Three days to Christmas, LAKE Rice, which has become a constant product during festive periods in Lagos, is no where to be found.
For two years especially during festivity periods, many Lagos residents were inundated with LAKE Rice, a product of partnership between Lagos and Kebbi states.
With the birth of LAKE Rice entering its third year of partnership, things seem to have gone awry with the product not available in the market. Unlike in the past that the various designated sales centres would have been flooded with LAKE Rice, no sales centre was announced by the state government, neither did the state government mention it would reach residents through the major rice distributors it engaged through partnership earlier in the year.
When The Guardian visited the usual sales centre, there was no rice in sight. The Oshodi sales centre had been partially converted to a work yard by a construction company. A resident of Lagos, John Bamidele, like many others, wondered why the LAKE Rice is not available. He said he had planned to buy it to celebrate the Christmas with his family. So, he had expected the state government would announce, as usual, for residents to go to the sales centre to buy. He claimed he had made enquiry about the sales but nobody provided answer to all his questions.
Another resident, Peter Adebisi also felt unhappy that the Ambode-led government could not sustain a project it started about three years ago. When The Guardian spoke to the Public Relation Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Tunbosun Ogunbanwo on why LAKE Rice is not in the market, he said it would still be supplied. He however declined to comment on why the supply is being delayed considering it is about three days to Christmas unlike in the past that the product would have flooded the market at least two weeks to Christmas.
Meanwhile, many Lagosians may not have a rice-filled festivity this year due to the arbitrarily high price of the product this yuletide season. According to The Guardian investigation, the price of a 50kg bag of rice costs between N18,000 and N21,000 as the time of this report. Earlier this year, a 50kg bag of ‘foreign rice’ sold at N12,000 to N14,000 range while locally produced rice averaged at N17,000. But as at today, Mamas Pride, a staple from OLAM sells at N20,500 per 50kg, while Arike Ofada Rice sells at N6,000 per 5kg.
“This is expected but it is not good for us as business people. You know that the economic situation in the country is not friendly, increase in price of rice now is a big hardship but like I said, it is expected,” said Mrs. Grace Enuma, a rice wholesaler in Igando Modern Market, Lagos.The journey to the birth of LAKE Rice, which became a common product during Christmas and New Year celebration, was officially launched in December 2016.
The launch, held at the State House, Ikeja, Lagos, was an outcome of the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, signed between Lagos and Kebbi in March 2016. And by December of that year, markets in Lagos were flooded with LAKE Rice. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had said at the launch that the LAKE Rice was grown and milled in Nigeria, with extreme high quality, adding that “we have Ofada and imported rice and we want to show our people that Lake Rice is the way to go. The major different between Lake Rice and imported is that imported rice has a minimum storage capacity of five and and six years but lake rice is fresh.” The governor hinted that the state would expand its rice mill as Lagos has the largest consumption market in Nigeria.
After the launch, LAKE Rice was embraced by many Lagos residents because the price at the subsidized rate was better compared with other products in the market. Due to the rush for the product in the market, the state government had to pronounce that it was only a bag to a resident. The subsidy the state government claimed was to the tune of N1.049billion from December 2016 till May 2018.
Apart from providing succour for local consumers, one major goal of the Lake Rice Project is economic diversification.The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its latest Rice Outlook report said that Nigeria’s rice imports would jump 13 percent next year to 3.4 million metric tons. The projection means Nigeria will be the world’s biggest rice importer after China.