The Federal Government has dismissed reports by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Market and Trade indicating an increase in the importation of rice into the country and decline in local production in 2018.
The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed dismissed the report when he addressed State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report had allegedly 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.
It also stated 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.
But, the minister described the report not only as misleading but `fake news’.
“I want to say categorically 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 the 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 opened for these.
“So, this kind of information is not only misleading but is capable of generating a lot of misunderstandings.
“So, I have said with all emphasis at my command that the story is part of the fake news we are fighting,’’ he added.
According to the minister, the Buhari administration has increased the number of rice farmers from five million to 11 million, and also created a lot of prosperity for the rice farmers.
He said contrary to the fake report, local production of rice had tremendously increased with possibility of attaining the target of producing six million metric tonnes of rice for local consumption in the next one year.
According to the minister, the federal government’s Anchor Borrowers Rice Programme is working, saying Nigeria has been able to reduce by 90 per cent the $1.65 billion it was paying on rice importation.
He also noted that the number of integrated rice processing mills had increased from 13 to 25.
“That is why we are confident that in a year plus we are going to meet the six million metric tonnes of rice production, which is our local consumption.
“The facts are there and I challenge anybody to the contrary.
“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,’’ he added.
The minister also 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 recognised official transactions.