• Feeding has become a daily challenge, Nigerians cry out
• Bad governance, incessant kidnapping have made food stuff prices rise – Fr. Ukwuani
• Higher energy costs translate to higher food prices – Dr. Adetokunbo
• Farmers have lost their farmlands to criminal herders – Ejekam
By Neta Nwosu with additional reports from Constaincia Uruakpa
“I have been in this market for over one hour. I’m so confused. The cost of food stuffs is still expensive here at Mile 12 market. Whereas, I have taken pains to come this very far from Amukoko, near Mile 2. The prices of yam, beans, tomatoes, pepper are beyond what I can afford. You can see that I’m still roaming about with my empty nylon bag, it’s really bad, my husband and I can no longer afford two good square meals for our children anymore,” troubled Mrs. Florence Ehigiator, a Hairdresser laments, as The Catholic Herald reporters seek her opinion on prices of food items. “The prices are too high,” Mama Iyabo, a Mile 12 vegetable oil Vendor interjects. “I don’t know what is happening in this country anymore. At the mention of the prices of my oil, some customers walk away very confused. Sales have dropped.
And it is from this same shop that my children will eat, we are in trouble in this country,” she speaks to the trio of The Catholic Herald reporters and Mrs. Ehigiator conversing by her shop. Within a minute, the conversation had stretched beyond Mama Iyabo’s shop, and has snowballed into earsplitting grumblings. Mama Iyabo’s neighbours cut in; they lamented over the rising cost of living, as they expressed divergent disappointing experiences over their dwindling sales, and daily tolls, to cope with the hard times. These experiences are not only peculiar to these Mile 12 vendors and shoppers. Their ordeals are also being shared by millions across Africa’s most populous nation. Food security has declined radically in Nigeria. Clerics, business leaders and economic analysts say, unrest, insurgency, import restrictions, flood, weakening currency, higher fuel prices and COVID-19 impact are worsening food insecurity.
Rev. Fr. Leo Ukwuani OSJ, Parish Priest, SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Ejigbo, attributed the rise of food prices to flawed governance. “Obviously, bad governance, with its attendant consequences of poor state of economy, and insecurity that has led most farmers to flee from the farm because of incessant kidnapping, has seriously made the prices of food stuffs to be high.” Mrs. Clarina Ejekam, a Lagos based businesswoman also credited the rising food prices to insurgency and the state of the economy. “Insurgency and the economy are the most prominent factors causing the rise in food prices. With the insecurity rate in the country, how do we expect the farmers to farm? Most farmers have lost their farmlands to bandits, kidnappers and criminal herders, who kill, maim, rape female farmers, and destroy their crops. With these atrocities being committed against the farmers, how do we expect them to put themselves into danger, by going to their farms? This is the main reason why the prices of locally produced food items are rising by the day.
” Explaining further, she said, “The economy is another factor for the rise in food prices. The exchange rate is on the high side. Importers are not father/ mother Christmas. They sell their goods according to the exchange rate. Since the exchange rate does not have control, the price of goods will definitely affect the prices of food.” Food prices have skyrocketed as much as 60 percent since the start of the coronavirus crisis, according to official statistics. Households, already spend more than half their income on food. A large basket of fresh tomatoes in 2020 was purchased for N18,000 in Mile 12, but today, the price has increased to N32,000. The tomato merchants recalled that only in April this year, same baskets of tomatoes were sold singly at N22,000. Similarly, the prices of baskets of fresh pepper and onions have risen to N5,500 and N15,000 respectively From price survey at Mile 12 and Oyingbo markets on Monday, a bag of garri which currently costs N17,000 and N15,500, in the respective markets, was purchased at N8,000 in 2019. Mrs. Josephine Odey, a resident of Alakuko, Lagos, on shopping in Mile 12, said that things are very, very expensive to buy now, compared to what we were buying in the past months.
“Take tomatoes for instance. The basket of tomatoes, which we were buying at nine thousand Naira, few months back, is now sold at N32,000. “The way prices of foods are escalating in our markets, will surely make it difficult for people to feed properly now”, Odey lamented. On what she thinks is responsible for the increase in prices of goods, she said: “They said it is the problem of insecurity in the northern part of the country, where tomato and other foodstuff are grown, and brought here. We are told that people cannot go to their farms because of bandits and others that are attacking farmers on their farms. And again, cost of transportation is affecting the sellers too. After adding transportation, by the time the goods get here, they are sold at very high rates.” In a recent statement, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said the rising inflation has adversely affected the profitability of producers, and is a major contributor to the low export penetration of made-in-Nigeria goods, in the international market.
“There is an urgent need for government to intentionally ensure price stability, before the situation becomes deplorable,” the manufacturing body stressed. Nigeria’s inflation rate, fell for the second consecutive month, in May to 17.93 per cent, from 18.12 per cent, recorded a month earlier. The National Bureau of Statistics said recently that the prices of goods and services, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), increased by 17.93 per cent in May 2021, when compared to May 2020. Though, the scale of increase remained high, it was 0.05 per cent lower than what obtained a month earlier, NBS said. There was no respite in terms of increase in food prices, as food inflation rose in May to 22.28 per cent, compared with 22.72 per cent in April 2021. Mile 12 foodstuff seller, Celestine Okechukwu, resident of Alapere, Ketu, Lagos, said price of melon seed (egusi) has been unstable for some months now, till date. He disclosed that one derica cup of the product was sold at N300, three months ago, and is N400 now. He further disclosed that one derica cup of wild mango seed (Ogbono), which was sold at the price of N2,000, three months back, is now sold at N1,800.
When asked what he thinks is responsible for the change in price of the items, he said, “During rainy season, it is difficult to dry egusi, which makes it scarce at that period, and leads to increase in price. But during the dry season, it is easier to dry, and store it. The same goes for ogbono.” Ifeanyi Nweke, rice and cassava flakes (garri) male seller at Oyingbo Market, Lagos, said there has not been any change in the price of rice, in the last two months. He said the long grain foreign rice was sold at N24,000, while the short grain is sold at N25,000. He also said that local rice now goes for N21,000 to N24,000, depending on the make. Ukoamaka Ogbonnaya, female food vendor at Oyingbo Market said a plate of food, with one piece of meat in it, that she sold at N250, few months ago, is now sold at N300. She added that she previously sold a plate of food, with two pieces of meat for N300. Comparing the current price of foodstuffs now, and what it was in the last three months, Ukoamaka said the goods are more expensive now, than they were previously. She disclosed that she buys same quantity of garri at N1,200 now, compared to N800, that she used to buy, three months ago. She added that she even bought same quantity at N1,300 Naira, few days back. On what she thinks is causing the rise of these prices, she said: “I don’t really know what the problem is. I can’t explain what Nigeria has become.”
When asked where the food they sell there comes from, Ukoamaka said: “Some come from the east. Some come from Benin. Some of the foodstuffs, like onions and beans, come from the north, and are very expensive now.” Speaking in another vein, Dr. Abiodun Adetokunbo, Lecturer, Department of Economics, Augustine University, Ilara – Epe, attributed several factors, to the steady increases in prices of foodstuffs. According to him, demand and supply side factors, give explanations to the rising food prices. “However, the supply side factors, seem to overpower the demand side factors, in explaining food prices behaviour. On the supply side, we have factors like energy prices; in this case, premium motor spirit (PMS), gas and diesel prices, whose demand is derived from the need to carry out economic activities, and transport food items from production point to markets. “In cases of increases in energy prices, sellers of food items are therefore left with no choice, but to transfer any cost of increases in energy prices to their customers, who end up buying food items at an exorbitant prices, ‘washing away’ the strength of the Naira in their wallets, with fewer food items in their shopping carts. Empirical studies have also shown that higher energy prices, translates to higher food prices, by increasing costs of production. “Another supply side factor responsible for rising food prices is weather conditions, especially for food items that are internally produced within the economy. In this case, our lack of adequate storage facilities have made the impact of weather conditions on food prices more obvious.
For example, lack of adequate storage facilities, always make us feel the yearly tradition of rising tomato prices, during the rainy season. “With this, imagine an increase in fuel price at about the commencement of the rainy season, for a household that wants to buy a basket of tomatoes in a country, where there is no adequate storage facilities. The question is who is going to bear the brunt? Of course, the producer (seller) would definitely transfer it on the household (buyer). “On the demand side, consumers’ expectations that future prices will increase given current situations, can also give explanation for the rising food prices. Example of this was evident at the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown period, where there was increase in food demand, as a result of panic buying, fueled by uncertainty. Consequently, price effect of this action was evident, when there is lags, in supply of food items having high demand. “Understanding the need for import substitution strategy, and the need to strengthen the nation’s currency, protectionist measures of government restricting importation of some selected food items could also be advanced as a factor explaining the behaviour of food prices, in a country, where there is inadequate supply side policies that encourage local production, so as to meet the demands of the teeming population,” the Don said. Feeding in Nigeria is not easy; the National Bureau of Statistics state that the average Nigerian lives below a dollar per day.
This can be seen from the salary structure of government, where the minimum wage is N30,000. How are families coping with increasing food prices? Dr. Adetokunbo stated that households are major bearers of the brunt, caused by increasing food prices. “We can only try our best, but the fact is that household real income has reduced. We are now returning home from the market with a small polythene bag of food items, in exchange for our wallet filled money. The households, also have the implication of falling short of the adequate nutrition, for proper functioning, as healthy food items have become expensive. With this, poor households would become more vulnerable.” “We have surrendered our helpless situation to God, and adjusted to the tough times. What else can we do? I have left everything to God,” Mrs. Agnes Ehimen stated. Hear Mrs. Ejekam “We give God all the glory for His goodness and faithfulness. We rely on God’s providence, and we pray that He will continue to provide for us, through Christ our Lord. Amen. On solution to the problem, Odey said: “Government should as much as possible, look into this problem of insecurity in the country. I think our state governments, especially those in the south, should make provision for, as well as encourage farmers to grow tomatoes, pepper and other food items that come from the north, in large scale, so that they can sell them to the consumers.
We should not be too dependent on getting these things from the north alone.” Fr. Ukwuani said to remedy this situation, the government of the day needs to be sensitive to the debilitating state of the nation, and match it with prompt response and action. “I believe that utmost sincerity, sacrificial readiness, and self-less service on the part of the government, will go a long way to checkmate security porosity, arbitrary inflation, and indiscipline in higher places that have led to corruption and complicity in crime that necessitate ripple effect, on the poor standard of living conditions of the Nigerian citizenry.” Business leaders have said curbing inflation is key to rebooting the economy. Does Dr. Adetokunbo agree? What does he think? “Inflation is a good evil, such that its appropriate measure is needed for growth, while it can be damaging to an economy when it is not properly managed. When prices are going up, people are likely to buy now, rather than later, thereby increasing demand, and boosting growth, in the short term. Therefore, for an economy to keep good inflation rate, there is need to manage expectations of future inflation.” How does he think the escalating food prices can be resolved? The Augustine University lecturer said, “In resolving the problem of rising food prices, one needs to understand the causes of price increases in different food items, before proffering probable solutions, as causes of price increases are food-specific. However, policies that would reduce the number of vulnerable people in the short term, and increase food production in the long term, would go a long way, in solving increasing food prices.