Former minister of commerce and industry, Charles Ugwuh at the weekend called on Nigeria to place a five-year import embargo on rice, saying within such timeframe, the country could concentrate efforts on in-country production, displace imports and save $2.6 billion spent annually on rice imports.
Ugwuh who served under late President Musa Yar’Adua and was once president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) stated that during the five-year period of ban, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) should also be mandated to protect the nation’s indigenous rice industry against smuggling.
“All hands should be on deck by the financial sector, local distributive trade, all agencies of government, and all stakeholders to support the national initiative on rice. If we drive this to success, it would encourage even greater success and confidence to tackle other products and programmes that are relevant to prosperity and well-being,” he said in an interview in Abuja.
“We can grow rice and save over $2.6 billion per year we currently spend on rice imports,” Ugwuh stated while insisting that Nigeria could be self-sufficient in rice production.
In his words: “We call for a total ban on rice imports for at least five years to enable Nigeria to bend down and produce its own food with the enormous natural resources and endowments we have. The nation can be self-sufficient in rice. We can eliminate food imports and save $9 billion annually on wheat, rice, sugar, and fish. Nigeria cannot afford to waste such a huge amount and export vital jobs overseas, when massive unemployment is such a great challenge threatening our national survival.”
He stated further on the nation’s unique potential for rice production: “Nigeria has suitable ecology to grow rice paddy virtually all over the country. With dedication, perseverance and national commitment, Nigeria can grow and process rice to meet its domestic needs, and indeed, export to other African countries at least, where a ready market exists for over 15 million tonnes from West through Central and Southern Africa.”
“Nigeria has been striving hard to grow its capacity in paddy production and processing through massive investments in production infrastructure: power, water, irrigation facilities, dams and processing industries and technology.
“At this moment, Nigeria has made serious start, but she is yet uncompetitive and needs even greater investments to compete with other countries in South-east Asia, which have been producing rice for decades and have evolved a culture of rice at low cost and high yields that are difficult to match,” Ugwuh added.
He alleged that: “Unfortunately, each time we make earnest efforts to grow our rice capacity to displace imports, our traditional rice suppliers from South East Asia (India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, among others) double up their efforts through Diaspora merchants to beat us down”.
Speaking on the overall impact of this on the Nigerian economy, Ugwuh said: “Overall, we bleed from our economy $4 billion to $5 billion per year on a product that we can well produce with little effort and determination. From 2008/2009, we embarked on another cycle of investments in integrated new rice mills, farms, seeds production, infrastructure, and technology and rice agronomy christened import substitution strategy a component of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).
“Suddenly, we reversed our policies in May 2014 and allowed rice merchants parading as investors to dump over two million tonnes of rice on Nigeria between June 2014 and January 2015. The consequence is a total collapse of the rice market. This was through legitimate import quota, smuggling and discretional waivers granted by ‘higher authorities.”