By Bose Adelaja
Three months into the closure of Nigeria’s land borders, many appear to be adapting to its effects. The closure has not only brought about scarcity of imported food items in the country but has also escalated prices of imported staple foods like rice which is usually in high demand.
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Before the closure, imported rice brands were in high demand across the country. The aftermath of the border closure has however affected the distribution chain of this staple food which is now assumed to be very scarce in the country.
The popular saying “a bird in hand is worth millions in the bush” however seems to be currently playing out in markets across the country as locally-produced rice such as Ofada, Abakaliki, Stallion and Lake Rice, are gradually gaining acceptance with many consumers opting for them in place of the scarce foreign rice.
This was the exact situation in Daleko Market, Lagos State, during the week, where traders claimed they have since embraced locally-produced rice which, according to them, is of better quality.
Daleko Market is the chain distribution hub of both local and foreign grains in Lagos State.
Though one of the traders, Madam Esther Ugochukwu, told Sunday Vanguard that the border closure has negatively affected her business, 80 percent of the traders said the closure is more of a blessing in disguise.
In the course of this report, Sunday Vanguard observed that 90 percent of the market supply are local grains in various sizes such as 50, 25, 10 and five kilogrammes. They are of different brands.
Apart from the existing locally-produced rice, other brands that were noticed at different stalls and shops last Wednesday were Alhamusad, Labana, Umah, Nigeria Champion, Mama’s Pride, Mama Choice, Savana and Famous Parrot, with prices ranging between N17,500 and N19,000 per 50 kilogrammes. 25 kilogrammes were between N9,000 and N10,000 each but the traders described the ones sold for N17,500 and N9,000 as low in quality due to the availability of sand in them.
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Regarding supply, the traders said suppliers bring samples to the market to seek patronage, unlike the foreign rice brands which are difficult to get.
Also, Sunday Vanguard observed that 80 per cent of intending buyers opt for locally-produced rice whose supply is low.
Another trader, Chris Mbaju, blamed the federal government for what he described as improper distribution chain of the local grains across the country.
He said: “If government wanted to make things easier, it could have sold the local grains through government outlets, local governments, electoral wards or common markets. Unfortunately, the products are not distributed to the points that they are easily affordable and accessible to the common man.”
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, the Yeye-Oge of Daleko Market, Alhaja Fausat Ariyo, said the present situation has created an avenue for local farmers to expand rice production by introducing various brands in addition to the existing ones.
She said the scarcity of rice was observed three months, adding that the effect is being effectively managed to the extent that consumers of rice have realised the need to adjust to the situation by consuming locally-produced rice.
The Yeye-Oge said three months ago, the demand for imported rice was higher than supply, adding that the traders had to start telling the buyers about locally-produced rice.
According to her, the sensitisation seems to have yielded results as the demand has increased.
She, however, noted that access to the product has been very difficult, especially now that Christmas is around the corner.
She said the difference between foreign and locally-produced rice is glaring.
“The border closure has enabled local farmers to expand rice production. Also, the local rice is nutritious, fresh and less starchy, unlike the foreign rice which is chemically-preserved, thereby causing some damaging effects on the consumers’ health,” she added.
According to her, the effect of the border closure has exposed some hidden things which ordinarily may not have been exposed.
She said: “Before the border closure, the locally-produced rice was sandy, less attractive and of low quality. But the closure has opened our eyes to the need to upgrade it for general demand. If this tempo is sustained, our local rice will compete favourably with foreign rice.”
In terms of patronage, she explained: “Do you know that some brands of foreign rice expire before being shipped into Nigeria whereas local rice is fresh, tastes fine and digests easily such that a good number of Nigerians are gradually shifting their attention to it.”
Alhaja Ariyo, who regretted that the demand for locally-produced rice is currently much higher than supply, advised Nigerians to exercise patience till the situation is amicably resolved.
She said: “Nigerians have seen the need to buy locally-produced rice but the supply cannot meet up with the demand although nothing good comes easy, brighter years are ahead if only we can be patient. This is my 28th year in this business and I make bold to tell Nigerians to be patient as the locally-produced rice will be upgraded to meet with our yearnings.”
Hike in price
Another market leader in Daleko, Ms. Monilola Adeniregun, lamented the exorbitant price and low supply of locally-produced rice.
“In my 20 years in this business, this is the first time I am running from pillar to post to meet with demand.
“There is the problem of distribution in the sense that the privileged ones who have access to the product have constituted themselves into a cartel in a way that the totality of the rice to be sold to common people is being hoarded by them. This is aimed at causing artificial scarcity in order to amass more wealth since prices will automatically shoot-up when there is scarcity.
“At least, a 50kg bag of Lake Rice was sold at N12,000 in 2018. What could have prompted the sudden hike in price when there is no duty, premium or extra cost of production for it? If it were to be imported, it obviously would have been costlier than the foreign rice.”
She called on government to do the needful.
“The government should work on the method of distribution so that it can reach the common man on the street. Can you imagine that Lake Rice which was jointly produced by Lagos and Kebbi states is very scarce in Lagos and residents cannot get the product to buy except through the rice merchants, “ she added.
She gave the current price of locally-produced rice as between N250 and N400 per Derica while the foreign brand is between N500 and N600 per Decrica, depending on the brand.
“The most annoying thing is that most of these foreign rice brands have stayed longer than 10 years but are being shipped to Nigeria because Nigerians typically appreciate foreign products more than their locally-produced counterparts,” she added.