There have been many write ups on why the majority of Nigeria consumers prefer foreign rice to our locally manufactured rice. I have also walked into arguments on why consumers shun the local rice and reasons why they should embrace it.
One of our problems in Nigeria is that most times we do not admit the truth, not even to ourselves. We know the truth but we shy away from it. We try to politicise and even tribalise it. If we do not admit our errors, it will never be corrected. We must come to terms with our mistakes and short comings before we can seek ways to rectify them.
For months now, I have been struggling to finish a bag of locally grown rice I bought. Despite the fact that rice meals are my favourite, I am struggling to go through the bag of rice because it is fraught with stones and sand. At the beginning, it’s not obvious, but as one gets to the middle of the bag of rice, one starts seeing stones. When cooked, the texture is good, with the colour okay and it does not come out sticky. But there is nothing as bad as unexpectedly biting stone or sand when you are enjoying a great meal. It completely turns one off.The said rice, ‘Mama’s Pride’ from the stables of Olam Rice, is cultivated in Nassarawa State. From the prints on the rice bag, it was processed by Agro and Technical Processing Company Ltd, a subsidiary of Olam Nigeria Ltd, Olam Rice farm, Rukubi, Doma LGA Nassarawa State.
Ironically displayed on the rice bag also is the picture of an award for global quality excellence given to the company sometime ago. Also displayed on the bag is the logo of quality (NIS) from the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). Printed neatly below the logo is ‘Nigerian Mark of Quality’ and ‘FT-1663’.
Of course, as can be seen from the rice bag, the company has also been issued with ISO 22000 and FSSC 22000 certificates by SON, mocking everything the government regulatory body for excellence and quality stands for.
I am not here to disparage locally grown rice but we need to call a spade a spade in order to move forward. What brought about the popularity of imported long grain rice is because it comes par boiled, completely sorted of debris, stones, sand and chaff. It is a lot easier and more convenient to cook even when cooking for large crowd.
Before the entrance of foreign rice, you had to pick stones etcetera from rice. As kids then, on Saturdays, we were made to pick stones and dirt from rice in preparation for the Sunday lunch. No matter how thorough one is, some stones and grains of sand still go into the supposedly sorted rice unnoticed.
However, there are Nigerian rice brands that are completely de-stoned. Long grain Ebonyi Gold is so good that it can compare favourably with any imported rice. There are many other local brands like that.
The Nigerian rice industry has really come a long way. We have recorded a lot of improvement. The past administration with its Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, updated agriculture in Nigeria more than any other government in our recent history.
More than eight modern rice mills are currently producing rice in Nigeria but we need to identify our areas of challenges and weaknesses and work to improve on them. So many locally produced rice brands still contain stones and sand.
In an interview with a staff of Olam Rice at their Iganmu Lagos office, he said that Olam Rice is usually stone-free as the company uses mechanised farming system.
The staff who pleaded anonymity explained that “I am not exonerating the company, neither am I saying that the consumer is right. We will carry out investigations. If it is an internal problem then the consumer will be compensated.”
Requesting for the batch number, he promised that investigations will be carried out. Explaining further, he said the company carry out random sampling of their products to ascertain the quality, adding that “one of the reasons we have batch numbers is in order to trace problem when such arises.”
However, when the reporter demanded for the contact of the official spokesperson of the company, he declined, insisting that he was too busy to attend to the media. “In fact, at the moment, (24th August 24, 2017), he is in Abuja with the senators,” he declared. He equally declined to pass the reporter’s contact details to the said official spokesperson for the company.
The Olam staff requested the reporter to forward the batch number found on the rice bag to him. Responding through a text message, he said, “I checked, but this is not matching our batch format. This is not our rice. Since we have multi screening system, stones are not possible in our finished product.”
We need to focus on how to get rid of stones and sand from our rice. The issue of pricing also must be tackled. It must be made pocket friendly if we want consumers to patronise them.
Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, even admitted in May this year that locally produced rice is more expensive than the imported ones.
While responding to questions at a Town Hall meeting in Abuja, Ogbe pointed out that one of the major reasons was that most of the imported rice was subsided by the foreign governments.
He disclosed that most of the imported rice are from Vietnam, India and Thailand.
He further explained that the imported rice arrive at about 9,000 per bag, and are then sold at about N13,000 per bag to consumers unlike the local rice sold at about N16,000 per bag. Though market research reveals that currently 50kg imported rice like ‘Caprice’ sells for about N16,500 while the same size of Abakaliki rice sells for about N18,000.
Ogbeh also decried the interest rates for farming loans.
He said: “Our interest rates in this country are higher than the interest rate in most parts of the world.”
He also revealed another reason for the high cost of local rice as the high cost of diesel to run generators in the farms, noting that “diesel went from N180 per litre to N300.”
As the popular saying goes, ‘Rome was not built in a day’. If rice is not de-stoned, we appeal to producers to just notify consumers by printing it on the bag and if it is free of stones, they should also visibly print it on the bag. Already, some local rice producers do that. The ones free of stones usually are more expensive. Consumers have a right to that information.