Making Nigerian Jollof Rice a global meal! 4 Lessons from Thailand #Jollofeconomics

In recent years Jollof rice has emerged as some sort of cultural phenomenon in Nigeria, which is quite a huge deal considering the fact that Nigerians generally struggle to find areas of mutual interest. I cannot recall how this Jollof craze started but it’s been strong enough to ignite #jollofwars with neighbouring countries such as Ghana and Senegal.

I am a big Jollof fan but I hate that when I’m in London or New York, I can’t easily purchase it as I can a Thai chicken curry, Indian chicken tikka masala or a Chinese beef stir fry. I hate that this our treasured delicacy remains largely local despite having the potential to become a truly global dish! Anyway, after reading this article about how Thai restaurants in the world grew from about 5000 to over 15,000, I could not help but think of a few things Nigeria could learn from it.

jollof. rice
Nigerian Jollof rice – Photo credit: Dooney’s Kitchen

You see promoting a country’s delicacy(s) has huge cultural and economic benefits;  by so doing, a country can foster cultural diplomacy, derive remittances and also generate export revenue. So how did the Thailand government increase the number of Thai restaurants abroad?

First, the department of export promotion at the Ministry of Commerce developed prototypes of three different restaurant plans which potential investors could choose from, this plan comprised the restaurant design and menu options.

Second, the department of export promotion also matched Thai citizens to foreign business people, conducted research on local tastes around the world and sent representatives from Thai cooking institutes abroad to train chefs at foreign restaurants.

Third, the Export-Import Bank of Thailand provided Thai citizens who wanted to open restaurants abroad with loans and the SME Development Bank of Thailand established an infrastructure fund of upto $3million for food industry businesses including Thai restaurants abroad.

And then in 2002, the public health ministry published a book called ‘A manual for Thai Chefs Going Abroad’ which provided information about recruitment, training, and even the tastes of foreigners.

What this teaches us is that promoting a country’s foods, goods or services abroad often times does not occur spontaneously, there is usually a deliberate effort by the government to achieve it. This is simply because there are critical issues which the market alone cannot fix, as such the role of the government becomes highly essential.

thai rice
Thai fried rice – Photo credit: Ray Kachatorian/The Image Bank/Getty Images

For Instance, the Thai government essentially assumed the role of Matchmaker, connecting Thai business people to potential foreign Investors. I work with entrepreneurs everyday and I know the importance of this cannot be overstated. On one hand, Investors are often times unaware of investible businesses on the continent while on the other hand entrepreneurs themselves do not have the network or connections to meet potential investors. This highlights the important role of the government as a powerful intermediary.

Another thing we learn is that countries that choose to export often identify certain priority products which they want to channel their resources to, this is important given that resources are always limited relative to our wants. I expect that by now in Nigeria, the government should have identified three to five items that they want to export as part of its economic diversification efforts to create a strong sense of focus and direction. As the Thai government had identified the promotion of Thai restaurants abroad as a priority, it followed that the Export-Import Bank of Thailand would be more amenable to providing Thai citizens who wanted to open restaurants abroad with loans.

Finally, exporting any product is never a walk in the park – the international market is extremely competitive as countries come out with their finest products so if yours is not competitive enough – it will perish! That is why it’s important to take into consideration the tastes, preferences and nuances of other cultures to ensure your products can penetrate new markets. Let me digress a bit, I lived with some chinese folks for about a year and I noticed that the taste and smell of their home-made meals differed significantly from the ones sold in restaurants. It occured to me that there might have been a deliberate effort to ensure that the meals made for the foreign markets tasted/smelt differently and it made total sense to me because I sincerely found the ones in the restaurants more appealing.

The Thai government was aware of this fact and that is why they conducted research on local tastes around the world and also prepared a manual for Thai Chefs going Abroad about the tastes of foreigners.   

I guess the overall point here is that our beloved Jollof  Rice will not automatically become a global meal simply because it is sweet or tastes nice, it shall involve a lot of work and deliberate planning. These lessons also applies to the export of any good or service.

On a lighter note, the heavy downpour in Lagos today though! I just want to sleep 🙂

Have a great day and a fabulous weekend of course.


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