By Charles Kumolu and Azeez Sanusi
EVER imagined celebrating a New yam festival in a traditional African Society without eating yam! That is very unlikely, as such a festival without tubers of yams would be abnormal.
This scenario is likely to play out in many homes this festive season, following the all time rise in the price of rice-a staple food that is consumed in every household on Christmas day.
The situation, has triggered off panic among different strata of the society, given that rice is usually affordable to both the rich and the poor.
But with the recent development, many homes may likely celebrate the Yuletide without rice on their tables. Although this sounds unthinkable, the existing scenario is pointing towards that direction.
A market survey by Vanguard Features VF, revealed that the prices of rice have soared beyond the reach of many Nigerians. A visit to Jumla Rice Merchants located at the popular Daleko Market in Lagos, VF was told that a 50 kg bag of Thailand rice is now N10.000. The Master Chef brand sells for 10.000, the same with the Turkey and Stop brands while one identified as Indian sells for N8.400.
These brands which were known to be among cheapest in the market sold for between N7000 and N8000 before now.
The price list obtained by VF from one of the leading rice importers in the country, Stallion Group, revealed that the price of its brands have also been jerked up. The same increase applies to the Dana brands.
Although increase in the cost of essential commodities is not uncommon during festive periods,VF checks blamed the price surge on high tariff on imported rice and proposed ban on importation.
“A situation where the tariffs on imported rice is high, the price will definitely go up. Yes the yuletide is also responsible but that is marginal,” Chief Jonhson 0binabo an importer, told VF.
He maintained that, “ with so high tariffs, we the local merchants are scared of importing because we know the purchasing power of our consumers. Unfortunately the situation has created a booming trade for smugglers, who connive with security agent to bring the commodity into the country through the borders”
Obinabo’s anger over high tariff is not unfounded. The Federal Government had in January this year increased tariff on imported rice to about 110 percent from the previous 40 percent.
Though the move was hinged on the need to strengthen the agriculture sector in preparation for a shift from an oil-based economy to an agrarian one, analysts believe that it has done more harm than good to the country’s economy.
Rice demand remains much higher than local production in Nigeria. According to the USDA, Nigeria’s rice import requirements in 2013-14 stood at around three million tons, up from around 2.9 million tons in the previous year. The local production is estimated to be around 2.7 million tons in 2013-14.
Traders blame festive season
Meanwhile traders at Ikotun Egbe market, who probably knew little or nothing about import tariffs, said the price hike is not unconnected to the festive period. To them, it is a usual occurrence.
VF gathered that the prices of two popular brands, Agric and Aroso have risen up to N9,200 and N10,200 respectively.
One of the traders who identified himself as Emeka explained that “people demand for rice more at this period (Christmas) either as gifts to other people or for parties just as the demand for ram and chicken also rises at the Muslim festival and Easter.”