Nigeria has numerous entry points with neighbouring countries which the relevant agencies are simply unable to effectively police. This is a major reason why local food production remains erratic as indigenous producers are unsure when the market will be flooded with smuggled alternatives.
In the third quarter of 2017, Ayodele Oduntan, immediate past president of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, lamented that poultry products worth over N2 billion were in storage across the country but were unable to get sold because smuggled chicken had saturated the market.
Similarly, even though rice importation to Nigeria through the ports has almost disappeared on account of a discouraging 70-percent tariff, and is officially not permissible through the borders, the smuggled commodity still finds its way to markets and, invariably, homes across the country.
The intensity of smuggling is better understood when data from the Thailand Rice Exporters Association are considered. The data showed that 644,131 metric tonnes (MT) of rice was exported to Nigeria in 2015, while 58,260 MT was exported in 2016, and as at September 2017, rice exports to Nigeria stood at 20,973 MT. This represents a 58.5-percent decline between January and September 2016 and the corresponding period in 2017. However, when compared to 2015, Thai rice exports to Nigeria dipped 96.74 percent.
Curiously, exports to Republic of Benin have increased significantly, although Benin’s population is less than 10 percent of Nigeria’s. Moreover, Benin does not consume parboiled rice which it imports.
Data by the Thai rice exporters showed that Benin imported 1,330,809 MT of rice between January and September 2017, a 51.9 percent increase from 876,228 MT it imported within the same period in 2016. Comparing the 2017 imports as at September to total imports in 2015 shows there has been a 65 percent increase.
BusinessDay investigations in Republic of Benin in 2017 saw one of our reporters blending into the rice smuggling racket and successfully crossing back into Nigeria with some bags of rice, in a process our reporter described to be seamless.
Nigeria’s 4-million-tonne rice deficit was previously filled through a combination of massive legal imports through the ports and unabated smuggling through the many porous land borders. Even though the situation is said to have improved, it still remains problematic.
For local producers not to get discouraged, the borders must be kept in check – and our neighbours too.
The writer can be reached via caleb.ojewale@ businessdayonline.com or 08026689139