Rice is unarguably the most consumed staple in Nigeria. An average Nigerian consumes rice at least once a day.
You would hardly find a food vendor who doesn’t sell rice. This alone is attributed to the high demand from consumers.
Unlike in the past when rice was only eaten on special occasions, rice has become a meal that is eaten endlessly and all year round. People complain endlessly about how they are tired of rice, but the next time they are in a restaurant, what do they order? Your guess is as good as mine!
Rice is in fact the basis of the famous national dish, Nigerian Jollof.
Just like football, rice unifies the nation’s numerous and diverse ethnic groups. It isn’t exclusive to any tribe or set of people in the country. Instead, it brings people across demography together.
Across the country, the staple is big deal, not only for consumers but also for stakeholders in the country’s economy value chain.
Among the reasons Nigerians demand for rice is very high and rapid urbanization. People who arrive in cities and seek out cheap, filling food, invariably turn to rice.
Over the years, traditional coarse grains like sorghum and millet have become less popular.
According to research, this is because rice is a more convenient and easy-to-prepare staple when compared to other cereals across income levels in the urban areas.
The war against rice imports in Nigeria
According to The Conversation, a research publication, Nigeria spends about ₦7.92 trillion each year on food imports, out of which rice accounts for about ₦59 trillion.
As a result of the rice import figure and the demand for foreign rice from consumers, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), last year (2018), predicted that Nigeria will become the world’s largest importer of rice after China, in 2019.
It is no longer news that the incumbent administration is keen on diversifying the economy, as it has again expressed its commitment to ensuring that agriculture thrives again in the country.
The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has explained that there is no better time to diversify an economy that has for so long depended on crude oil proceeds.
With the federal government’s war against food imports, including rice, it is now almost impossible for Nigeria to become the second-largest importer of rice in the world as predicted.
President Buhari, had on August 2019, directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop providing Foreign Exchange (FOREX) for the importation of food, with rice on the list as well.
In a statement issued by presidency spokesman, Garba Shehu, the president disclosed that the directive was given to ensure the steady improvement in agricultural production and attainment of full food security.
The president also ordered the closure of the Nigerian border, a move aimed at stemming the smuggling of rice and other food products into the country.
According to Buhari, rice importation from Thailand fell from 644,131 tons in September 2015 to 20,000 tons in September 2017, representing a 95 per cent drop.
Also, figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), show that rice production had increased from an average of 7.1 million tonnes between 2013 and 2017 to 8.9 million tonnes in 2018.
Pulse learned from some traders at the Oniru and Sangotedo markets in Lagos that consumers don’t like the local rice that much.
Food vendors also lamented that their customers aren’t tired of complaining about how bad the rice they sell to them is.
According to one of the traders who identified himself as Aloke Godwin, people don’t like the local rice. Godwin says he keeps receiving complaints from his customers that the rice is too dirty to consume.
He says, “Everybody wants the foreign rice, and the only reason behind the local rice patronage is just that foreign rice can hardly be gotten in the market. The foreign rice we still sell to people is the one we have in store.”
He further explained that the local rice is too costly. “The local rice is not even cheap, it is just a little bit different in price from the foreign rice,” Godwin lamented.
Similarly, Lawrence Ugochukwu, who also trades in rice, said the only issue people have with the local rice is the price and how stone infested it is.
“People don’t even want to buy it, and if I want to rate the purchase of local rice on a scale of 1 to 10, I will rate it 3,” Ugochukwu added.
One Anthony David, who also trades in foodstuff, however, said the border closure is good for the country.
David stated that people don’t have any choice but to buy the local rice like that if they really want to eat rice. “In the long run, it will pay off for the country. People don’t like it, but they don’t have any choice but to buy it.”
Like the traders, the food vendors are also not satisfied with the local rice, telling Pulse that they have lost customers.
A food vendor who simply identified herself as Iya Semilore, said the local rice doesn’t work in her favor at all.
She said, “be it price or anything, it is a loss for me. My customers keep complaining of stones, which is not good for my business. At least, it would be nice if there are options.”
Another food vendor who spoke on the subject, Favour Uzo, says local rice has not reached the stage where most would accept it. “They think we are unhygienic, and it is worrisome for me as a business owner. It is killing my business.”
Explaining the embarrassment the local rice has caused her, Grace Abayomi, another food vendor, recalled that a customer came to patronize her but refused to pay for the food afterwards.
Abayomi said, “This guy came to eat, and he refused to pay afterward because the food had stones in it. They pleaded with this boy to pay, but he refused. Thankfully, a passerby paid for him because I wasn’t willing to let him go with my money.”
Can Nigerian local rice compete with it foreign counterpart?
From the interaction with the stakeholders, Pulse can deduce that both the traders and food vendors are championing for a Nigeria that produces what she consumes.
The Nigerian government can leverage on the available human capacity and deploy necessary technologies to make the Agric sector efficient, while addressing the concerns of the public.
Should the issue of dirt and price be addressed as highlighted, there is a possibility that local rice will begin to enjoy some decent patronage .