* Says US, Atiku campaign goofed
By Chesa Chesa
The Federal Government on Tuesday sharply disagreed with an American government report that Nigeria has increased importation of rice in the face of dwindling local production of the staple food.
The 2018 World Markets and Trade Report compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture, had disclosed that Nigeria imported three million metric tonnes (MT) of rice in 2018, which is 400,000MT more than the quantity imported in 2017.
The report, released in October, also stated that Nigeria’s annual local rice production dropped from 3,941,000 in 2015 to 3,780,000 in 2016, and has consistently dropped since then.
This is contrary to claims by the Nigerian government that local rice production has increased while importation has dropped by up to 90%, a development President Muhammadu Buhari even castigated the Nigerian press for not reporting favourably.
Briefing State House correspondents at the Aso Rock Villa, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, flatly dismissed the US report as false and fake news, the type that government has been warning citizens to be wary of.
He even chided the campaign organisation of the opposition presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, for latching onto the report and disseminating it without verification.
According to Mohammad, the Central Bank of Nigeria and Nigerian rice millers have equally confirmed the report as untrue, especially because rice imports require foreign exchange and letters of credit from the apex bank.
He said rice millers in Thailand, which is Nigeria’s major source of rice imports, have confirmed that they export fewer tonnes of the produce to Nigeria.
Declaring that government policies are creating prosperity for rice framers in the country, Mohammed gave an example of a local farmer in Kano who has about two kilometers of trailers waiting to evacuate paddy rice from his farms.
I want to say categorical that that story is false. Predictably, the Atiku Media Organisation latched onto the story, we are not surprised. I want to say categorically that that story is fake and that Atiku Media Organisation also goofed.
“Immediately that story broke out, I contacted Central Bank of Nigeria and Comptroller General of Customs, I had meetings with the Rice Producers Association and also with the Millers and they all confirmed that that story is not true.
“For starters, you can’t import rice without a Form M being approved. You can’t import rice without Letter of Credit. So we challenge the US Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report to provide evidence that Form M was opened to bring in 400,000 metric tonnes over and above that of last year and that Letters of Credit were open for these.
“Two, the records are very clear as to the importation of rice. You don’t have take my words but go to Thailand Rice Millers and the figures are there. In 2014, 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria, in 2015, 644 metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria. By 2015 it went down to 5,000 metric tonnes. These are not my figures, these are figures from the Thailand Rice Association.
“And the claim that local rice production is on the decline is again absolutely false. Yesterday (Monday), when I spoke to the millers, all of them said, please just come to Kano, come to my factory you are going to see two kilometers length of trailers waiting to discharge paddy rice.
“So I want to say category again without fear of contradiction that the Anchor Borrowers Rice Programme is working. Nigeria has been able to reduce by 90 percent the $1.65 billion it was paying on rice importation.
“The number of integrated rice processing mills increased from 13 to 25, those are the majors and that between the smaller ones and the big ones, today the capacity is 4.9 metric tonnes of rice. That is why we are confident that in a year plus we are going to meet the six million metric tonnes of rice production which is our local consumption.”
On how smuggling could have skewed the figures, the Minister said “we do know we have a challenge with smuggled rice but we have taken steps to ensure that these menace is contained.”