Genetically and archeologically, the origin of Rice has been traced to China as it was domesticated from a wild species peculiar to Australia. According to 2012 FAOSTAT data, rice is the agricultural commodity with the largest worldwide production after sugar-cane and maize but the most important grain in terms of human nutrition and calorie intake.
The recent economic recession in Nigeria has led to the surge in the price of goods and services both locally and foreign-made. In 2016, the price of Rice has been volatile beginning from January when it sold for
N12,000 per bag. As at the end of the third quarter it sold for nothing less than
N22,000 and has been projected to sell for
N40,000 before the year runs out if local production fails to improve. According to the Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri “close to $22billion is being spent on food import alone on a yearly basis”. In a similar statement credited to Africa’s richest businessman and Chairman, Dangote Group, Mallam Aliko Dangote, Nigeria spends $1.8 billion on Rice every year which makes her the second largest importer of Rice after China. What a feat!
Looking through some few statistics might help us understand better the state of things before now and possibly project into the future.
Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
Nigeria is the only country that has her consumption bigger than her production, thereby making her a chief importer.
Rice consumption has gulped billions of dollars and is still going to gulp more. However, the more precise question to be asked is why is it that the demand for rice is so huge? And if traced back, why is it that the trend of rice consumption has been on a progressive rise for the last 40 years? Or rather, how did we catch the rice bug so devastatingly?
Source: United States Department of Agriculture
Economic Factors
For those familiar with Nigeria economic history, luck smiled upon Nigeria when crude oil discovered sometimes in late 50s. the came the Oil Boom of the mid 1970s. The increase in foreign revenue for the country led to the redistribution of wealth among its citizens thereby affecting the consumption pattern of individuals in a process which Economists call NUTRITION TRANSITION. The Nutrition transition was so pronounced that even after fall in revenue, consumption pattern did not fall back to its original level leading to what Economists also call RATCHET EFFECT.
Furthermore, as income increases, more leisure is substituted for work. Humans, being rational, desire the need to spend more time resting, having fun, eating good food, staying with family etc. Likewise the need to prepare stress-free food also increased, whereby energy demanding African delicacies like pounded yam, Akpu, yam porridge, mashed beans are substituted with less stressful foods like rice, noodles, pasta, flakes, fast-food to mention a few.  The change in societal roles between genders, where more females are now aplenty in the corporate world, against the traditional lifestyle where females are limited to the kitchen and rearing of children has also led to demands for foods that are cooked with little energy and attention.
Political Factors
Rice consumption in Nigeria is majorly financed by importation and this has been a source of extreme wealth and income for some group of “opportune” Nigerians. The political system of Nigeria where resources and opportunities are allocated on a “Man-knows-Man” basis has led to a cancerous growth with all sectors suffering from debilitating Hemorrhage.  Rice became a tool of political patronage; when it is shared to the suffering masses for votes, or when import quotas are allocated to politically-connected moneybags. We took our eyes off local production.
Based on the data from the United States Department for Agriculture as depicted in the graph above, Rice production in Nigeria hit its highest production level in 2010 and that was in the same year the Dr. Akinwumi Adesina was appointed as the Minister. However, several policies were implemented by the dapper Adesina including attracting over $4 billion worth of investment, improvement in the production of fertilizer, getting over 14 million farmers into the data bank, availability of viable seeds etc. In spite of these strides, Nigeria is today battling with increasing prices and acute shortage of food; especially rice. The data further shows that rice production from the year 2011 till date has not been as high as the 2010 level. The other cause for worry is that there may be policy discontinuity as the fairly new Agric head honcho chooses new priorities.
Globalization and advancement in technology has made the world a global village, through the usage of internet and other media devices its now easier to catch up with happenings around the world. This has however affected our culture, belief system, orientation and more importantly our cuisines and pattern of food consumption. An average Nigerian who sees the make-up of food in other part of the world might want to give a try. If however, the process seems convenient, faster, better and presentable, then a need to change from the all-time stressful pounded yam, Akpu, Burabisco etc. in a bid to keep up with the Joneses of the world the consumption pattern will have to change. In an ongoing survey being carried out by Institute for Service Excellence and Good Governance (ISEGG), KFC and Domino’s Pizza are leading the pack as the best organizations in fast food sector. Though it might look far-fetched but there might be an iota of truth that in the next few years Pizzas and Fried chicken will rank among staple food among Nigerians!. See http://isegg.org/?q=service-excellence-survey for the results.
Medical and Nutritional factor
Most of the traditional food produced and eaten in this region have their base from root and tubers which are majorly carbohydrate. Improvements in medical knowledge has enlightened us to dangers in the over-consumption of these foods. Taking Garri for example, it has been researched that most of the garri being sold contain excessive hydrocyanic acid above the normal 10% recommended by WHO. Also according to health experts, garri contains a lots of calories which always end up being stored in our body due to our poor fitness culture. The recommendations from medical experts is enough to scare many Nigerians away from our traditional foods. The Minister of Health recently urged Nigerians to stay away from suya, Isi Ewu and Kilishi because they caused heart problems. The list of condemnation of local food is endless, thereby driving Nigerians to foreign foods.
A thorough analysis of the Rice conundrum vis a vis our general food crisis, throws up a few questions viz;
1.   Have we ever thought of processing and re-engineering our food crops to become more competitive in an intense, globalized world?
2.   What about packaging, presentation, preservation?
3.   What efforts are being put into place to make our food crops available all year round? (Nigeria is one of the few countries that is still battling the seasonal volatility in the production and prices of our food crops. Maize, which is most likely a ubiquitous commodity in June turns into a rarity by September).
4.   How can we work on the nutrients value, fiber contents and fats level of our foods?
5.   How many of our local foods can we pack in our kid’s lunch bag when going to school?
Educational system
The roles of education and educational institutions in a nation cannot be overemphasized. However the education we emphasize  in Nigeria is that of certification where less attention is paid to knowledge acquisition. The hub of research, innovation and invention in a nation is the university. In a society where the institutions are focused rightly, growth and development will ensue. The Food Science and Technology departments with collaboration with family nutrition in Nigerian Universities and Colleges should refocus their energies on how several varieties of foods and food crops can be re-engineered to include the needed nutrients. Also food expert and nutritionist should brainstorm on how these foods could be cooked, packaged and process to meet the world standards. Culinary skills and lessons should be on the fore front of media houses so as to pass down the knowledge to the general public.
 Manufacturing system
Food processing could form a basis for development of our economy, and has been indeed recognized to be a major option for Nigeria to forge ahead economically. The ability to put all our foods and cuisines in cans or an airtight containers that could last months or weeks on shelves will also increase the demand for our local delicacies, and will ensure that less food is wasted. Imagine you visiting ShopRite and you find yam porridge, smoked yam, beans porridge etc. neatly packaged on the shelf?
All is not lost if everybody is able to see this connection, if Universities and higher institutions authorities are solution-driven then we should expect right minded graduates to be produced. History and sociology graduates will focus more on reeducating and re-orientating the populace on the need to salvage the nations’ culture and heritage; food nutritionist will work more on educating the masses on several culinary approaches that are faster, efficient and less stressful; engineers and food science technologist knowing fully well that the psychology of the present generation is more inclined to package foods will also work on processing all our foods to a world acceptable standards. This is one sure way of getting the country out of long term depression, since billions of dollars spent on food importation will be drastically reduced, the amount of money spent on local foods will summarily increase hitherto generating employment for the many that will be engaged in the agriculture industry, releasing a lot of fund for productive activities and as well reducing the untold pressure on the Naira.            
Jide Olutoke is an Economics Graduate, OAU Ile-Ife amd currently an Intern at Global Analytics Consulting, Abuja


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