Rice importers and millers in Nigeria have urged the government to prevail on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to review its policy on 41 items it now regards as not valid for foreign exchange.
The Secretary General of Rice Millers, Importers and Distribution Association of Nigeria (RMIDAN), Shaibu Mohammed said last week in Lagos that government should allow members, who had already keyed into backward integration programme, to use their export proceed to import and ship rice into the country.
According to Mohammed, many of the rice farmers and millers in the backward integrated programme are also exporters, who may not have anything to do with the country’s foreign exchange market. They want to be allowed to use proceeds of their export to ship into the country the needed quantity of the commodity to close the gap between supply and demand.
“The Central Bank just issued a circular to say those items, which had already been classified as not valid for forex, cannot be funded at the interbank market, from proceed of exports and Bureau de Change sources.
“So our plea is for the government to take a look at each of our members, do their profiling and allow the genuine ones to use their export proceed to bring in rice, because many of them are exporters also.
“Government can consider those who had already keyed into the backward integration programme to use their export proceed so that gradually we can reduce the importation of the commodity by encouraging local production.”
According to Sahibu, Nigeria could be self-sufficient in rice production in the next three years if their plea is considered. He said six million tones of the commodity is needed yearly in Nigeria, going by the last consumption statistics, but local production has not exceeded 2.5 million tons per annum, hence a need to close the gap with importation.
“For the importers of rice, we are seeing this policy as a tactical ban on rice importation because you can no longer access Dollar to pay for your supplies. The implication of this tactical ban is huge. The importers will become jobless and there will be famine in the land. Nigerians consume six million tons of rice yearly, but local production is a little below 50 per cent (N2.5 million tones).
“So you have 3.5 million tons as a huge gap to be bridged either by legal importation or by smuggling. Smuggling of rice is going to double and the economy of neighbouring countries will witness a boom because they will ship into their country more rice to be smuggled into Nigeria.”
Shaibu applauded the government’s backward integrated programme, saying that it is a step in the right direction. He said his members have invested in rice farming and milling and would continue to assist government in the execution of its policies on rice.
However, he asked that the government should provide the enabling environment. “There should be adequate power supply, because our members are running the mills on diesel, bring down cost of production, put the bad roads in good shape, revive the decayed infrastructure, tackle corruption to encourage people into farming business.”