While reports are rife that the rice market has been compromised with fake “plastic rice” making its way into some African markets, it is not yet clear if Malawi has put in place the right interventions to secure its borders.
Last week, both the BBC and CNN reported that Nigerian authorities had seized 2.5 metric tonnes of reportedly fake rice during the holiday season.
The reports indicate that the rice was found not to be fit for human consumption.
But, there is shifting of responsibility on who has the mandate to ensure that Malawi’s borders are secure to avoid incidents like the one reported in Nigeria amid concerns that Malawi’s borders are too porous leading to easy entry of foreign products which have been eating up the market share of products made on our own soils.
While the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism is pushing the responsibility to Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), MRA said such issues border on regulation and not revenue collection where it has expertise.
MRA Director of Corporate Affairs, Steven Kapoloma, said MRA officers at the border are there to verify if goods entering the country are legal and that the owner has the permission to bring the goods into the country and not to provide security measures.
Kapoloma said in the case of rice imports, MRA checks if the person has the right permit to bring the rice into the country or not.
“We also do physical examination of the goods to verify if what has been declared matches with the goods present at that time,” he said.
According to Kapoloma, it is only when Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) officers are absent at the border that MRA takes up the responsibility of carrying out quality tests, but he said this is only done at basic level as MRA cannot verify if the product is really what it is according to quality specification standards.
But in a separate interview, Spokesperson in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Wiskesi Mkombezi, said MRA implements border measures security as officers from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism are not physically present at the border.
According to Mkombezi, the mandate of the Ministry is to give out import licenses and not to authenticate whether products are harmful or not.
“As a Ministry, we are not necessarily present at the border but MRA and MBS officers are and it is their duty to implement border measures security,” he said.
Mkombezi said where goods enter the country through unchartered routes, MRA anti-smuggling team also has the duty to track the culprits.
But Kapoloma said it would be speculative to suggest that the fake rice in Nigeria made its way into the country through unchartered routes and that if such would happen in Malawi, then the MRA team would help to catch the culprits.
“Let us not create confusion but we must be informed based on knowledge. We mu s t first understand what is happening in the other markets to know how we can deal with the problem here in Malawi,” he said.
The Malawi Bureau of Standards was yet to respond to our query on whether it is doing anything over the reports.
BBC and CNN reported that the fake rice intercepted in Nigeria became very sticky after it was boiled but it is not yet clear where the rice originated.
Nigerian authorities have since dismissed the claims indicating that around 100 bags of the “plastic rice” seized in Lagos have turned out to contain real but contaminated rice.
They said tests on the rice have shown that the product is “not plastic but contaminated with micro-organisms above the permissible limit” and therefore unfit for human consumption, according to the Nigeria National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control.
Rice is the most popular staple food in Nigeria and the BBC’s Peter Okwoche said it is the only foodstuff that crosses cultural and ethnic lines across the country.
It is estimated that Nigerians consume six million metric tonnes of rice per year.
In 2011, a Korean news report revealed some fake rice is produced from potatoes that are shaped as rice with the addition of industrial resin. Even when cooked, the report said the rice remained hard.
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