria.
The President and Chairman, Dangote Group, Mr. Aliko Dangote had announced his firm’s investment plan at the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja.
Dangote who led a delegation from his firm to the ministry, later proceeded to the Presidential Villa for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on rice production with the Federal Government.
But at the ministry, the Agriculture minister had told the delegation that government was desirous of stopping smuggling of the staple food into Nigeria.
He promised that the Federal Government would stop the smuggling of foreign rice into Nigeria from neighbouring countries.
According to him, his ministry would ensure that no individual sabotages the drive to make Nigeria an exporter of rice.
“We will end smuggling because we cannot mortgage our future and I want to assure you that government is looking at this issue critically,” Adesina said.
While explaining rational behind his firm’s foray into rice cultivation, Dangote had said that the move to invest in rice production was aimed at developing Nigeria’s economy through agriculture.
He said the investment would further boosts the Federal Government’s drive to attain food sufficiency in Nigeria, adding that in the next fours years Nigeria will become an exporter of rice.
Dangote said once his rice industry starts producing the staple food, the price of the locally produced rice “will be definitely cheaper than the imported ones and this will create room for a lot of investments in the sector.”
He said: “With rice as a major staple, we have placed total sufficiency in rice production as a major priority for our country and key value chain for our economy."
In his remarks, Adesina, stated that the Dangote farms and mills were expected to significantly boost small-holder rice production in the regions through a nucleus and out-grower farming model.
This, he said, would directly transform livelihoods in rural Nigeria as the sites selected were rice-growing communities that will be supported by Dangote’s provision of agro-inputs, training and marketing linkages to improve community-farming.
He said employment opportunities for at least 8,000 Nigerians will be created by the massive investment.
The Minister had said recently that about 8,000 bags of rice were smuggled into Nigeria daily from Benin Republic. Adesina made this known at a public hearing on the Federal Government new rice tariff regime organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise.
He said smuggling of rice and other products such as chicken and fish were detrimental to the economy and should be stopped. The minister called for stiffer penalties for illegal importers of frozen fish and chicken, which he said, were harmful to the health of Nigerians.
“We owe it a duty to our country to make sure that these people are sent to jail,’’ he said.
The minister also said the federal government would establish rice levy fund to support local rice production. The federal government increased levy on rice from 20 per cent to 100 per cent to encourage local production and help boost investors’ confidence in local rice production.
The Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, however, recently said the government had decided to reverse the policy, because rice was still being smuggled into the country.
Adesina said the rice levy fund would be established from the proceeds generated from the new tariff on imported rice. He said that Nigeria had the capacity to be the sole exporter of rice to other countries if local production of rice was enhanced.
He noted that the continued importation of rice into the country had contributed to the high unemployment among Nigerians. He alleged that some unscrupulous Nigerians were conniving with importers of rice to frustrate the implementation of the new policy on rice.
The minister maintained that the increased rice tariff regime was the best for the country as it would encourage and enhance local production of rice.
“The policy is working, I believe our rice policy is working well,” he said.
He alleged that some importers of rice buy the local rice which they label and sell to consumers as imported rice.
He called on the National Assembly to support the ministry with legislation that would enhance its operations.