A News Analysis by Ikenna Uwadileke
It is no longer news that prices of foodstuffs have hit the roof in many parts of the country.
Analysts point to the closure of Nigeria’s borders, insecurity in the country, flooding of farmlands that occurred during the rainy season, and logistic issues, as major reasons for the rising cost of foodstuffs.
They express the belief that these factors give rise to the limited availability of foodstuffs in the face of increasing demands, leading to rise in prices.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)’ report on inflation for November, 2020, the composite food index rose sharply by 18.30 per cent in November compared to 17.38 per cent in October 2020.
The report stated that the rise in the food index was caused by increase in prices of bread, cereals, potatoes, yams and other tube crops.
Other affected foodstuffs are meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and edible oil.
“On month-on-month basis, the food sub-index increased by 2.04 per cent in November 2020, up by 0.08 per cent points from 1.96 per cent recorded in October 2020,’’ the NBS report announced.
The report added that during the period, food inflation on a year on year basis was highest in Kogi, Sokoto, Zamfara and Ebonyi, while Abia, Bauchi, Gombe and Nasarawa recorded the slowest rise.
No doubt, the hike in cost of foodstuffs has taken its toll on the lives and businesses of many Nigerians who continue to lament and appeal for prompt intervention to ameliorate their plight.
While government at all levels are expected to intensify efforts to control the prices of food items, more worrying is that prices have further increased as the year runs out.
In a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in some cities, foodstuff sellers lamented the drop in patronage due to the increasing prices of foodstuffs.
Some foodstuff dealers said that apart from the high cost of food caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, increase in petrol price and electricity tariff and insecurity; prices were going up due to end of the year festivities.
They disclosed that the prices of foodstuffs which had gone up by over 50 per cent had been increased by additional 20.5 per cent.
According to one of the foodstuff sellers in Wuse Market, Abuja, Mallam Adamu Gambo, the price of imported rice had been going up.
Gambo said that a 50kg bag of the rice is between N38,000 and N40,000 against N35,000 in October, while 25kg bag is N20,000.
At Sabon Gari market, Kano, prices of local varieties such as rice, millet and sorghum indicate similar hike, as 100kg bag of rice is sold at N55,000, millet, N18,000 and sorghum, N19, 000 against old prices of N50,000, N15,000 and N14,000 respectively.
At the Mission Road Market, Benin city, a small basket of onion costs between N3,500 and N4,000 against N3,000 in October.
The situation was not different at Marian Market, Calabar where Mrs Ekanem Edem, a dealer in edible oil said that five litres of groundnut oil cost between N4,300 and N4,500 in November, against N3, 800 and N4,000 in October.
Edem added that the cost of a 70 – litre – bottle of palm oil went up from N400 in October to N600.
In view of the rise in the cost of food items, Mrs Lisa Ekene, a food vendor at Achara Layout, Enugu, affirmed that operating a restaurant had also become more expensive.
“I now sell a plate of rice for N450 as against N300 in October.
“I cannot buy a bag of rice for N38,000 with other condiments and you expect me to sell a plate for N300,’’ Ekene said.
She however, claimed that some restaurants that still maintained the old prices might have reduced the quality of their food.
The price of chickens too has gone up as that of average size is between N3, 000 and N3,800, while a big size is between N5,000 and N6,000.
Mrs Udoka Ude, another chicken seller attributed the increase in price to high cost of chicken feeds in the market.
However, investigation at Mile 12 market, Lagos showed a reduction in the price of tomatoes and onions.
A 40 kg basket of tomatoes which was sold for N20,000 in November now costs between N8,000 and N9,000 while a basket of onions has gone down from N50,000 to N9,000.
In order to check further price increase and ensure food sufficiency in the country, the Abundance of Hope Initiative, an NGO, has urged Nigerians to complement government’s efforts by maximising opportunities in agriculture.
Executive Director of the organisation, Mr Taiye Sasona says that increased involvement in agriculture will lead to increase in food production which will complement government’s efforts towards food security in the country.
“Everyone should be encouraged to start small-scale, subsistence-level farming in any aspect of agriculture one can think of, ranging from snail farming, fish farming, gardening of arable crops to mini poultry.
“In this way, we can move from importing what we eat to producing enough to eat and export,’’ Sasona said.
Similarly, Stella Ikeokwu of the Programmes Department, Victoria Gold Foundation, another NGO, observes that the upsurge in the COVID-19 pandemic affects Nigerian food system and the effect is felt by Nigerians.
According to Ikeokwu, prolonged lockdowns and lasting disruptions in global transport logistics nationwide, restrictions on exports and hoarding by importing countries, affect global food availability and prices.
“It is important in this regard, that necessary measures are undertaken to ensure that food supply chains continue to flow smoothly,’’ she said.
Ikeokwu called for temporary cash handouts to poor farmers as well as grants to restart businesses while she urged banks to waive fees on farmer’s loans and extend payment deadlines.
Similarly, Journalism Communication and Media Centre, an NGO, called on governments at all levels to make deliberate efforts to make agriculture more attractive to the youth.
Founder of the organisation, Mr Obinna Chukwuezie identified disregard for agriculture by the youth, as a major challenge negating the attainment of food security in the country.
While stressing the need to modernise agricultural practices, Chukwuezie emphasised that increased engagement of the youth in the agricultural sector would guarantee food sufficiency in the country.
He however, expressed concern that a large percentage of the Nigerian youth have abandoned agriculture for other endeavours.
According to Chukwuezie, youth engagement in agriculture is still very low in Nigeria as many people are running after white collar jobs.
He blames the lack of interest in agriculture on increased migration from rural to urban areas, noting that the agriculture sector suffers huge neglect in spite of its potentials to lift many out of poverty.
“It is a very big challenge that our farmers who are producing food for us are aging and no young ones are taking over from them. So, it is a big challenge for attaining food security and zero hunger by 2030.
“There is need for deliberate efforts to get young people involved in agriculture by making it look beneficial to them.
“And, we need to get into mechanisation because using knife and hoe the way our fathers did scares young people.
“They don’t want to do it; they are looking at mordernised agriculture and that is one way young people can get involved,’’ Chukwuezie said.
On the part of government, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has emphasised the need for farmers to always plant improved quality seeds that will increase their productivity.
The Minister, Alhaji Muhammad Nanono pledges to ensure that the country’s seed sector functions effectively so that farmers will have access to good quality seeds and better returns on investments.
Nanono promised that the ministry would ensure effective implementation of laws governing seed administration and regulation in Nigeria.
He said that the law will ensure availability and accessibility of multiple options of high quality improved seeds for farmers.
“Our responsibility therefore is to support the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) and seed entrepreneurs to ensure laws governing seed administration and regulation are effectively implemented,’’ Nanono said.
On his part, the Director-General of NASC, Dr Phillip Ojo, described the use of improved seeds as the most cost effective means of enhancing agricultural productivity.
Ojo notes that the development and adoption of improved seeds are instrumental in making food available and affordable.
While condemning the rate at which fake seeds are peddled in the markets, he says the council is intensifying collaborations with its partners to mop up fake seeds.
“We are also engaging the support of state governments to step up our regulatory activities with the enhancement of our public enlightenment, sensitisation and enforcement programmes in seed markets in cities across the country,’’ Ojo said.
For some years now, with the support of the Anchor Borrower’s Programme (ABP) under the supervision of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Government has been creating economic linkages.
The linkages are between over 600,000 smallholder farmers of the required key agricultural commodities and reputable large scale processors.
CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, during the launch of the ABP in 2015, said that it was with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilization of integrated mills.
According to Emefiele, the bank had set aside N40 billion from the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund for farmers at a single-digit interest rate of 9 per cent.
Farmers under the aegis of Maize Growers Marketers and Processors Association of Nigeria, said they received N13 billion to boost maize production during the 2020 wet season farming.
According to the national chairman of the association, Dr Edwin Uche, the support had justified Federal Government’s ban on maize importation.
Uche said that it had also strengthened efforts to boost local production of maize towards satisfying local demand and industrial use.
It is further expected that the five-year plan to end hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria recently launched by the Federal Government will go a long way in promoting the well-being of Nigerians.
The National Multi-Sectoral Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (2021-2025) is designed to guide implementation of interventions and programmes to address hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria.
According to the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, the plan would reduce the proportion of people who suffered malnutrition by 50 per cent and increase exclusive breastfeeding rate to 65 per cent.
It will also reduce stunting rate among children under five years old to 18 per cent by 2025, through the scaling up of priority high impact nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. (NANFeatures)