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Solutions to Nigeria’s soaring food prices

Vaseline 2 months ago

FOR far too long, Nigerians have been under torment by the astronomical rise in the prices of basic foods and services in the marketplace. This gives room for a huge concern as the steep prices have battered the purchasing power of citizens, leading to uncertainty, an increase in poverty, and an unpalatable cost of living. With food as a primary resource for human survival, the disruption caused by rising food inflation has further decimated their low wages. The government at every level should undertake tangible programs to defeat hunger in the country.

In its newly released March data, the National Bureau of Statistics pegged food inflation at 40.01 per cent and 33.20 per cent for the consumer price index. This translates to a 1.5 per cent increase from the 33.70 per cent for core inflation in February.

Inflation has thus increased for 15 straight months, and it is at a 28-year high. This surge is reflected mainly in the prices of garri, millet, yam, sardine, fermented cassava meal (akpu), palm oil, vegetable oil, and beef, among others.

This is alarming primarily because these food items are staples in most homes across the country. The absence of these items would contribute seriously to hunger and malnutrition in the country.

At 87 million people, the World Bank said Nigeria’s poverty rate hit 38.9 in 2023. This is the second highest in the world behind India’s. A 2022 survey by the NBS said 133 million Nigerians are living in multidimensional poverty.

Undoubtedly, the country remains food insecure. While UNICEF stated that 25 million Nigerians are at high risk of hunger, it is projected that 31.5 million citizens may face acute hunger between May and August 2024. The global agency attributes the situation to insecurity, climate change, inflation, and rising food prices.

The 2023 Global Hunger Index said that Nigeria’s hunger level is “serious.” Nigeria ranks 109 out of 125 countries with a score of 28.3 per cent in the hunger index. This is a dismal outlook that should be improved upon by the government at the grassroots, state, and federal levels.

High energy prices constitute another shambles. When the raw food finally arrives, citizens face another harsh reality to cook it. The prices of cooking gas have climbed rapidly in the past few months. The retail price was N11,510 for 12.5kg of gas in December. On a year-on-year basis, the retail prices rose by 12.31 per cent from N10.248 in December 2022, the NBS said. More was painful. The price hit N16,000 in February before coming down to N14,500 in April.

In recognition of the hardship brought on by hyperinflation, the Federal Government, this month, released 42,000 metric tonnes of corn, sorghum, and millet to ameliorate the suffering of vulnerable households. In Lagos, the state government opened 42 hubs to buy foods at subsidized rates of not more than N25,000 per individual on Sundays. These interventions help but only scratch the surface.

First, without adequate security, Nigeria cannot have food sustainability. The country is grappling with banditry, wanton killings, kidnapping, criminality, Islamic terrorism, and violent Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers.

Consequently, farmers have abandoned their farmland for fear of bandits and herdsmen, thereby contributing to food shortages across the country. In March, the Cocoa and Plantain Farmers Association of Nigeria said that despite the presence of security operatives, many farmers have abandoned their farmland due to incessant killing, kidnapping, and destruction of farms.

The situation is rampant in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Katsina, and Borno, where violence plagues the states often regarded as Nigeria’s food belt.

In Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, and other states, bandits and terrorists hold sway, collecting levies or tributes from farmers before they can plant or harvest their crops.

SBM Intelligence said 2,134 persons were killed in the first quarter of 2024 under President Bola Tinubu. In December, about 150 villagers were massacred by bandits in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi local government areas in Plateau State during the Christmas festivities.

Resembling an annual ritual, Boko Haram Islamists headed 15 rice farmers harvesting the crop in Borno State last November. In November 2020, the Islamists had similarly headed 76 rice farmers in Zabarmari in the same state.

Unfortunately, the situation is compounded by poor rural roads across the country. Out of its 200,000km road network, 87 per cent is in a deplorable condition, says the World Bank. In contrast, India built 300,000km of roads between 2000 and 2010, thereby reducing farm losses from 80 to 20 per cent and encouraging citizens to return home to farm.

In this, Nigeria lags. The roads are a death trap, leading to farm losses and a bulwark to the movement of food and raw materials in the country. The state governments should stop making excuses for this; they should prioritize the development of rural roads to ease the agricultural business.

They must tackle the menace of ‘nuisance taxes’ on the roads. These taxes, collected by amorphous non-state actors, hinder the evacuation of produce and add to the final prices of food items.

The Federal Government, which had stated earlier that it would collaborate with states to reduce the number of taxes from over 80 taxes to nine, should unveil its plans on this quickly.

To ensure food security, Tinubu and his National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, the police, and other security agencies, must be in the driver’s seat of Nigeria’s security architecture.

Urgently, intelligence garnishing, coordination, and technology must be deployed to combat the ugly descent into anarchy.

This calls for the urgent establishment of state police across the country. It will go a long way to place proactive measures to combat crime while quickly responding to vicious attacks on farmers and citizens. State governments and the federal and state parliaments should invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to realize state police.

With its high population – estimated at 223 million – Nigeria needs a robust agriculture system to feed the population. Therefore, it must develop infrastructure to hold excess rainwater for dry-season agriculture.

The country needs more silos for preserving and storing food. While agriculture contributes 26.3 per cent to Nigeria’s nominal GDP (Q1 2023), it has the potential to contribute 50 per cent to GDP.

The government at the three tiers should support farmers with accountable and transparent incentives while encouraging farming by enabling farmers to secure mechanized farming tools in farm clusters. Low-interest loans should be made available to participants in these clusters.

Private and cooperative ranching will help to reduce the legitimate fear between farmer-and-herder communities. The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, should drive a seamless agriculture architecture.

Nigeria should explore efficient and successful agricultural models within and outside the continent to reduce its high food inflation.