Abuja — The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) Thursday supported the recent decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to close Nigerian borders with its neighbours to stem the activities of smugglers.
The association said the closure, which was long overdue, was in the best interest of the economy, adding that the action had suddenly returned life to the rice value chain as the hitherto subdued mills have resumed operations within one week of the border closure.
RIPAN said but for the prompt response by the government, the country would have lost about $400 million (about N150 billion) to smuggling, stressing that intelligence showed that from January to date, over one million metric tonnes of rice was brought into Benin Republic from mostly Thailand and India.
Chairman of RIPAN, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Maifata, at a press briefing in Abuja, urged Nigerians to support Buhari in his efforts to reposition agriculture and diversify the economy.
"We came to let the whole world know that we support this action and we are with government in this journey. We will support them with all what we can, in terms of information, statistics- whatever they need from us; we are ready to do it
"We want the whole nation to support the government in this fight; it is for the benefit of Nigeria. I want you to know that the insinuation that we cannot feed ourselves with rice is not true.
"We as an association met yesterday and tasked ourselves to produce massively to that we can fill the gap that will be created by the stoppage of smuggling. And we are up to the task and determined to do it," he added.
The RIPAN chairman, who spoke alongside his deputy, Mr. Paul Eluhaiwe, also said the local mills were now optimised to meet the challenges resulting from the closure of the borders.
"By this action of government, it has opened up many things within this week of closure of the borders.
"All the mills are now open, producing at almost 100 per cent capacity. Procurement of paddy has resumed by the millers and farmers are happy because they are expecting new harvest in November," he added.
He also said the association had further resolved not to take undue advantage of the situation to hike the price of rice.
"In terms of pricing and supply, we also agree that we are not going to take advantage of this action for ourselves by hiking the price of rice.
"As such, we all agreed that we are going to sell our rice from now on at N13, 300 minimum and maximum, because for some, their location is very far from the paddy and so very difficult for them to operate- but upon that, there is no Nigerian rice that will be sold above N14, 000 at factory.
"This is the commitment we made to government and we are determined and we are willing to keep to our words, God willing. Any contrary activities are not from us as we expect saboteurs to take advantage of the situation. But we assure you that this will be our price.
"Already, an order for half a million tonnes was placed by those smugglers in anticipation of the Christmas period and which they hope to bring in November. They are things we already know; a lot others come in containers.
"The implications is that everything that comes to Benin Republic comes to Nigeria because no other country in the West Coast eat parboiled rice; it is only Nigeria.
"Benin Republic itself eats white rice and going by their population, they require not more than 300 metric tonnes per annum. So, why do they bring in two million tonnes of parboiled rice in this case not even the white rice that they eat?
"This action cripples most of the local rice mills as we cannot operate because of the massive inflow of this rice into our economy.
"Most of the mills are working half capacity while others have even closed. Our farmers are now stock with paddy rice because millers cannot buy and you know the massive campaign by government for them to go back and produce this commodity," he said.