By Steve Agbota
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to stop rice smuggling through land borders in the country.
The MoU was conceived following strong indications that over 99 per cent of rice smuggled into the country are unfit for human consumption.
President of RIFAN, Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, who confirmed the development, said even though the importation of rice through the land borders was banned since April 2016 with an extension to the restriction of rice into the Nigerian market from the Export Processing Zones (EPZ), smugglers still engaged in the unwholesome act.
He, however, advised Nigerians against the consumption of foreign rice as most of the imported brands are stale and only meant for animal and fish feeds, adding that the result of test by National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) through some samples of some of the rice seizures had confirmed that smuggled rice through the land borders was unfit for human consumption.
The RIFAN President said that the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd), had reiterated recently at a joint meeting with RIFAN and Customs that rice importation remains banned through the land borders.
According to him, to ensure effective monitoring of the land borders, the Comptroller General has approved a 12-man implementation committee to be headed by Assistant Comptroller General, Alino Dangaladima.
He added: “The Comptroller General agreed that there was need for total ban on rice importation and effective monitoring of the land borders to stop the activities of the smugglers. The Customs boss restated that any attempt to import rice through the land borders would be resisted, saying the position remain unchanged. The Customs told them that it had deployed more officers and men to borders to enforce the order.”
He added that Customs had also re-organised its anti-smuggling patrols to provide additional capability to enforce the ban of rice import through the land borders.
Goronyo said the committee would be replicated at state levels to be headed by all states chairmen of RIFAN while its members would serve in the committee to be headed by the state Comptroller of Customs.
He explained that if adequate measure was not taken to stop the activities of the smugglers, it would have adverse effects on the bumper harvests expected from the rice revolution. He therefore commended the Customs officials for taking the giant stride to reinstate the confidence of RIFAN and assured the farmers of adequate markets for their products.
He said the quantity of rice coming into the country was very huge and not quantifiable but because Nigeria has a big market, one could not see the effect immediately, warning that local production would suffer in the process.
Goronyo said the annual rice production in Nigeria has increased from 5.5 million tonnes in 2015 to 5.8 million tonnes in 2017.