In a few days from today, Nigerians will join the entire world to celebrate the yuletide, a season of eating and drinking and unhindered merriment. In this part of the world, rice meals form the major foods eaten during this season, which informs why every household strives to get at least a bag of rice for the season.
This year, however, the ability of many Nigerian homes to buy a bag of rice or at least half a bag this season is being threatened by the high cost of the item and its short supply. This is largely due to the supply gap created by the Federal Government’s directive for the closure of land borders from where different brands of foreign rice are smuggled into the country.
The Federal Government had, in August this year, directed that Nigeria’s land borders be shut in a bid to check smuggling of goods, especially rice, from neighbouring West African countries into the country. This, it said, was aimed at facilitating the growth of local investment in rice production as well as checking the consumption of unhealthy rice by the citizenry.
Despite government’s seemingly good intentions, the border closure has taken a huge toll on rice availability and cost as local production seems not to have shown enough capacity to adequately bridge the gap.
The picture of the rice situation was painted thus by a respondent who did not want his name in print: “The cost of rice this year has hit the roof and this could be the reason many organisations that had the tradition of gifting their staff with rice are not doing so this year. By this time, in previous years in my company, we would have been carrying our bags of rice and other gift items home but as it is, nothing is happening. I guess it’s because rice is so expensive now.
“A 50kg bag of locally produced rice is between N23,000 and N24,000, which is almost double the price of foreign imported rice in previous years. How many people can afford this? You can imagine the huge bill this will accumulate for any organisation that wants to give its employees rice.”
Another concerned consumer, Ekeji, who wondered how the festive seasons would go for him and his household without their well loved staple, rice, lamented that with the cost of rice, he could not see himself getting the item for his family this year.
Confirmatory visits to some markets in Lagos reveal that despite the border closure, imported foreign rice is still in the market though selling at almost double the price before the closure. Availability of locally produced rice seems to have improved compared to the early period of the border closure though price still poses a serious concern.
Before the border closure, a 50kg bag of foreign rice was selling between N14,000 and N16,500 depending on the brand, while the local brands, though scarce, were selling for between N12,000 and N14,000 but presently, the foreign brands are selling for between N27,000 and N28,000 while the locally produced brands are going for between N17,500 and N24,000 as at the time of writing this report. The local brands that are of the highest quality (long grain, stone-free and husk-free) are the most expensive at N23,000 – N24,000.
At Daleko Market in Mushin, Lagos, a 50kg bag of imported rice is selling for between N27,000 and N28,000 while a 50kg bag of locally produced brands is selling for between N17,000 and N23,000. Prices of rice, both imported and local, are relatively the same in all the markets visited including Iddo Market, Mile 2, among others, except for some slight differences.
A rice consultant and General Manager, Project, Elephant Group, Dr. Oluwarotimi Fashola, had some months ago, after the border closure, assured the country that the rice situation would soon witness a huge turn around for the better for every stakeholder, availability and price wise.
He had said, “as more production takes place, the supply-demand gap will start shrinking and the price will start adjusting itself. So the price will not continue to grow but will continue to diminish because more farmers will go into production and there will be increase in cultivated land area and yield.”
Another stakeholder in the rice value chain who, after the border closure, assured Nigerians that bridging the demand-supply gap would not be a problem to rice farmers, was the Secretary of the Gombe State chapter of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Kalagar Lubo.
He had stated that the fears expressed by consumers over the ability of the country’s rice farmers to meet their rice needs and at affordable costs, especially with the approaching festive seasons, were unfounded as rice farmers could produce enough rice to feed Nigerians and even to export.
Also, a rice farmer and the South West Vice President of RIFAN, Mr. Victor Korede, reacting to the issues of scarcity and high cost of rice following the border closure, had stated that unavailability and high cost of locally produced rice would soon be a thing of the past.
He had tried to assuage the fears of consumers then, saying, “the scarcity that was witnessed following the border closure was artificial because immediately the borders were closed, some people mopped what was available in the market and hoarded it. And by the law of demand and supply, it created increase in price,” adding, “I can assure you that before the end of this month (November), harvest will start and there will be a release into the market, so there will definitely be a reduction in price of the product.”
Korede, who also joined his voice with those assuring Nigerians that unavailability and high cost of locally produced rice would soon be a thing of the past, stated that, “things have changed. Initially, we were doing one season planting but with what we have now, most farmers are planting more than once a year; there’s consistent planting now.”
He equally, like other rice stakeholders, assured that Nigerian rice farmers are up to the task of meeting the rice need of the country as there has been increased production.
However, despite these assurances that before this yuletide local rice would be available and affordable to the majority of people, most Nigerians are still groaning under the heavy financial burden of providing the well loved staple for their families due to increasing cost. Availability has improved but affordability is still a mirage.
Between 2015 and 2017, the Customs also said it seized 497,279 bags of rice, with a duty paid value of N3.8bn. Despite these efforts at curbing rice smuggling, experts said the figures only represented a fraction of smuggled rice into the country within the periods under review.
According to statistics, the high rate of rice smuggling into the country is directly related to the rate of consumption of the commodity, with World Bank data stating that Nigerians consume about seven million tonnes of rice every year.
Although the border closure which took effect on August 20, 2019 was to check the smuggling of goods, especially rice, it created an opportunity fot local farmers to up their game.
The exercise to check smuggling, code-named, ‘Ex-Swift Response,’ is being jointly conducted by the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, the Nigeria Police Force and the military. The joint action coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser has sinec the last few months generated varying reactions and comments from Nigerians.
The border was initially planned to reopen in October 2019, but the President extended it to January 31, 2020 and also extended the action to other neighbouring countries such as Niger.
Apart from rice smuggling, the closure is also aimed at preventing weapons and drugs from entering the country, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, said recently at the International Monetary Fund Annual Meetings in Washington DC, the United States.
Even as the President’s spokesperson, Mr Femi Adesina, said the government was particularly worried about rice smuggling as it threatened agricultural policies on food sufficiency, indications are that local farmers have proven that they lack the capacity to meet Nigerians rice needs at the moment.