By Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye, Agatha Emeadi (Lagos), Chidubem Ikechukwu and Chisom Ezugwu (Enugu)
The Nigerians’ dream of seeing the much-vaunted Federal Government rice pyramids translate into cheaper, surplus rice across the country is fast fading and giving way to despair as the commodity has remained far beyond the reach of the masses six months after the unveiling of the local rice pyramids in Abuja.
In the markets, rice dealers and consumers lament the scarcity and prohibitive cost of local rice, blaming the situation on the high patronage that foreign rice still enjoys in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had unveiled pyramids of rice in January that would have been harvested by farmers who benefited from the government’s Anchor Borrowers initiative to increase their production.
The government claimed that the low-interest loans had more than doubled the average yield of rice and maize in the country and raised hopes of ending the country’s dependence on rice imports.
The rice pyramid, which was supposed to be the way farmers repaid loans, it was revealed was to be sold by the Central Bank of Nigeria at below market rates to reduce the price consumers had paid for the product.
The Anchor Borrowers program was launched in 2015 by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The plan provides rice farmers with loans and technical advice aimed at expanding rice production and increasing yields while limiting the country’s dependence on imports.
During the unveiling of the rice pyramids, President Buhari had expressed hope that producers of other agricultural products would emulate the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria in supporting his administration’s efforts for food sufficiency.
But six months after the unveiling of the pyramids, rice traders and consumers said locally grown rice remains a rarity in the country’s food markets, as foreign rice still dominates them.
The majority of dealers who spoke to Sunday Sun cited the price of locally grown rice as the main reason they don’t stock their stores with the merchandise.
A market vendor, Mrs. Morenikeji Lawal, said she stopped supplying her shop with locally grown rice in March because most Nigerians prefer foreign rice to the local variety.
His words: “There is not much difference between our (Nigerian) rice and imported rice when comparing their prices. The last time I stocked my store with local rice, it took me months before I could sell it because people, the majority of whom are already used to foreign rice, saw no significant reason to buy rice grown locally which sold for almost the same price with foreign rice.
“We sold a bag of foreign rice for N26,500 while a bag of local rice was N25,800. The slight difference then was only noticeable if you bought a bag or a half bag. At the time when a Derica (tin measure) of foreign rice was sold for N420, that of local rice was N410. Thus, the majority of our people would prefer to opt for the foreign variety, regardless of the N10 difference between foreign rice and locally grown rice.
Another rice trader, who identified himself simply as Fidelis, gave a similar reason for his decision to stop stocking his store with local rice, saying the low footfall of locally grown rice is a major deterrent to the most traders.
According to him, “Nigerians expect the price of local rice to be cheaper compared to the price of foreign rice because it is grown in the country where dealers do not have to pay duty when they sell it. ship to any part of the country, but it does not. It is even more expensive than some varieties of foreign rice. For example, a bag of foreign short-grain rice costs N26,000 while the long-grain variety is N30,000, but a bag of locally grown rice now costs N27,500. Most people prefer to stick with the grain short foreign rather than buying. Nigerian rice. That’s why I don’t buy local rice at the moment. The Sunday Sun findings revealed the availability of foreign and local rice in parts of Lagos State, with foreign rice being the most common variety.
Chuks Udegbulem, a food wholesaler, said, “There are long and short foreign grains that can be obtained anytime, even when the borders were closed, the smugglers still found a way to beat the security guards.
He pointed out that “local rice remains unstable in the market, although it is not completely scarce because the demand is not as high as that of foreign rice.
“There are other types of local rice, but not the most sought-after Abakaliki rice. In Mushin market, we are not up to four dealers adding such stock due to its low demand and high cost. »
Regarding the cost of different types of rice, he said “while a bag of foreign rice costs between N34,000 and 35,000, a bag of local rice is slightly higher. A Derica (fairly large tomato can) of foreign rice costs N500 while the same amount of local rice costs N600.
But while rice traders blame the exorbitant price of the commodity as the main reason for the low customer base enjoyed by locally grown rice in the country, some consumers seem to have other reasons for choosing the rice than they buy.
Those who patronize locally grown rice said that the taste of freshness in locally grown rice endeared them to it despite the price.
Ms Seidat Abdulraman, who has described her family members as local rice junkies, said her experience when she worked with a major rice importer a few years ago was largely responsible for her preference for rice. locally grown rice.
According to her, a greater proportion of rice imported into the country has a short shelf life and may become inedible before reaching final consumers.
“A few years ago, I worked with a rice importer and during my mission, I found that a good piece of rice imported into the country at the time entered the country at some point. where it was nearly expired. I don’t know if that has changed now, but because of that, I decided to get interested in local rice.
“That’s why in my family, we prefer to get local rice rather than foreign rice. Local rice tastes better and fresher. But my grouse with local rice farmers is in the pricing aspect. Local rice is expected to be cheaper than foreign rice, but this is not the case. The government needs to address this: it needs to go beyond announcing and proclaiming its success in rice production and ensuring that the product is available and affordable to Nigerians,” he said. she declared.
Miracle Aighigbe, a restaurant owner in Lawanson, said she sells foreign rice because “it’s a good fit for me as a caterer. There is a difference between foreign and local rice. Local rice when I cook it for white rice, it doesn’t last. It remains for a few hours maximum of two to three hours and begins to smell funny. It’s a bad market because customers get angry when they notice this funny smell.
“So I stopped buying local rice and only depended on foreign rice. But the foreign rice, no matter how long it takes, it has no smell, and it is sweeter than the local one. I was using local rice when foreign rice was expensive, so I noticed local doesn’t last, it turns sour.
Ms. Stella Bibobra is of the view that Nigerian rice millers need to do more to be able to compete favorably with foreign rice.
According to her, the quality of rice grown and milled in Nigeria has not yet matched the quality of imported rice, a reason she gave for her preference for foreign rice.
“To be fair to rice farmers in Nigeria, there are certain varieties of Nigerian rice that taste better than imported rice, but you only see this variety occasionally. I even heard that some dodgy rice merchants repack this local rice with foreign bags and sell it as foreign rice. But what you regularly get in neighborhood stores is rice with stones and with a bad taste and sometimes soggy when cooked. If we can improve our own rice, Nigerians will patronize local rice more,” she said.
However, many consumers blamed the prohibitive cost of local rice as the reason for their neglect of locally grown rice in favor of imported rice.
Those who spoke to the Sunday Sun expressed disappointment at the federal government’s failure to flood the country with Nigerian rice months after it presented local rice pyramids in Abuja with the promise of driving down the price of the commodity.
One of them is Mr. Abiona Sodehinde who expressed doubts about the authenticity of the rice pyramids exhibited earlier in the year.
“If what we saw in the media was actually a pyramid of rice and the price of local rice remains as high as it is today, I think something is seriously wrong with the whole chain. If we have a situation where the same amount of local and foreign rice goes for almost the same amount in the market, we should not expect Nigerians to give up imported rice for Nigerian rice considering that our taste buds tastes are already accustomed to foreign rice. rice. If the government is sincere in its intention to encourage local rice farmers, it must necessarily lower the price of local rice and make it available in all regions of the country. Without this, it will be very difficult to discourage Nigerians from patronizing foreign rice,” Shodehinde said.
In Enugu State, the story is similar, but seems to be expanded. A rice trader in Ogbete main market who requested anonymity said: “Nigerians always prefer foreign rice to local rice due to the presence of husks, dirt, stones, broken grains, low swelling capacity, poor processing and packaging of local rice”.
Also giving reasons why people prefer local rice over foreign rice, Mr. Emeka Okonkwo, a trader also at Ogbete market, said he prefers local rice because of its nutritional values.
He said, “After the ban on foreign rice, it was discovered that the price of local rice had skyrocketed alongside foreign prices, which is not supposed to be because local rice is produced in our country. , Nigeria. If the price and processing of local rice improves, many people will quit foreign rice and come to seek local rice.
“I plead with the federal government to look at the price of local rice in the country and do something about it.”
A consumer who was at the market to buy rice and who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “I prefer foreign rice because it is neat and easy to prepare and attractive to the eyes, you know the eyes eat before the mouth.
“People also prefer foreign rice because it is better for occasions like funerals, weddings, special holidays, but traders earn more from selling the local rice.”