Nigerians Are Starting To Ask: Where Is My Chicken?
One of the largest restaurant chains in the largest economy in Africa keeps running out of its staple. Its name is Chicken Republic and as you may guess its bestseller is Chicken.
In recent weeks, Nigeria has been in the grip of a run on chicken—a culinary conundrum since chicken and rice is one of the most popular pairings in Nigerian cuisine.
Johnny Rockets ran out of wings. Mr Bigg’s, a chain of chicken shops, has closed branches because it couldn’t source drumsticks. KFC branches are boasting that, unlike their rivals, they have a steady supply of their most important ingredient.
In this country of 200 million, some of Nigeria’s most recognizable pop and movie stars have issued statements expressing the anger of consumers.
“I don’t get it... a chicken place wey no get chicken,” said Funke Akindele Bello, one of Nigeria’s most famous actresses, to her almost one million followers, in pidgin English. “Excuse me?!”
The reason is a new policy by Nigeria’s protectionist president. This summer Muhammadu Buhari closed the country’s land borders to all goods intending to stop rampant smuggling and help enforce a decade-old directive that chicken and rice should be made with only locally farmed ingredients.
For years, the majority of the country’s chicken and rice was smuggled across the border with the tiny nation of Benin. The birds came on the back of motorcycles, taxis, trucks, canoes, bicycles, wheelbarrows or in buckets atop women’s heads.
The border closure was intended to stimulate domestic production enough to reduce an annual food import bill of some $4 billion and pry the country away from smuggled produce.
On paper, it looked good but the problem is that Nigeria currently produces less than one-third of the poultry and around half of the rice it consumes, according to official statistics.
Benin doesn’t actually have much chicken of its own to sell to Nigeria. So it imports chicken from foreign countries, then exports it to Nigeria. It is now burying decaying chickens unable to be sold in Nigeria anymore
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In 2015, Benin imported almost as much whole frozen chicken as the U.K. and almost as much rice as China, making the country of 11 million the world’s fourth-biggest buyer of foreign rice, according to the World Trade Organization.
At least 85% of Benin’s chicken slipped across the porous border into Nigeria, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The price of a single bird in Nigeria has soared more than 30% to as high as 1000 Naira, or $3.50, according to farmers.
With the holiday season about to kick off and no relief in sight, it looks like the prices may even soar higher.