Rice: How local repackaging undermines self-sufficiency
The Federal Government’s efforts at achieving self-sufficiency in rice production appears to be hitting the brick wall, with the record of sharp practices in the rice value chain. One of such is the repackaging of locally produced rice, as foreign rice.
The development, traced to traders and other stakeholders in the rice value-chain, is not only making the staple food over-priced, it is also hampering the successes expected through government’s interventions.
The Guardian learnt that the Lake Rice, a product of collaboration between Lagos State government and Kebbi State have flooded Lagos markets and neighbouring states, veiled as foreign brand and sold at higher rate. It is the same story for Abakaliki rice and the locally rice produced in Kano State.
For the Lake rice, though officials of the Lagos State ministry of agriculture deny knowledge of the development, but an agric expert, who was at the governor’s office told Journalists at a stakeholder’s forum in Lagos that the issue has become one issue of serious concern to the state government.
From The Guardian survey, the large patronage of rice at various sales centres across the states, before and after the festive season, attested to the fact that majority of the buyers were retailers, whose aim was to reselling them.For the Abakaliki rice, known for its rich nutritive value, the scarcity of the product in Ebonyi and neighbouring states, like Rivers State, is worrisome.
According to feelers, the belief that the rice is not produced in commercial quantity, and not sufficient enough to serve local consumers has been underplayed as it dawned on farmers and government that the rice is actually mopped up, re-packaged and disguised as foreign rice.
For Kano State, the state Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Farouk Rabi’u Mudi confirmed to The Guardian that a larger percentage of rice branded as foreign are rice produced locally. “I can even tell you the politics in rice business. The rice they are calling foreign rice are mostly Nigerian rice. Some people even re-package our local rice and disguise it to be foreign rice, but it is actually local rice.
“The patronage of our local rice is fantastic in Kano State, so also across the country. That also gives more encouragement to our local rice farmers because people accept our rice. For your information also, Nigerian rice is very fresh. What we do is that our people eat what we harvest immediately. What Nigerians are getting from Nigerian rice is fresh and aromatic product.”
In his reaction to the development, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers And Exporters Association Of Nigeria (AFGEAN), Mr. Akin Sawyerr, told The Guardian that the immediate implication of the development is in two folds: “The farmers will derive no benefit from brand recognition and so the value they might have brought will be undermined and the brand on the packaging will only serve to benefit the name on the pack.
“Secondly, the additional cost in handling, packaging and branding will seek to make the rice less competitive in price terms. This means that less would be sold because a portion of the buying public will not be able to afford it at the new price reflecting the possible non-value adding activity of re-packaging.”
Sawyerr attributed the development to poor perception of made in Nigeria products. “Brand Nigeria generally does not sell, as well as brand imported in Nigeria and to Nigerians. Sadly, the word imported has become a symbol of higher quality in our dear nation. Retailers may therefore find that the imported brand flies off the shelf faster that the Nigeria branded product.
“This can be seen across board with not just food, but other products. The seeming poor attention to standards, possible poor lower standards of packaging or bag stitching, may put off those who ‘buy with their eyes’. Those who may be food safety conscious may also perceive (sometimes wrongly), that Nigerian made/grown is less safe.”He however, noted that Nigeria could achieve self-sufficiency in rice production, if the locally produced rice are adequately defended and the tariff regimes effectively enforced.
“The reality is that Nigeria can indeed grow enough to feed itself, whether it can do so sustainably will depend on the effective and continuous flow of funds back to the producers via the value chain and that is a factor of continuous consumption of Nigerian rice, paid for at a fair price by the consumer.
“Of course, if government were to set up an enabling environment for a Warehouse Receipt System (WRS) to work, then this would be another way of assuring some degree of sustainability and private standards/quality monitoring.”
On possible ways to stop the heinous act, Sawyerr expressed doubt on any law against repackaging of agricultural products. “There may be laws around re-labeling and possible misrepresentation. However, re-packing is done almost everywhere in Nigeria and indeed across the world. Of course, if there were strong producer co-operatives and producing companies, there may be breaches in civil law and in terms of brand infringement, trademark infringement and also consumer protection. We would have to ask our strong cadre of commercial lawyers this question.”
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