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Despite Abuja rice pyramids, price crash remains tall order

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
27 February 2022   |   4:12 am
Six weeks after rice farmers promised downward review of the price of rice across the country, it appears there is no succour yet in sight for Nigerians as the price has continued to increase astronomically.

Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP

• Paddy Processing Takes Two Days — Dama
Six weeks after rice farmers promised downward review of the price of rice across the country, it appears there is no succour yet in sight for Nigerians as the price has continued to increase astronomically.

When the plan was announced during the launch of the one million bags of rice paddy stacked as pyramids in Abuja, last month, by the rice farmers on the aegis of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), it actually came like a soothing balm to the already distraught Nigerians who have waited earnestly to see the price crash.

The Chairman, Pyramid Sub Committee of RIFAN, Mr. Shehu Muazu, who declared during the unveiling that the rice pyramid would show that local production of food is possible, said: “Immediately after the unveiling of the pyramid, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and RIFAN will allocate the rice to the processors.

“RIFAN in collaboration with the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria will process the rice and sell at a discounted price. This will lead to drastic reduction in price once it starts rolling into the market. Our collaboration with the millers association rests on the agreement that they will sell at a discounted price to Nigerians.”

Now, it is clear Nigerians may have to wait a little longer as there seems to be no hope in sight based on the current market survey, which showed that the price of the staple food has increased between eight to 10 per cent in the last few weeks.

For instance, a 50kg bag of local rice, which sells for between N24, 000 and N25, 000 in December 2021, is now hovering around N27, 000 and N28, 000.

The 50kg bag of short-grain foreign rice sold for N24, 000 then, is now between N34, 000 to N36, 000; the long-grain foreign rice sold for between N26, 000 and N27, 000 is now between N28, 000 to N30, 000 per bag.

Though the development has generated argument in some quarters on the possibility of the rice getting to the market by now, considering the paddy processing timeline, but it was confirmed that the processing of paddy takes less than four days.

All efforts to get the National President of RIFAN, Aminu Goronyo to confirm the processing duration, were unsuccessful, as his two telephone lines were not picked. It was the same scenario when the National Deputy President, Segun Atto was called.

However, the Kebbi State Chairman of RIFAN, Muhammad Augie clarified that only the rice millers can give appropriate answer to the question.

But the National President, Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN), Peter Dama, confirmed to The Guardian that it takes two days for paddy to be processed into finished rice.

“After doing the cleaning, then you do the parboiling. Parboiling normally takes eight hours, then, you do the drying. Then, again it depends on the kind of machinery you have, there are machineries that can process the rice within a day and there are others that take two days, but simply put, at least two days.”

When asked if the country has enough milling machines to process the harvested paddies as and when due, Dama said: “There are over 50 big integrated milling plants in the country currently; over 1,000 medium integrated ones and over 3,000 smaller modular milling machines.

A foodstuff trader in the popular Ile-Epo market, Oke-Odo, Lagos, Mrs. Bisi Dosunmu, attributed the rising price to shortage of the commodity in the market, noting that while demand is rising, especially for the short-grain rice – both foreign and local brand, supply has not matched up with supply.

Dosunmu said: “A lot of people preferred the foreign brand because they believe it is unblemished, hence the rising price because it is very scarce. Even at that, the local rice that ought to serve as substitute is not available. It is sad that even the price of the local rice is going the way of the foreign brand, making it almost impossible for households to consume rice like before.”

A food vendor resident in Ifo, Ogun State, Mrs Iyabo Sanyaolu, who rue the development, said the current situation has practically send some of her colleagues out of business, as the incessant rising cost of the commodity has negatively impacted their daily proceeds.

The Chief Executive Officer of Green Sahara Farms, Suleiman Dikwa, who played down the promised price cut, said with the pyramid rice, price reduction is not guaranteed, as the volume of rice taken to Abuja is not enough to feed Abuja people.

Said he: “You have to put everything in context, this is a country of 200 million people, so the amount of rice taken to Abuja is not even enough to feed Abuja people. When you have this pyramid in all the local councils in all the states, then you talk about impact, that’s not enough rice to crash the price.

“It has been argued that we shouldn’t focus mainly on production increase; rather we should address pre-harvest and post-harvest issues. Firstly, for rice to be competitively produced, we have to improve our water management and land preparation, then at the other end is the post-harvest issues. We should address how a lot of rice is lost in the farm, in transportation and during milling, so when we reduce those losses, there’ll be more volume available in the market and the prices can come down.”

He said one important aspect to bring down the cost of rice is to remove the cost of milling. “In most countries in Asia, nobody eat milled rice, in fact when you go to Thailand, they don’t have boilers.

“To bring down the cost, three things must be looked into – parboiling of rice should be discouraged to reduce the cost of milling. When you parboil rice, it loses its nutrients and also add to cost of production, so if we go back to the steam rice that’s eaten all over the world, it will be cheaper to produce and will bring down the price of rice. Two, post-harvest preparations should be improved to bring down price of rice, among other options.”

The Founder of Menitos Farms, Lagos, Tolulope Daramola, said Nigerians should not expect the reduction in price of rice soon; rather, the price might increase more as the inflation rate is increasing on daily basis.

“Price cannot crash because those farm produce are not subsidised and cost of running them is inflating along with other things. In addition, insecurity across the country has increased cost of security and transportation, which has been added to cost of production.

“If you want a price crash, fix the roads, stop the one-cap-fits all agric projects and meet existing farmers at their point of need, provide electricity, engage grassroots farmers on research towards improvement. If infrastructure is provided at a reasonable rate, farmers would only have to worry about crop and livestock yield.

“There is more likelihood for price increase, than a cut, giving the inflation rates. The only thing that can influence price cut of the commodity is importation through land borders, which is heavily checked now and that only lasts for a few days or weeks at most.”