Consumption of locally produced food items on the rise as borders remain shut
The Federal Government, in the last two months or thereabout, has mobilised customs officials and other paramilitary forces to man the porous borders between the Republic of Benin, Niger Republic, and Nigeria, preventing massive smuggling of cars, foodstuffs and clothing materials.
The argument of government officials is that the smuggling of the agricultural products, especially rice and tomatoes, is a disincentive to farmers, investors in the import substitution and backward integration policy.
They add that imports put too much pressure on the foreign exchange and the exchange rate is destabilised with frequent balance of trade deficits year after year.
Also, various associations of producers, such as the Poultry Association of Nigeria, Rice Farmers Association, Rice Processors Association and Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON) had agitated that the government should check to smuggle of agro-allied products.
Foods and other goods produced cheaply with advanced technologies in America, Europe, and Asia find their ways to the country through the porous borders.
For instance, the Republic of Benin, with a population of fewer than 20 million people, is the largest importer of rice out of over 184 countries importing the product from Thailand Rice Export Association. Data obtained by The Guardian from the association indicates that Benin Republic has consistently been the largest importer of rice despite its limited market.
The country imported 1,814,014 metric tonnes of rice in 2017, while China imported 1,204,911. In 2018, the country imported 1,603,285 tonnes, while China imported 1,003,062; and it imported 695,854 tonnes from January to May 2019 while China imported 205,830.
The second most populous country, India, imported 481 tonnes in 2017, 695 tonnes in 2018 and 362 tonnes in 2019 so far.
Nigeria officially imported 23,192 tonnes of rice in 2017, 6,537 tonnes in 2018 and 2,380 tonnes so far in 2019.
The porous borders, stakeholders lament, filled the demand gap in Nigeria from Benin Republic and the Republic of Niger.
The tonnes of rice imported to Benin Republic and other neighbouring countries, as alleged by local processors and farmers, are repacked and smuggled into the Nigerian cities through the land borders. This has sabotaged the economy of the country for decades and deflated the efforts of Nigeria to become self-sufficient in food production.
However, as good as the policy appears to be, Nigerians have begun to feel the impact, as prices of food items, especially rice and tomatoes, have gone up. Many of those who spoke with The Guardian expressed disappointment over the claim by the Federal Government that Nigeria is self-sufficient in rice production, while in reality the contrary is the case, as evident in the inability of local producers to meet up with the demand after the closure of border.
From Lagos to Calabar, Anambra, Enugu, and Birnin Kebbi, the story is the same — low supply and high prices of essential foodstuffs. But a lot of people also see a window of opportunity in the present circumstance for Nigeria’s agro-allied industry to witness a boom in the coming years, especially if the government sustains the policy and provides the necessary incentives to agro investors and farmers.
The Guardian aggregates the views of stakeholders on the issue across the nation and presents them in the reports below:
Mixed Feelings In Lagos As Borders Remain Shut
By Femi Ibirogba, Daniel Anazia, Tobi Awodipe, Maria Diamond and Faith Oloruntoyin
During a visit to Daleko, a popular rice market in Isolo area of Lagos, dealers accused the government of frustrating their businesses by closing the borders against smuggled rice when the locally produced brands are not available.
One of the dealers, identified simply as Fumilayo, said, “Nigerian rice is expensive and scarce as well. How can someone purchase a bag of rice at the rate of N18,000 or N18,200 and sell it for 18,500. That is unlike when borders are open and we bought rice between N14,000 and N14,500.”
The marketers said if Nigerian rice farmers could not meet up, the government should reverse the decision and re-open the borders for smuggled rice, saying, “Foreign rice is cheaper, easy to access, and can easily be sold.”
Another seller who spoke under anonymity, pitched her tent with Fumilayo. She claimed Nigerian rice was cheaper before the closure of borders, but was inflated almost immediately after the closure, implying that locally processed rice is insufficient.
She argued that their fate is unknown in the coming festive periods, as the commodity might become too expensive and unavailable.
“Nigerian rice is good and cheaper before the borders were closed but their supply is very poor. The price was inflated immediately farmers heard that borders have been closed and this is worrisome because some of us ordered for rice for the past one month and we are yet to receive it.
“Demand is more than supply. Now, festive period is at the corner, and we are yet to decide on what to sell during the period,” she added.
Also speaking with The Guardian, Sherifah Kosobameji, who brings in rice from Cotonou for onward distribution to her customers in Lagos metropolis, lamented that the situation has become unbearable for both marketers and Nigerians.
“Before the closure, Nigeria rice used to go for between N13, 800 to N14, 000, but now, they have taken advantage of the situation and hiked the price to N19, 000/N20, 000 per bag. The imported rice used to retail for N15, 000 but is now between N25,000 and N26,000 Now, a derica of rice goes for N350 from N200/N250 before. Many people are daily earners; how do you want them to manage with this astronomical increase? Let us not even talk of frozen foods, ponmo is our saviour now,” she said.
She, however, observed that the closure hasn’t prevented the smuggling of rice or frozen food items into the country, adding that it only made them more expensive.
“Every day, fayawo (smugglers) are still bringing in rice and other items; the only problem is that it is now more expensive. For frozen foods, if you don’t have a designated driver to help you bring your goods in, you will have to join queue and your goods can spend several days in a warehouse before it is moved into Lagos. If you are not careful, you can incur a huge loss,” she noted.
Kosobameji said the business has become less profitable for her, saying she was thinking of selling both local and imported rice.
“That is what people are doing now and it is more profitable. On the imported rice, the maximum profit was less than N1000 but with this one, you can see up to N3, 000 profit per bag. The rice is being brought from Kano and it costs about N8 million per container. If you can get one or two or three other people to share the capital with, you bring the container down here and willing buyers are already on ground to offload the goods from you, you get your money with profit fast. You mix it with the imported rice and sell it at that price. The only thing I would advise traders is that if you are not strong, just leave the frozen food business for now; otherwise, you will incur a loss. Customers don’t usually buy Nigerian chicken. They complain that it is not as good as the imported one; so it doesn’t move the market,” she revealed.
Mariam Adigun, a frozen food seller, shares the impact of the ban on sales. Her words: “This border closure was so sudden and now sales have gone down drastically. Before, if you come around this time I won’t even be able to attend to you because this place will be filled with people buying chicken and the likes. But since morning, I have seen only three customers and they even bought fish, not chicken. Although, we sell the Nigerian chicken too, however, it does not sell as fast as those other ones that we call orobo and turkey.
“Also, the price difference is almost double compared to before. A carton of chicken before the border closure was N9,000 but is now N15, 000/N16, 000. A carton of turkey used to go for N12, 000 but is now between N17, 000 and N18, 000 and that is if you see because it is now a hot cake. Nigerian chicken was the same price as the imported one before the closure. It has even become cheaper now but still, people aren’t buying. Customers complain that the chicken is too soft and doesn’t stay ‘firm’ in the pot. The people that are still using it are people who do a barbecue or fry it because that way, it will manage to stay a little firm.”
A frozen foods trader at the Daleko market who pleaded anonymity said sales have been affected by the closure. “For some days now, we haven’t been able to bring in turkey, fish, shrimps, and the likes, so we are selling just Nigerian chicken and orobo chicken. Nigerian full chicken is N1, 400 while a kilo of orobo and normal chicken is N1, 600. I will support good policies in so far as they don’t affect business but this one is spoiling business for us. The festive season is around the corner and the government had better put things in place properly before then if they don’t want people to revolt. Rice is now so expensive and the local alternatives are unavailable and also expensive. What do they want Nigerians to do?” he asked rhetorically.
Mrs. Matilda Abiama, who was at Ikotun market buying chicken during the week said: “There is almost nothing we can do about the closed border, which has made it impossible for us to have the regular frozen food in the conventional market, compelling us to buy Nigeria chicken and others. Nobody would have had any problem with Nigeria frozen food if they were as good as the imported ones. Nigeria’s chicken is too soft and tasteless. So, people have resorted to buying beef and fish more, especially the low-class Nigerians who have to heat their soup or stew on fire twice every day because they don’t have a refrigerator or deep freezer to preserve their food. I believe people are trying to come to terms with the situation and find a way to make do with what is available to us,” she said.
A food vendor, Mrs. Adekunle Oluwaremilekun, said she has switched to Nigerian rice because foreign rice has become too expensive, adding that her customers complain each time she prepares stew with Nigerian chicken.
“There is no much problem with buying Nigerian rice because of our rice kind of taste is better than some of these foreign rice. So, I don’t have issues with cooking Nigerian rice. However, the chicken is a problem because I can no longer add chicken in my stew. The only time I added Nigerian chicken in my stew since the border closure, my customers complained. I kept explaining to them that the border is closed and that the available Nigerian chicken is too soft. A lot of people are not used to the texture and taste of our indigenous chicken,” she said
Mrs. Leke, who was seen trying to buy frozen chicken shared her thoughts with The Guardian, saying: “I know this border closure is to help grow our economy, but the thing is some of us are finding it difficult to cope with the Nigerian alternative. For instance, we don’t fry our chicken or meat or fish in our house. Now, the Nigerian chicken is better when fried or grilled, which means, for now, no chicken for us. We are told that red meat is not good for the body. Are we expected to live only on fish and eggs?
“I feel the government should have first ensured that our own goods and produce are not only readily available but are also of international standards before closing the border. Also, the Nigerian chicken being produced, is it enough to meet demand? It’s one thing to want to encourage self-sufficiency, but let us do that sensibly. Neither the quality nor quantity is at par with what we want but they still went ahead to take this decision. As usual, it is the poor people that are affected.”
A live chicken and turkey seller who pleaded anonymity insisted that the Nigerian chicken is not as bad as it is being portrayed. “For us selling the Nigerian chicken, sales are not bad. In fact, it has improved in the last two months although we get complaints that it’s not as good as the imported one. I will state categorically that the chicken is not as bad as they are saying.
“The only thing to note is that when cooking it, ensure you use less water than you would normally use for the imported one and it is best fried or grilled. Also, I would advise that you buy it when you need it and not in bulk and you would be fine. The taste is as great if not even better than the frozen one as it is fresher,” she said.
Zainab Kareem, who sells frozen foods at the Ikotun market, decried bad sales. She said: “Once customers realise you don’t have foreign chicken, they walk away to meat and fish sellers. It’s frustrating. I am beginning to incur a loss, so I am compelled to do a lot of talking. I teach them how to cook the chicken for it to taste good but there’s nothing we can do about the softness,” she said.
At Igando New Market, another frozen foods dealer, who identified herself as Iya-Ibeji, told The Guardian that she has stopped selling because most consumers have opted for live chickens in place of imported frozen chickens and turkeys.
When The Guardian visited Igando Multipurpose Market, a rice seller on duty, who simply identified himself as Ekelemchukwu, disclosed that he had five bags of Thai-parboiled rice remaining in his store, adding that he plans to keep it until it is worth N30,000 in the market. He was very optimistic that the opportunity would soon come in view of the fact that the festive season is fast approaching.
He, however, called on the government to help boost the local production of rice in the country so as to meet the high demand for the commodity by consumers.
Why Government Should Sustain Policy, By PAN, Others
In a telephone conversation with The Guardian, the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Lagos State Chapter Chairman, Mr. Godwin Igbede, said that smuggling of chicken into the country has reduced, adding that it would further decline by one million tonnes annually if the Federal Government sustains the border closure.
According to him, the closure has not only created a market for locally produced poultry but has also created jobs in the last month.
“There has been a great impact but it cannot be translated now because the farmers do not have the much-needed finance to sustain production, a reason we are trying to work with the Anchor Borrower Programme.”
He further stated that there was a shortfall in production. “I got a call from the Vice Chairman of Ijora Frozen Foods Dealers Association to produce for them. He said they needed serious intervention now with local chickens but the farmers cannot produce because they are incapacitated financially,” Igbede added.
The PAN chief is of the view that local farmers should have been allowed to close the gap before the ban. “Closing the borders is a good thing but the gap is not closed. When the gap is not closed, people will always find their way round things. Frozen foods are still being smuggled into the country, but it is at a higher cost now. The Ijora dealers prefer the locally produced chickens than the imported frozen ones but farmers can’t meet their demand now,” Igbede stated.
Regional Coordinator of Africa Rice Centre, an international research institute on the campus of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, however, said the policy is a right step in the right direction if the government could perfect the process with quality seed mechanism, identification, and empowerment of real farmers, and massive investments in irrigation infrastructure at the state levels.
Border Closure Ought Not to Affect Prices Of Locally Produced Goods, Say Enugu Residents
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
At a shop on Ogui road, Enugu last Thursday, a customer had queried the shop owner over the increase in the price of a detergent brand, which he claimed he purchased at a lower price two weeks back.
The shop owner, Mrs. Oguche, had simply told him, “My brother, I don’t manufacture detergents. Since they closed the borders, prices of commodities in the market have continued to increase.”
Oguche had taken those who came to patronise her that morning on a lecture about how prices of commodities have continued to increase daily.
“Commodities are beginning to top one naira, two nairas every day. Anybody you ask will tell you that the Federal Government closed the borders. So, what it means is that some of the things we were enjoying at reduced prices were actually smuggled commodities. Now that the importers have to pay the approved rates, the final consumer is the one bearing the cost. That is as it is. I cannot chase my customers away by increasing my price arbitrarily, rather what we buy is what we sell,” she stated.
Mrs Oguche was not alone. Oluchi, a student of the Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT), said food items were not left out, stressing that it affected prices of melon, crayfish, fruits, and even meat.
“You need to see what I bought last Saturday as meat with N2,000. I could not believe it until I was told that land borders have been closed. My worry is the relationship between land borders and ordinary cow meat we produce in Nigeria. I know we don’t pay heavy taxes on this kind of item, yet the people are capitalising on it to rip-off others. But I think that since we are now generating billions from the closure, the Federal Government should find ways of ensuring that the money is plowed back into the economy to improve the standard of living,” she said.
But Chinedu Agu, who deals in frozen foods at Ogbete main market, said his business had gone down considerably since the closure of borders. According to him, “those who bring in some of the items have stopped. So, there are just few dealers that service majority of the traders we have here. When you come here at times, you find something to buy and at times, you don’t find anything to buy. We have also increased prices but that is according to what is available in the market.”
Another dealer in rice and beans said that while the price of rice has remained between N15,000 and N18,000 per bag, those of beans has continued to come down. “We now sell a ‘painter’ of beans N800 as against N1200. I don’t think that closure of the border should affect this because we produce locally. The only problem is that some of our traders have capitalised on this closure to rip-off consumers. There are items that should not suffer price increase because of the closure of borders. These are what we should guard against,” he said.
An educationist, Mr. Ikechukwu Ugwu, said that the Federal Government was the ultimate beneficiary of the closure of the borders. He said it would help the government regulate the rate of importation as well as increase its revenue.
His words: “It would enhance decency in the way we ply our businesses to ensure that only those with genuine and approved items are allowed into the country. It will reduce this idea of saturating the economy with items that are not necessary and even substandard ones. So, I think it is in the interest of the country.”
Obiano’s Agro Initiatives Excite Residents In Anambra
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka
The closure of the borders has been greeted with mixed feelings in Anambra State. For residents in the state, especially Onitsha, reputed as outstanding merchants, the closure has adversely affected traders who import or smuggle goods through the borders. Nevertheless, the pro-active measures taken by the state government since 2014 in partnering with private sector to boost both fish and rice production in the state has been mitigating the effects of the closure.
Managing Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Business Development Agency (FABDA), Emeka Iloghalu, told The Guardian that the state government has established fish production sites in the three senatorial districts of the state to ensure increased production and wealth creation, adding that the production sites would be replicated in the 21 local councils in partnership with private investors.
The FABDA boss praised Governor Willie Obiano for initiating the establishment of fishery and aquaculture business in the state, hinting that the project has an outcome of 10 to 40 per cent profit margin while creating over 200 job opportunities. He disclosed that the immediate target of 350,000 kilogramme per month output was achievable in the state from the initial 100,000 kilogramme.
He recalled that the governor few months ago commissioned the Grand Cereal Fish Feed Production Plant at Onitsha to ensure the production of vital fish feed and consequently enhance the production of fish in the state.
Iloghalu said: “You cannot grow fish without feed, so you need a steady supply of fish feed to be able to succeed in fish production. This is going to help the Anambra people and the company because we will be able to have direct feedback and have stable pricing of the fish feed, which at the end of the day will pay off for the farmers.”
In the area of rice production, the state has also witnessed improved production since the coming of the present administration. Recently, the governor commissioned Coscharis Rice produced by Coscharis Farms Ultra-Modern Rice Limited, a subsidiary of Coscharis Group, in partnership with the state government.
Apart from Coscharis, the state also plays host to the 1997 World Bank assisted a project of the Federal Government formerly known as Omor Rice Mill at Umumbo community in Ayamelum local council of the state but now called Josan Mill. It ranks as the biggest rice mill in the country but was later expanded and resuscitated under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement by the state government in 2010. From 30,000 metric tonnes annual capacity in the days of Omor Rice Mill, Josan has expanded to an annual production capacity of 80,000 metric tonnes of paddy rice and 50,000 metric tonnes of milled rice.
The Deputy Chief Press Secretary to governor Obiano, Emeka Ozumba, spoke with The Guardian on the development. He said: “Currently, there are eight rice processing companies with capacity for over 849 tonnes per day. They include Stine Industries, Coscharis, Joseph Agro (JOSAN), Joseph Agro (Umumbo), Udoka Mill, Wisdom Mill, Wisdom mill and RIFAN mill with others in the pipeline.
“Today, the Anambra Rice brand is a well-known staple and one of the most sought after rice in Nigeria. It took a vision embedded in agriculture, one of the four pillars of Obiano’s economic blueprint, and galvanisation of strong private sector collaboration in 2015 to make the dream a reality. Thus from 80,000 metric tonnes cultivated by out growers across Anambra rice belts in eight local councils, the state’s consumption needs of 300,000 metric tonnes have been met and surpassed. As of 2018, Anambra is assured of over 345,280.58mt of rice paddy.”
A rice dealer who identified himself as Okonkwo from Ayamelum local council said: “The ban on imported rice has made people begin to patronise local rice, which is said to be more nutritious.
“We do not have the problem of selling rice or having it in large quantity because there is the availability of local rice or what we call ‘local-foreign rice’. I sell the rice at N15,000 per bag and that has forced the price of foreign rice to fall in the state.”
Imo Traders Lament Border Closure, Weigh Options
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
There are concerted efforts to increase the production of poultry in Imo State following the closure of borders by the Federal Government, which has resulted in the shortage of frozen fish, chicken and the likes in major markets in the state.
This is as dealers in other smuggled products such as used wears have lamented the effect of the policy on their business with many of them saying they were already weighing their options.
An Owerri-based trans-border trader, dealing in shoes, watches, and perfumes, among others, simply identified as Amarachi, told The Guardian that the ban was affecting her business, as she is faced with the risky task of buying and bringing the products from neighbouring Togo.
According to her, she is currently weighing her options in order to know the next step to take so as to satisfy her customers.
Recently, the Chief Executive Officer of Norgem Nigeria Limited, a poultry farmer, Mrs. Norman Nwoga, distributed 1,000 chicks free of charge to 100 local poultry farmers selected from Ahiazu Mbaise local council of the state. Each of the beneficiaries, mostly women, received 10 chicks. They also received bags of feeds and drugs to feed and treat the birds should they develop ailments.
Calabar Restaurateurs And Cost Of Border Closure
From Agosi Todo, Calabar
Caterers in Cross River State have lamented the increase in price of rice, frozen foods and other items since the closure of borders across the country.
One of the caterers in Calabar, called Dette Assam, said the closure has hugely affected the cost of catering services.
Assam, who is also known as Ettie Finger Licky Barbecue and Cocktails, said: “The closure of the borders has actually affected a lot of things like the cost of turkey basically. We don’t produce it in Nigeria and we basically love turkey wings. Right now, turkey wings that we used to get for about N24, 000 costs between N25, 000 and N29, 000, which has resultantly jerked up the price of our services to clients.
“Now there is no rice and everybody is turning to Ofada rice but it is not even enough because the quantity they are producing does not meet the needs of Nigerians. Rice basically is a staple food in Nigeria. There is nothing we can do about it and with the kind of social life we have in Nigeria now things have really gone up. As I said, chicken is a bit cheap in Calabar. But you can’t buy fish; you can’t buy a turkey. Even beef is another story because everybody is shifting to one side now. So, there is no way there won’t be inflation and the price difference is scaring.”
Speaking in the same vain, one of the popular eateries in Calabar, Eka Koko’s Restaurant, lamented the high cost of food items following the closure of the borders.
The man in charge of the restaurant, who identified himself as Koko, said: “A cup of rice which sold for N100 is now N120 while a bag of rice which sold for N15, 000 to N17, 000 now costs between N20,000 to N21,000.
“You know palm oil used to come from Cameroon. But now everything has become expensive because the borders are closed and it is affecting the business. Even the price of stockfish that we buy in bags has also increased. Before we buy a bag of stockfish for N60, 000 but now it costs between N65, 000 and N70, 000. Even Afang vegetable is now very expensive.”
Living Is Getting Tougher In Kebbi, Say, Residents
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi
The prices of the food items in Kebbi State have risen by at least 40 per cent following the closer of borders by the Federal Government.
When The Guardian visited Kamba, Dole Kaina, Lolo borders area and Birnin Kebbi Central Market, some traders lamented the increase in the price of the food items such as rice, millet, sugar, provisions, and beverages.
Mallam Umar U. Kamaba told The Guardian that since the closure of the borders, the price of a bag of rice in Kamba, a border area has risen from N11,000 to N15,000 while in Birnin Kebbi Central Market, the price has gone up from N12,000 to N17,000.
A retailer in the central market in Birnin Kebbi, who identified himself as Alhaji Hassan, appealed to the Federal Government to reopen the borders in order to bring down the prices of goods and services in the country.
He expressed dismay that some indigenous companies also increased the prices of their products, saying: “Just look at the Labana Rice Mills in Birnin Kebbi which is an indigenous company, it has also increased the price of its rice.
“We want people to understand that things are not easy for the people now and our elite are not helping the masses. The Federal Government should please reconsider the closure in order to reduce the sufferings of the masses.”