Rising food costs and government’s response

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By Feyishola Jaiyesimi

Recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that Nigerians have been battling with rising food prices as inflation hit an all-time high of 28.92 percent by December last year, the highest level of inflation from January through December of the year. Since then, food prices have continued to rise in Africa’s most populous country.
In many Western African countries, the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in urban and semi-urban areas is similar to that in rural areas, and in some cases, slightly higher, indicating that food insecurity is not exclusively a rural problem.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), West Africa, Nigeria included, remains off-track to meet the food security target of the Sustainable Development Goal by 2030. Nigeria’s agricultural sector faces many obstacles. However, the insecurity menace that plagues farmers tops the list. This has made many farmers abandon their farms, impacting food production.
“Insecurity issues affecting distributors of agro products have been a challenge,” said Mr. Abiodun Olorundero, founder/managing partner at Prasinos Farms, sharing a personal experience of a colleague who was kidnapped while working on his farm. While insecurity is affecting food production, the impact of climate change and the surge in input costs (seeds and fertilizers), are factors militating against the availability of food too. At a recent World Economic Forum event on ‘Treating Soil as a Precious Resource’ held in Davos, Switzerland, Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State said the world was at risk of food scarcity in the next 20 or 30 years if attention was not given to sustain adequate food production. “Seeds and soil, we put them together, and we can begin to answer a lot of the challenges that our world is going to face over the next 25 or 30 years.” He emphasised the importance of good soils and seeds to combat food insecurity and aid food production. “Without good soil, crops fail, prices rise, and people go hungry. Eroding soil also worsens the impact of droughts, floods and other climate-driven extreme weather, making crop yields even lower and, as a result, food even more scarce,” he said at the event.
According to the FAO, Nigeria is expected to see about 26.5 million people in 2024 grapple with high levels of food insecurity. This is why Nigerian media researched on ways Nigerians can manage the biting effect of food inflation that they are currently combating.
Due to a lack of funds, many Nigerians cannot afford to purchase their foods in large quantities. However, research has shown that to manage the rising cost of food better, people should buy their foodstuffs in bulk. A resident of the Gbagada Area of Lagos, who works as a risk analyst at a finance firm, Victoria Abe, says she buys her food in large quantities. “It pays me to buy my food in large quantities. My husband and I look at the seasons of each food produced, and we buy it in bulk. With that, we can also buy at a cheaper price despite the high prices in other months,” she said.
Another resident if Lagos, Bimbo, also confirmed that she normally bought her foodstuffs in bulk. “I realized that bulk buying is way better, so I repaired my fridge to store as much for every month, especially proteins,” she said. “Buying food in bulk will never be old-fashioned. It is not only cost-effective but also time-effective”.
The way things have gone already and are possibly going in the future, Nigerians can no longer afford to be food wasters. A recent FAO report shows that 285.1 million people in West Africa are moderately and severely food insecure.
The report indicates that more people cannot afford a balanced meal than those who can. “I’ve had to change the excess in my kitchen menu. I have reduced stew and soup time to twice a week instead of three or four times,” said Abimbola Oreoluwa, who lives with her husband in the Lekki area of Lagos.
For Nornu, a civil engineer who resides in Bariga, buying only what she needs is how she is coping with food inflation. “I try as much as I can to buy only what I need when I go to the market,” she disclosed.
One other way to cope with the situation is to cultivate a small garden. It could be therapeutic, experts say. However, beyond its health benefits, it is also a good way to produce food and save costs. For Mama J, who lives with her children in Lagos, cultivating a small garden at the back of her house has not only been therapeutic but has also spared her from rising food prices.
“Growing fresh vegetables like pumpkin leaves, waterleaf, and the banana and plantain I have in my compound has saved me from buying them in the market where they are expensive,” she said. Again, Nigerian markets are full of different vendors who sell the same products. Buying from vendors who sell at cheaper rates is cost-effective. For Juliet Okoro, this is a measure she has adopted. “Whenever I go to the market, I look for people who sell what I want at cheaper rates. This allows me to buy what I want within my budget,” she said. The constant rise in inflationary pressures has plunged many Nigerians into a financial crisis, increasing their costs of living and worsening their livelihoods. This surge in the costs of food items and other consumables not only affects the buying power of households, but it has also reduced the sales of foodstuffs in the market.

A trader who sells foodstuffs at wholesale prices in the Ikotun market said that since the beginning of June last year, sale of rice, groundnut oil, beans and yams has dropped significantly while demand for spaghetti and noodles has increased. “Many of our customers who would buy a bag of rice and five or 10 litres of groundnut oil can’t afford that much again. Instead they go for half bag, which was sold for N26, 000 by December or a bottle of vegetable oil which sold for between N1000 – N1, 200,” she said. “What people buy majorly now are noodles and spaghetti, and the price has equally been increasing. One spaghetti is sold at between N600 and N700, while a carton of noodles, depending on the manufacturer, sells for between N3,500 and N5,500 now,” she added.
The latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that Nigeria’s inflation rose for the 12th straight month to a 20-year high of 28.92 percent from 28.20 percent in November, causing Nigerians to prioritise their spending as well as their lifestyles. An analysis showed that Nigeria’s inflation rate is at its highest since January 2003.
Food inflation has also continued to soar, making thousands of households wallow in unprecedented hunger. As of December 2022, Nigeria’s food inflation was 23.75 percent. It rose from 32.84 percent in November last year to 33.93 percent in December.
The rise in food inflation on a year-on-year basis was caused by increases in prices of oil and fat, bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, fish, fruit, meat, vegetables, milk, cheese, and eggs, according to the NBS. For Anjola, a recently married woman who resides in the Iba area of Lagos, the cost of food items has made her repeat the same meals for her husband, leaving the couple to eat only what they can afford.
Duroorike added that the government’s palliative to cushion the effects of the austerity may not have reached the “downtrodden pepper sellers, vulcanizers, and majority of the petty traders whose businesses are from hand to mouth but now have their hands chopped off by the rising cost of goods.” He said the government needs to take a U-turn from market fundamentalist policies to policies that would ensure the democratic control, usage, and management of human and natural resources to better the lives of the people for meaningful changes to happen, moving forward. Rising inflation in Africa’s most populous country pushed no less than 14 million Nigerians into poverty in 2023, according to the latest Nigeria Development Update report by the World Bank. This implies that the number of poor people rose to 104 million from 89.8 million at the beginning of 2023.

But while millions of Nigerians are angry at the unenviable circumstances that have enveloped their lives, President Bola Tinubu’s administration says Nigerians are enjoying the lowest cost of living in Africa. Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, stated this penultimate Sunday.

Onanuga spoke even as inflation, occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy on the very first day of Tinubu’s presidency, has continued to cause immeasurable hardships across the country.
While Onanuga admitted that the administration’s reforms did in fact cause “immediate pains”, he noted that it would usher Nigeria into an era of prosperity in the medium and long terms.
Onanuga said this while reacting to recent comments credited to Atiku Abubakar, Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last election.

Atiku had argued that President Tinubu’s poor response to the nation’s challenges was setting the stage for a prolonged and deeper economic crisis. But Onanuga faulted Atiku’s assertions about the rising cost of living saying: “His claim that the government’s policies have created intense cost of living pressures are also not grounded on facts as recent comparative cost of living indices show that Nigerians still enjoy the lowest cost of living in Africa. Atiku’s claims that the private sector is shrinking and that multinational companies are leaving our companies in ‘droves’ are not grounded on facts.” Onanuga said Atiku “should be honest enough to admit that President Tinubu inherited a weak economy,” which, to all intents and purposes needed a complete overhaul. “Nigerians can easily see through the hypocrisy of Alhaji Atiku, who in accusing President Tinubu of poor response to the nation’s challenges and causing pains and despair, yet he didn’t offer any better policy options in his run for the Presidency different from the economic reform agenda being pursued by President Tinubu,” the statement further read.

He added that reputable local and international agencies who understand the situation in which the Tinubu administration found itself have commended the administration, having seen a policy trajectory that is clearly positive, realistic and sustainable. The presidency noted that the administration has also embarked on comprehensive fiscal and tax policy reforms that will drive speedy recovery and spur economic growth and therefore its detractors “cannot stop the serious work of nation-building already set in motion by President Tinubu.”President Tinubu.”

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