When people are given the opportunity to make a choice between foreign and local rice, what usually comes to mind is the local product because of its unique taste and nutritional value. The case seems to be different with the Nigerian local rice.
Juliana Agbo in this report, examines consumers’ opinion on local rice production. In Nigeria, rice has become so prominent that the average meal in a day will predominantly comprise one of rice or a meal whose main or base ingredient is rice.
Rice is no longer a luxury food in Nigeria as it has become a major source of calories for both the rich and the urban poor.
As such, the consumption of rice has since the mid-1970s risen tremendously to about 10 per cent per annum. This figure, according to research, is predominantly due to changing consumer preferences thereby accounting for a large chunk of the Nigerians’ food basket.
Rice importation constituted a major source of the country’s depleting foreign reserve with over N1billion spent daily on imported rice.
Currently, the government is strongly discouraging rice import by promoting local production for import substitution.
Recall that the Federal Government, in April, 2018, said Nigeria will achieve self-sufficiency in rice production by 2020 with sustained implementation of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme launched on November 17, 2015.
Also in August, last year, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the closure of land borders between Nigeria and Benin Republic in long-running effort to boost rice production.
President Buhari also said the partial closure of Nigeria’s border with the Benin Republic, was due to the massive smuggling activities, especially of rice, taking place on that corridor.
Annual production and consumption
In 2019, the President of Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, said Nigeria had hit annual eight million metric tons of rice production, with a target of 18 million metric tons by 2023.
Goronyo said the feat was achieved with the disbursement of N40 billion by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (CBN/APB) to over 12.2 million rice farmers.
However, Nigeria is the 6th highest consumer of rice in the world with over six million metric tons of milled rice consumed annually.
Despite government’s action on border closure to boost local rice production, there is influx of foreign rice in the market due to consumers’ preference.
Although, Nigerians have come to accept local rice as a better alternative to the imported brands, they are of the view that most of the brands of local rice in the market are yet to meet international standard due to poor processing and packaging.
However, they are also of the view that the price of local rice per bag should not go above N15, 000 so as to have competitive advantage over imported rice.
Research by Journal of Agricultural Extension revealed that the major constraints to rice consumption preference for Nigerian rice were presence of husk, dirt and stones (90.0%), poor quality (85.8%), broken grain (75.0%), low swelling capacity (72.50%) breakages (71.60%), lack of competition advantages (68.33%).
It also noted that the constraints to imported rice consumption were high cost (73.33%) and affordability of the products (62.50%), adding that factors that significantly influence the household consumption preference for imported and Nigerian rice were price, nutritional value, ease of preparation, cleanliness and taste.
It is observed that poor finishing and high cost of local rice per bag which goes for N20, 000 hinders its acceptability.
Recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Governor Godwin Emefiele, in October, last year, told rice farmers not to increase the price of the product as a result of the border closure.
Emefiele also reiterated the need to increase rice production, promising that the CBN would support the rice millers to stem off smuggling and grow the rice sector for food self–sufficiency.
The CBN Governor maintained that the closure was done for the benefit and well-being of the people as most of the “imported rice had chemicals for preservation”.
However, a foodstuff seller at Mararaba Market, Nasarawa State, Ifeanyi Onuigbo, said he is still struggling to sell off the bags of rice he bought due to poor processing.
“If we can improve on our locally processed rice, it will be more beneficial to Nigerians than reopening the border because the money will now be within the country,” Onuigbo said.
Another foodstuff seller, Mary Okoh, said rice processed in Nigeria could compete with any variety in the world if Nigerian farmers could process the product better.
“There is no problem with our locally processed rice in terms of taste but the problem lies in the processing and packaging. There is no difference between our local rice and the imported ones, except in the processing of our rice. We still have a long way to go.
An entrepreneur, Moses Omoikhoa, who noted that he preferred the consumption of imported rice to local ones, also blamed the poorly processed rice on inadequate processing technology.
Omoikhoa said government has major role to play in forming strong policies that will favour production of local rice as it is being practised in the advanced world.
“The Nigerian rice industry is currently not doing so badly. It is just that our local rice processors need to improve on their final product. I believe that it is the increase in the demand for locally processed rice, following the border closure that has resulted in the recent poor processing of local rice.
“The price of local rice is also discouraging. If I can get foreign rice for N22, 000 per bag in the market, why won’t I abandon local rice which goes for 20,000 per bag for the imported rice that is not stressful to prepare.
“I get scared of eating local rice because of the presence of stones and dirt in it; this means we still have a long way to go.
“Most Nigerians will still go for the foreign rice if it is available because of the poor processing of our local variety,” said Omoikhoa.
A survey carried out by The Nation across major markets and restaurants in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and some markets in Nasarawa and Niger states revealed that most Nigerian rice processors lack adequate technology of rice processing to meet international standard.
Matthew Ayaka, a Keffi-based rice miller blamed the low quality production on poor quality and insufficient paddy rice.
Ayaka said equipment constraint and use of outdated milling technology are also major challenges.
“Money is another big issue. Rice farmers in Nigeria have limited access to credit facilities. Those who obtain loans often default on repayments, and are not able to use the money to build their enterprises. Furthermore, rice farming is an expensive business: machinery, seeds, fertilisers and other agro-chemicals cost a great deal of money.
“Nigeria also hasn’t invested enough in training farmers. There’s a lack of knowledge about how to use pesticides and herbicides; how to handle rice once it’s been harvested; and how to market one’s produce. Traders are reluctant to go out and purchase produce from rice farms in the rural areas because the state of the roads is so bad,” Ayaka said.
An off taker, Clement Omonu, told The Nation in Abuja that Nigerians are paying more for local rice, not necessarily because it is scarce but due to the high cost of production.
Omonu, who also blamed government’s interference in agriculture, poor marketing infrastructure, financial constraints and lack of well-trained machine operators on the challenges associated with quality rice production, urged government to invest in Nigerian rice production by providing loans facilities for Nigerian rice farmers and encourage mechanisation.
“The reasons people still go for imported rice is because government at all levels do not practice what they say.
“Government said they don’t want to see foreign rice in the market, but the same people don’t want to give us incentives to produce rice locally. You don’t get equipment, you don’t get loans and you don’t get seeds.
Support for farmers
The government is trying to boost its agriculture sector, especially in rice production as it can be cultivated in all the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The support include government’s grants, loans offered at cheap interest rates to farmers, grants and technology given by non-profit organisations and funding from foreign agencies such as the World Bank.
Despite these supports, some farmers are lamenting that Federal Government’s policy on assistance to enhance rice production is not getting to the grassroots.
On poor processing and packaging, the Chairman, Rice Millers’ Association, Mr. Peter Dama said most Nigerians condemning the rice in the market have refused to change their appetite for local rice.
Mr. Dama said despite some challenges faced by some local rice millers, especially in having access to complete rice equipment to clean up their rice, does not mean that the rice is bad.
“Nigerians are used to foreign rice and they find it difficult to change their appetite for local rice.
There are some challenges with some millers, because some of them are the smaller ones that bring in rice into the market without going through the appropriate processing procedure.
“We as an association are trying our best to make sure that our members can have appropriate equipment for rice milling.
“It may also take some time before we can get the appropriate milling we are talking about.
“The government has assisted by asking our members to apply for special intervention funds to purchase equipment so as to mill rice properly.
We are all in the process and we are engaging our members who are out of funds for them to be able to purchase their own equipment.
“Also, our millers are still receiving trainings on how to use the modern equipment available for milling because it is computerised. All they need is to be familiar with the equipment and how they operate,” Dama said.
Source: The Nation