Ogbeh and Thailand’s rice export
Last week Friday at the meeting of the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) and the Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers of Nigeria (FEPSAN) presided over by president Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja, minister of agriculture, claimed Nigeria’s reduced rice import from Thailand has decline by about 95 percent and has led to the collapse of seven rice mills in Thailand and raised unemployment rate to four percent in the country. Ogbeh was quoted as saying:
“… two weeks ago, the Ambassador of Thailand came to my office and said to me that we have really dealt with them…But I asked what did we do wrong and he said unemployment in Thailand was one of the lowest in the world, 1.2 per cent, it has gone up to four per cent because seven giant rice mills have shut down because Nigeria’s import has fallen by 95 per cent on rice alone.
“So, Mr President we thank you for the support and we thank all the agencies and those of you in the private sector for your resilience…”
Even the president recently claimed that Nigeria’s rice import was down by 90 percent and that rice import will be completely stopped this year to encourage local production.
However, a simple check reveals that both the president and minister of agriculture were greatly mistaken and the figures they advertised are not true.
First, Thailand’s rice export has been on a continuous growth trajectory, reaching a record high of 11.2 million tonnes last year. Data shows rice exports grew at 37.2 percent year-on-year.
Information available on the Rice Exporters Association of Thailand website shows Nigeria’s import of rice for the last three years has been negligible – 58, 260, 644, 131 and 23, 192 metric tonnes in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Second, the unemployment figure in Thailand stands at 1.3 percent as at January 2018. So, it is neither true that rice mills have been shut down due to Nigeria’s low imports nor that unemployment figure has gone up to four percent in Thailand. Even if we are to believe the minister that Thailand’s ambassador made that claim, he has a responsibility to cross-check and not make claims that are obviously false and which makes a mockery of us as a country.
Although the government has been claiming success and taking the glory for reducing rice imports, the reality is more nuanced and doesn’t cover us in glory like the minister and president want us to believe. Rice importation through the land borders have been banned since 2015 and can only be brought in legally through the ports at a discouragingly high tariff of 70 percent. So, technically Nigeria has banned rice importation.
However, as legal importation to Nigeria drops drastically, neighbouring countries such as Benin, Cameroun, Niger and others have greatly increased their import of parboiled rice, which ironically, is consumed only in Nigeria.
Data by the Thai Rice Exporters Association shows that Benin Republic’s imports from Thailand from January to November 2017 stood at 1.64 million metric tonnes, a 32 percent increase from 1.24 million metric tonnes within the same period in 2016, and an increment of 104.45 percent from 805,765 metric tonnes exported to Benin republic in 2015. Cameroun also imported 663, 667 metric tonnes of parboiled rice from Thailand between January and November 2017, a 47.64 percent increase from 449, 513 within the same period in 2016, and 449, 297 metric tonnes in 2015. It is safe to say that most of the imports to these countries end up in the Nigerian market through smuggling.
An investigation carried out by BusinessDay some months ago also shows that smuggling is rife along the official border points and despite the claim that rice importation is banned through the borders, traders continue to import the commodity through official border points usually after settling customs officials. To add to our woes, the price of the smuggled rice are way lower than those of locally produced rice, which means the problem will remain with us for a long time to come.
It is noteworthy that the government wants to ensure self-sufficiency in rice production. But this must be done in the right way and with regards to the realities on the ground. The bandying of false data and official import figures the reality will continue to make a mockery of us as a country.