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High cost of rice may persist as yuletide beckons

By Gbenga Akinfenwa, and Vitalis Ezinwanne, with agency reports
22 November 2020   |   4:21 am
It is gradually becoming real that majority of homes may have to celebrate the coming yuletide season without consumption of rice, which has become the usual delicacy for such period, as the price is going beyond the reach of the common man.

Rice. Photo: PIXABAY

It is gradually becoming real that majority of homes may have to celebrate the coming yuletide season without consumption of rice, which has become the usual delicacy for such period, as the price is going beyond the reach of the common man.

Rice is the third most consumed staple food in Nigeria (after maize and cassava). With the festive season fast approaching, the demand for rice is expected to increase.

Currently, the price of 50kg bag of rice is hovering around between N27, 000 to N30, 000 in some markets in Lagos, while it maintained a fairly stable price in Ogun as it currently sells for between N23, 000 and N27, 000.

In Ajangbadi, Lagos, a 50kg bag that was sold for N14, 000 this time last year is now N26, 000, while the local brand, sold for N12, 000 last year, is now between N21, 000 to N22, 000.

At the Daleko market in Lagos, brands of 50kg imported rice such as Caprice, Royal Stallion and others ranged between N27, 000 to N31, 000. At the popular Oke-Odo market, Agege, a 50kg bag, which sells for N20, 000 before the COVID-19 pandemic is now N28, 000. The same goes for other markets in the state.

This time last year, some states and a good number of local rice producers were busy flaunting different brands, to cover up for the shortfall of foreign rice as a result of the land borders closure.

At least, seven states—Anambra, Niger, Kebbi, Lagos, Cross River, Ebonyi, Delta and Plateau fulfilled the promise.

But currently, the local rice seems to have practically gone out of circulation, leading to the rising cost of the produce almost on daily basis.

The Guardian can confirm that the Lake rice, a product of the collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi states for the development of agricultural commodities, will again be missing during the coming yuletide, just as the MITROS rice produced by Ogun State government is also no longer available.

Though the two states are laying claim to ‘technical’ challenges for the absence of the brands, there were however, reports by sources that the disappearance of the two brands could be as a result of ‘policy summersault and inconsistency.’

For Kebbi, the highest producer of rice in the country, the flooding, which swept away over 600km of rice plantations and other farmlands towards their harvest has accounted for the absence of the product from the state.

Reports have it that scarcity of rice is expected, as 450,000 hectares of rice – two million tonnes, were washed away, out of the expected 2.5 million tonnes this year. This has led to high demand for the scarce commodity, resulting in the price increase.

The scenario cuts across almost all the rice producing states and private producers, as their absence has created a huge gap in the rice supply value-chain.

Since the period of the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, the foreign brand has been the saving grace for most Nigerians, despite the high price, as the much-hyped local brands disappeared from the markets.

The development has again undermined claims by the Federal Government that the integrated mills in the country produces about 150,000 bags of rice daily and about 35 million bags yearly.

Last year, the minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, while enumerating the achievements of this administration, said the country is “closer to attaining self-sufficiency in rice production than any time in the country’s history.”

The former chairman Agric, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and CEO Bama farms Limited, Prince Wale Oyekoya, while reacting to price increase said: “The price of food is skyrocketing now compared to last year and year before. It’s a bad image for government to be telling the citizens that we are self-sufficient in rice production when the price of rice is beyond the common man, even the local rice is very scarce to see in the market.

“Local rice in the market are not properly produced or properly packaged. How sufficient are we when we are buying a bag of rice for N27, 000 or more in the market? We are not even producing enough to make us self-sufficient and with the ban, foreign rice and poultry products still find their ways into our markets.”

He said the closure of the land borders for over a year is supposed to be a blessing to the country and farmers, but the reverse is the case, as many factors have eroded the gains, such as climate change, COVID-19 pandemic, policy summersault, poor infrastructures, lack of modern farm tools to improve on food production and others. “Nigeria is definitely on the brink of famine due to insufficient food production.”

But a rice farmer, who is also founder of Menitos Farm Depot, Toluwalope Daramola, said local rice is not scarce, but expensive. “These are two different issues. If you make payment, tons of rice would be delivered to you within a week. But definitely not at a price less than N23, 000 to N27, 000, depending on brand. Those complaining about scarcity are looking for foreign rice.

“Local rice is available, but because they failed to buy finished local rice, the unfinished type they bought will always require them to pick stones, instead of admitting they buy it because it’s cheaper, they insist it’s local rice that is bad. Even Ofada and Abakaliki varieties are now finished and don’t require picking just like polished rice, but a bag is around N40, 000.”

According to her, like all other farm produce, price of rice is based on price of input and logistics, adding that till policies and funding get to real farmers, farmers will only sell based on input cost.

When asked if the price will go down in December, Daramola said: “It really depends on how much rice got in during the recent #EndSARS protest when the customs refused to work. If the volume can sustain the season, which I doubt, prices will be stable, not necessarily go down for the yuletide season. In the case that the volume brought in gets exhausted, we are left again with a higher volume of local rice, which is more expensive than the ones smuggled in.”

To forestall further price increase, an economist at the University of llorin, Prof. AbdulGafar ljaya, said price war against imported rice, will crash the price of the commodity.

“There must be a price war to crash the price of imported rice being smuggled into our country so that the downtrodden can afford it. The Federal Government had spent so much to improve the local production of rice, but some unpatriotic Nigerians have kept on ridiculing the efforts.

“The high cost of rice in some parts of Nigeria was not caused by any government, but as a result of lack of honesty, greed and inordinate ambition of some Nigerians. Some traders will travel to the northern part of the country to buy rice at cheap price only to re-bag it in bags with foreign names and later sell them at triple the price,’’ he said.

Ijaya called for attitudinal change, discipline, patriotism, and honesty to allow the price war against imported, smuggled rice to succeed.