Rice for Christmas in Nigeria is the equivalent of turkey or ham for Christmas dinner in the U.S., but this year Nigeria’s poor could be without rice because of several economic and political factors.

The price of rice has soared beyond the price that much of the general public can afford, according to a vanguardngr.com  report from Nigeria. The price of rice is up about 25 percent from earlier this year.  Christmas is the Christian holiday around which parties are held, and rice is often given as gifts.

The price increase is blamed on government policy by those in the know but has not really been explained to the poor. It does appear that agricultural government policy is the main problem. The government has attached a high tariff on imported rice with strict enforcement of rice smuggling. There is also talk of a proposed ban on importation.

The Nigerian government in January 2013 increased tariffs on imported rice to about 110 percent from the previous 40 percent in what the government claims is a way to give incentive for farmers to raise rice.

“Though the move was hinged on the need to strengthen the agriculture sector in preparation for a shift from an oil-based economy to an agrarian one, analysts believe that it has done more harm than good to the country’s economy,” according to Vanguard reporters, Charles Kumolu and Azeez Sanusi.

Demand for rice is higher than the country can currently produce, and the tariff is cutting supply from outside the country. The result of low supply and high demand is higher prices.

One estimate is that the 2013-2014 demand will total about 3 million tons, up from 2.9 million tons, the previous demand/production year.

The federal government is portraying its support of the local economy by having the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) stop all smuggling of rice, according to another Vanguard article written by Godwin Oritse.  

In a recent seizure of 1,200 bags of rice, the Seme Border Command Controller Willy Egbundin bragged, “We will not relent in implementing government policies because they are made in the national interest and the policy on rice is no exception.”

Any rice that doesn’t come through approved seaports is unapproved.

He said, “By smuggling what Nigeria has the capacity to produce locally, we are inadvertently sustaining the employment of some unknown foreigners elsewhere while working to also keep some of our able bodied youths out of jobs.”