Mar 3, 2016

Time to Pick Out the Stones and Chaff


Imported Rice in Nigeria

While Mohammadu Buhari aimed at the Presidency of the Nigerian federation, he pledged jobs to millions of job-seeking Nigerians among other things. The agricultural sector was one of the multiple areas the eventual president was looking at.     

Rice production is extremely critical to the creation of jobs in the agro subsector.  Nigeria imported about 3 million tons of rice in the 2013-14 period. Between 2012 and 2015, about N474 billion was spent on rice importation, translating to an average revenue lost of N118.5 billion, annually.

The recent fall in the value of the naira threw to the fore the harm rice importation causes the Nigerian nation. It is good that this is happening very early in the life of the new administration. The administration, in an effort to discourage the importation of goods that Nigeria produces or can produce, has made the dollar scarce to the importers of such goods. This has led to the scarcity of the dollar and the rise in its value in the unofficial market. The end result is the 50% rise in the price of imported rice. 

Rather than allowing the Central Bank of Nigeria to loosing up channels of dollar sourcing for the affected importers, Buhari has, in keeping with his vow to create jobs, insisted with sarcasm that “if you think you cannot eat local rice, then it is up to you to source for the dollar wherever you can and use it to buy the foreign rice that you so much cherish.”

The question is: why do Nigerians find it difficult to eat their own rice, despite knowing the huge harm the practice causes our economy? The answer is not far: Local rice is badly processed. The outcomes are the stones and bits of unsorted chaff that makes local rice unattractive, despite its high taste. People don’t want to eat rice and crush stones as they do so. In addition, there are bits of chaff that must inevitably find their way into the pot. Nigerians don’t like their weird texture in the mouth.  The species of rice grown in Nigeria are a spectrum. There are some, whose grains dissolve and fuse into a huge starchy mass after boiling. Nigerians, like other nationals, prefer rice whose grains remain independent even after boiling.

Here, the eating of high quality rice is associated with status. Every Nigerian loves status and wouldn’t want to be left behind. It is the reason why Nigerians have developed shock drains that ensure they adjust to a price increase each time it occurs. There is also that thing about time being a healer. This means that, in time, Nigerians would always get over the economic pains that price increases bring. 

Wise speakers often say that problems are not solved by ignoring them. Consequently, halting rice importation and taking back rice-sector jobs from Asian nations would, no doubt, require the nation to stand up and act as against our attitude of just sitting and expecting things to just get cooked. The Asians, who export the rice we consumed, don’t just sit. They stand up and act. 

Most rice farmers in Nigeria are uneducated and process their rice using crude, and rigorous means handed down to them by unschooled traditions. They need to be told that the inferior processing methods lead to the stones and detritus that make their product unappealing. They need to be told the role they can play towards ending rice importation, and be educated and assisted on how they can play this role adequately. They also need to be told about the annual N118.5 billion that should be theirs, but which are lost to their Asian counterparts, and that they can earn this money if importation is successfully halted. Buhari and his team must also identify unpopular species of rice and encourage farmers to end their cultivation. In working to end importation, we must integrate the support for researches towards improving the quality of rice that is produced in the country. 

Problems are not solved by ignoring them. Nigeria, stand up.

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