Nigeria’s food inflation has jumped consistently in the past five years despite intervention in the agriculture sector, especially through the N1.08 trillion Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), with composite food prices jumping by about 170 per cent in the past five years.
According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the monthly food index hit 790 points at the close of last year. It stood at 296.4 points as of December 2018. That means the general food prices have almost tripled in the period despite intervention in food production by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
An analysis of food inflation in the country over the last five years shows that in 2019, the food inflation was 14.67 per cent. It rose to 19.56 per cent in December 2020 but dropped to 17.37 percent in December 2021. In 2022 it jumped to 23.75 per cent and that trend continued in 2023 when it hit an all-time high of 33.93 percent in December.
Under the ABP, Nigeria’s rice production increased from 3.9 million metric tons in 2015 to 5.2 million metric tons in 2023. Yet, the country continues to suffer an annual supply gap of about two million metric tonnes, leading to consistently escalating cost of the product, with the price increasing by about 300 per cent in the past five years.
Nigeria has witnessed the worst form of high cost of food in recent times, while the situation has worsened under the current administration. President Bola Tinubu, on assumption of office, announced the removal of fuel subsidy, a decision that saw the prices of commodities jumping to the rooftop and putting a lot of households under pressure as they struggled to feed.
The government promised to provide some palliative measures to cushion the effects of the new policies. But the palliatives have yet to reach the people. The ministry charged with the responsibility of distributing the palliatives, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Poverty Alleviation and Disaster Management, is currently enmeshed in corruption allegations.
A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says it costs about N703 to provide a healthy meal in the country. The Cost of a healthy diet (CoHD) is the least expensive combination of locally available items that meets globally consistent food-based dietary guidelines, used as a measure of physical and economic access to healthy diets.
It is, however, instructive to note that the estimate is the floor of the cost per adult per day, excluding the cost of transportation and meal preparation.
With the escalating inflation rate of 28.9 per cent and the dwindling disposable income, many Nigerian families are facing starvation.
The October 2023 Cadre Harmonisé analysis on food insecurity estimates that in 2024, about 26.5 million Nigerians will be grappling with high levels of food insecurity.
The Cadre Harmonisé, an initiative focused on food and nutrition analysis, conducts studies biannually (in March and October) across 26 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in partnership with the Federal Government and the Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
The latest projection for 2024 indicates a sharp rise from the 18.6 million people currently vulnerable to food insecurity from October to December 2023. The report says approximately nine million children are at risk of suffering from acute malnutrition or wasting.
According to the report, an alarming 2.6 million children could face severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and require critical nutrition treatment.
The federal government has, in recent times, struggled to ameliorate the problem like a recent directive on the release of 102,000 metric tons of assorted grains from the strategic food reserves to force down prices of food items in the market.
Stakeholders have described the order as a cosmetic approach to the problem insisting that the government is not addressing the fundamental issues of the food crisis, which they say is caused mainly by the insecurity ravaging the nation.
Under President Muhammadu Buhari insecurity assumed a new dimension, with bandits sacking whole villages and forcing them into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Farmers are killed or kidnapped in their farms and others are forced to pay money to bandits to have access to their farms. Many farmers have fled their farms.
Food access has been affected by persistent violence in the north-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe and armed banditry and kidnapping in states such as Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Benue and Niger.
This has continued even under the present administration and the security agencies have not been able to find a solution to it.
All these have culminated in the food scarcity that has befallen the nation.
National President, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc Kabir Ibrahim said any effort to address the food crisis without addressing the security issues will be a fruitless exercise.
Kabir who spoke in an interview said many of his members have been killed in their farms and many others are currently taking refuge at different IDP camps.
While appreciating the effort of the present administration to ensure food security for the nation, he said, “The fundamental thing is to get our people back to the farms and that can only be done when there is security, when they are sure they can go to their farms and come back alive. So, security is the first place to start.”
A lawyer and fiscal governance expert, Mr Eze Onyekpere said the issue of food inflation in the country apart from the insecurity that has made it almost impossible for farmers to go to their farms, is also the exchange rate crisis.
“Are you not aware that most of the farm inputs such as fertilizers, chemicals and machinery are all imported,” he asked rhetorically.
“Since the exchange rate is high, it affects the cost of bringing in these items and that will translate to a high cost of production. And of course, food prices will be high in the market.”
He said if the government seriously desires to bring down food prices, it must deal with the issue of insecurity as well as the issue of exchange rate.