A FESTIVE SEASON OF GLAMOUR AND FEASTING – As it should be, virtually everyone yearns for a December filled with merriment and joyous celebrations, particularly as the indisputably pernicious 2020 winds down. So far, it has been a tussle for the basic necessity of life for the average Nigerian who relentlessly battled a raging biological threat – the COVID-19 pandemic. The ‘poorest of the poor’ were also part of this struggle and have largely settled for crumbs.
Just last month, it was reported that Nigeria, yet again, slid into her worst recession since 1987. By accounts from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), October’s inflation rate was the highest since February 2018 – the average cost of food increased by 17.38 percent. A comparative analysis of the prices of selected food items between January and October showed that there has been at least, an eighty percent increase in the cost of food, with some commodities such as onion experiencing more than a 100 percent increase.
While the economic woes of the nation continue to trigger the scaling cost of these agro-commodities, it is rather worrisome that a country blessed with millions of untapped arable land finds it challenging to defend the bellies of its citizens in the face of adversity. The adversary, the COVID-19 pandemic, has since the start of the year exerted unprecedented shock on global food systems, disrupting value chains from mainstream production down to consumption.
As rightly predicted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the pandemic majorly distorted food supply chains in Nigeria, a situation further heightened by the closure of land borders by the President Buhari-led administration. Too numerous to name, but from movement restrictions impeding production activities, to the resultant scarcity and increase in the prices of foodstuff and animal feed, the impact of the pandemic was a blow on the groins of the agriculture sector, and the masses by extension.
Arguably, the average Nigerian on the street is unmoved by inflation or deflation numbers released by the NBS or interpretations from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Howbeit, there is no gainsaying that the real impact of economic policies is felt in the bellies of individuals, a journey which begins from market places, where money exchanges for goods.
From reports gathered by AgroNigeria, a big bag of dry onions currently sells for about N85,000 as against the N25,000 it was sold months back. Price statistics reveal that the high cost of the crop this year was the highest it has ever been pegged at. With the drastic price increase, surely one has no choice but to shed a tear at the dice of the commodity.
While the hike in the price of onion has taken the spotlight in recent times, it is not the only agro-commodity currently experiencing a surge. According to our findings, a bag of pepper that sold for N6,500 in January is now sold at N17,000 — a whopping 162 percent increase. For a big basket of tomatoes which used to sell for N6,000, the current rate is N14,000 — a 133 percent increase.
Market reports also find that a big bag of white beans presently sells for an average of N42,000, indicating a 31.3 percent increase in price compared to N32,000 recorded in October. A 25-litre vegetable oil gallon which was initially sold for an about N14,625 in October suddenly witnessed a 13.33 percent increase to sell for an average of N16,575 in November.
Since the border closure, the price of rice had skyrocketed by over 100 percent with local production not sufficient for consumption. Rice, being one of the most consumed staple foods in Nigeria is widely sought and is the most populous meal in Nigeria. Data retrieved from the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) shows that rice consumption currently stands at 7.9 million tons, with the country producing a little above 5.8 million tons. As most people would readily agree, rice should be affordable in Nigeria, but the reality clearly beats expectations.
Mrs Ifeoma Ojieh, a trader who deals in the sale of staple foods in the Ota Area of Ogun State told AgroNigeria that since the borders were closed, the availability and affordability of rice took a turn for the worse. According to our findings, the price of rice currently sells for between N23,000 to N28,500, even at farm gate prices, depending on the quality and brand.
In light of this, many experts have attributed the food inflation to the border closure policy upheld by the Federal Government; while others insist that it is a key offshoot of the pandemic. Regardless, it is a no-brainer that Nigeria needs a comprehensive economic policy rejig, particularly as food inflation has geometrically risen by a whopping 108 percent in just 5 years.
Yuletide! The festive season usually comes with its perks. But as the season kick-starts, there appears to be no end in sight regarding the spiraling cost of agro-commodities. One salient question on the lips of many Nigerians though, is if they would have the wherewithal to celebrate the season, at the end of a torrid year. For a Nigerian earning a monthly minimum wage of N30,000, purchasing food items during the Yuletide is a necessity that bites hard.
In October, during the #EndSARS saga, many were seen jostling for food palliatives allegedly hoarded by government officials. That scenario proved that there are hungry Nigerians on the street who do not have the faintest idea where their next meal will come from. Just recently, 124 children in Kaduna, unfortunately, lost their lives to malnutrition. The inflation numbers and hike in food prices further compounds this reality and foists an ominous cloud over this festive season.
From the look of it, this Yuletide may well be one to forget in a hurry. What with a second wave of the pandemic and the prospects of a lockdown? Fact is that if nothing is done to salvage the present quandary, a famine, as forewarned by the World Food Programme (WFP), is inevitable.