By Lawrence Olaoye
The federal government has described recent reports by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicating increase in rice importation into the country and decline in local production in 2018 as false.
Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while reacting to the report in a Press Conference at the Presidential Villa yesterday insisted that local production has instead picked with possibility of attaining the target of producing six million metric tonnes of rice for local consumption in the next one year.
The minister, however, cautioned that the volume of smuggled rice into the country could not be taken officially as importation of the commodity because they did not pass through recognized official transactions.
Mohammed said Atiku Media Organisation goofed yesterday by referring to the reports in criticizing the President Muhammadu Buhari’s success in local rice production in the country.
Mohammed said “I’m sure many of you read the report of United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report that falsely claimed that Nigeria imported three million metric tonnes of rice in 2018, which is 400,000 metric tonnes more than the quantity of the product imported in 2017. And also that local production was on the decline and that these facts fly in the face of government’s claim of what it achieved in the area of rice production.
“I want to say categorical that that story is false. Predictably, the Atiku Media Organisation, this afternoon latched onto the story, we are not surprised.
“I want to say categorically that that story is fake and that Atiku Media Organisation also goofed.
“Immediately that story broke out, I contacted Central Bank of Nigeria and Comptroller General of Customs, I had meetings with the Rice Producers Association and also with the Millers and they all confirmed that the story is not true. “
“For starters, you can’t import rice without a Form M being approved.
You can’t import rice without Letter of Credit. So we challenge the US Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report to provide evidence that Form M was opened to bring in 400,000 metric tonnes over and above that of last year and that Letter of Credit were open for these.
“Two, the records are very clear as to the importation of rice, you don’t have to take my words but go to Thailand Rice Miller and the figures are there. In 2014, 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria, in 2015, 644 metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria, by 2015 it went down to 5,000 metric tonnes. These are not my figures, these are figures from the Thailand Rice Association.
“And the claim that local rice production is on the decline is again absolutely false. Yesterday (Monday), when I spoke to the millers, all of them said, please just come to Kano, come to my factory you are going to see two kilometers length of trailers waiting to discharge paddy rice.
“So, I want to say categorically again without fear of contradiction that the Anchor Borrowers Rice Programme is working.”
Asked how he factored the rice being smuggled into the country through porous borders into his argument, the minister said.
On whether the government would officially engage the US government to present its official position, Muhammed said “That will be at another level. What we are doing here is to educate Nigerians and let them know that that stories is false. Whatever steps government is going to take, I have a responsibility as the minister of information and culture of this great country to tell you what government has achieved and if anybody tries to de-market the government to put the facts straight.