Few Days To Christmas, Nigerians Are Having Sleepless Nights Over High Cost Of Rice

Bags of rice
Bags of rice

Since the closure of all land borders in the country, Nigerians have continued to groan over the high cost of foodstuffs such as rice, frozen chicken and turkey.

Prior to the closure of all land borders, a bag of foreign rice cost between N15,000 to N17,000 and one didn’t have to worry about stones and dirt in it, but with the closure of the land borders and a strict ban on the importation of rice, the least price for a bag of local rice is N18,000 —  dependant on the area —and could go as much as N22,000 in other localities.

Getting foreign rice is almost impossible and when one does, it is very possible that some unscrupulous sellers have repackaged local rice into foreign rice bags, selling it at every exorbitant price, in order to deceive unsuspecting buyers.

With Christmas around the corner, it becomes even more worrisome that the price of rice may skyrocket than it is already.

Rice is undisputedly one of Nigeria’s most consumed staple food. Most homes in Nigeria can’t go a day without consuming rice. Some homes even go as far as cooking rice more than once a day because it avails them different variances, such as the prestigious jollof rice, coconut rice, rice and stew, rice and beans, concoction rice, palm oil rice, peppered rice, fried rice and so on. Hence, it becomes very easy to understand why Nigerians love rice so much.

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No wonder the immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, in 2016, berated Nigerians for consuming too much rice.

Ogbeh, while in a meeting with officials of VICAMPRO, an indigenous Agro Company investing in the production of Irish Potato in Abuja canvassed for local productions to save the country’s foreign exchange.

According to Ogbeh, the consumption of rice in the country was rising and a lot of people were probably unaware that rice had some degree of arsenic. He pointed out that consuming rice in large quantities on a regular basis was a bit of health risk, while he urged Nigerians to substitute their consumption of rice with potatoes.

“The volume of importation of virtually everything into this country is too much.

“Since 1986, we began this habit of importing everything and doing virtually nothing at home to sustain ourselves; now, we do not have the dollars and people are very hungry.”

With Christmas around the corner, there is the possibility that many Nigerians would schedule their events such as weddings, reunions, end of year parties, and other forms of fun events around the period, and rice will play a huge part in such events.

Seriously, what is a Christmas party or an ‘owambe’ without our dear Jollof — a matter of fact, the thought of party Jollof and a huge piece of chicken on it, makes it impossible to say ‘no’ to any invitation where such will go down.

However, with the closure of the land borders in the country, the high cost of rice, and no set date for reopening the borders, the reality has left many average Nigerians wincing in pains of coughing out as much as N18,000 to N22,000 just to go home with a bag of local rice.

Important to note is the Consumer Price Index from the National Bureau of Statistics in November which showed that Nigeria’s inflation rate rose by 11.61% for the month of October 2019, the fastest rise in about 17 months.

According to the data, states in Western Nigeria have been hit hardest by the border closure and has recorded the highest rise in food inflation for the month.

The data reveals that Oyo, Osun, Lagos State, and Ogun States were worst hit recording the highest spikes in inflation rates.

This is understandably so because of their proximity with the border towns, therefore feeling the full weight of the negative effect of the border closures is rather inevitable.

This, according to some experts, could pose a major food security threat for the western region, if local production does not meet up with its demand.

Although there seems to be an assurance from the government that the price of rice will go down before Christmas, the reality of that promise is yet to be achieved as prices have stayed the same.

To have a proper understanding of how border closure, which has in turn affected the price of rice in the country, may affect Christmas this year, INFORMATION NIGERIA took a trip to Moshalashi Alhaja Market, Agege, Lagos, to speak with rice sellers and buyers.

Sellers and buyers spoke about the current price of the different brands of rice and how it has affected them. For the seller, their sales and profit, and for the buyers, their pockets and demands.

Speaking with Sunday Igwe, a rice seller who deals on different brands of rice, he listed some of the stock he has as; Jameela( N19,000), Big Bowl(21, 500), Super Champion( 20,500), Tomato Gold (17,500) among others.

Asked what his profit is now that the borders have been shut and he only has to deal on local rice, compared to when there were no border restrictions and dealt on foreign rice, he said; “We are making more profit from this local rice because that’s mostly what’s available in the market. Customers can’t cough out as much as N26,000 to buy foreign rice which they are not even sure of.

“Many people had no idea that our local rice could come in some superb qualities that are absolutely fine and stone-free. Local rice comes in grades and there are some that don’t have stones. And we can even convince someone that the rice is foreign and the person wouldn’t even doubt it”.

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On where he buys his rice from, he said “We get them from Kebbi state. We have a rice dealer in Kebbi that brings the rice to Lagos.”

On whether patronage has dropped since the border closure, and the high cost of local rice, he said: “The price of rice has not affected people’s demand as they still buy as much as they used to buy even when the borders were open.”

However, Shadrach Uchendu, another rice seller whose shop was only a few steps away, shared a different view from the first seller. On his part, he blamed low patronage on border closure. He lamented also that the quality of the local rice which is the only available one in the market has also brought down the demand for rice.

Asked if border closure has affected his business, He said; “the problem is that there is no foreign rice in the market and we are stuck with just local rice, which has reduced patronage and people don’t buy rice as they used to buy in the era before border closure.”

Uchendu said both the price and the quality of the local rice may have discouraged people’s demand for local rice.

“There are so many stones in the local rice and the price is high, which has had a negative effect on their demand for it”,  he said.

Asked to compare the demand of rice last Christmas to this upcoming Christmas, and tell which was better and more profitable, he said: ” You can’t compare last Christmas to this upcoming one because from October 2018, we had already started the season and we were already making good sales, but now, with  less than 3 weeks to Christmas, we are yet to feel the vibe.”

So for one seller, while the closure of the border has no affected the demand and sale of rice, the other seller vehemently blames border closure on poor sales and low demand.

We heard from the sellers and it was also important to hear from the buyers, So INFORMATION NIGERIA spoke with Kafayat Lawal, who had come to the market to purchase rice at the time.

Asked whether the lack of foreign rice in the market has affected her rice demand, she said: ” I honestly don’t have a problem with going without foreign rice forever, but my problem with local rice is the price and the quality. The pains it takes to sift through the rice before you go ahead to prepare it, make it exhausting.”

On whether she still consumes rice as much as she used to before the era of border closure, she said; ” My family and I can’t do without rice. We eat it almost every day, so even if it shoots up to an unreasonable amount we will still buy.”

However, Damilola Abayomi said even though she is a rice lover, the price and quality of local rice has affected her consumption.

“With the cost of rice, I no longer eat it like I used to. Now I have substituted spaghetti and noodles for rice, ” she said.

As for Christmas, she says even though she would buy rice, it wouldn’t be in the quantity that she bought last year.

“Like last year, I bought 3 bags of rice and shared it for some of my family members, but this year, I would just buy one and give those I can give”, she explained.

It appears the price and quality of local rice owing to border closure may in many ways affect Christmas this year for all the reasons given by some buyers and sellers.