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Hard Times Await Nigerian Families Over Rising Food Prices

Rising Food Prices caricature
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November 28, (THEWILL) – Like the ocean’s rising waves, the astronomical rise in the prices of goods and services in recent times has become a worrying situation, particularly for low and middle-income families in Nigeria. However, unlike the waves, the hike in food prices has refused to come down. It is all-encompassing, affecting every one of people’s average needs, ranging from foodstuff and groceries to transportation, tuition, accommodation and clothing.

More worrisome and, perhaps, alarming is the fact that the cost of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or cooking gas has also gone up. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), as of four months ago, a 12.5kg cylinder refill cost no more than N4, 422.32 across the 36 states and the FCT. However, as of November 3, 2021, the same cylinder size costs between N9,000 and N10,000.

This situation, according to the National Chairman of the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers Branch of NUPENG, Mr. Chika Umudu, is due to the country’s high dependence on the importation of LPG.

Umudu says that as the naira loses ground to the US dollar, the price of LPG increases. With this development, many families have resorted to cooking with charcoal, kerosene stoves and firewood as was the practice many years ago.

Additional hikes in the prices of many food items, such as bread and cereals, potatoes, rice, beans, garri, yam and other tubers, as well as milk, eggs, meat, fish, vegetables, oils, even soft drinks, appear to have triggered anxiety and uncertainty among families whose incomes are just a little above the poverty line.

Beans and garri, more or less staple foods consumed by many low income earners, are almost out of the reach of the poor. How do we explain that a bag of beans, which sold for N25,000 in 2020, now goes for N100,000 or that a bag of garri, which cost N20,000, now goes for N45,000?

In March 2020, a tonne of cassava cost N18,000. Currently, it hovers between N65,000 and N70,000.

The composite food index (a measure of food inflation) rose to 21.83 per cent in June compared to 22.28 per cent in May 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The major causes of this alarming situation range from the misdirection of government funds to the agricultural sector, poor implementation of interventions by the Federal Government and multiple taxation on inter-state food transportation by the federal, state, and local governments. Also topping the list of factors responsible for the hikes in the prices of food items and cooking gas is the worsening insecurity in the country, especially in the North. According to reports, about 85 percent of foodstuffs consumed in cities like Lagos and other states in the South-West come from the North.

Traders at the Oyingbo, Mile 12 and Ketu markets in Lagos, for example, get their food supplies from the North. Each day many vehicles laden with food items often find their way to those markets and they are seen offloading a variety of farm produce, such as tomatoes, pepper, onions, yams and potatoes. Even livestock is not left out.

With the insecurity across the counry, many farmers have been forced to abandon their farms and homes and flee for safety elsewhere. Some of them have ended up in Internally Displaced Persons camps, some were killed, kidnapped or raped. Others have found themselves and their families facing a lifetime of bondage in the hands of bandits who have forced them to pay taxes and other levies in return for access to their farms. All of these culminate in increased production costs, which in turn influence the final costs of goods and services.

This is in addition to inflation and a high unemployment rate, with one-third of the labour force unemployed at the end of 2020, according to the NBS. The World Poverty Clock reports that at the latest count, 43 per cent of the Nigerian population, about 90 million people,  live below the poverty line. That is, they live on less than $1.90 per day.

Before the pandemic, Nigerians were already spending 60 percent of their incomes on food, says Tunde Leye, an economist at SBM Intelligence Risk Consultancy. But inflation has pushed that average higher.

With 70 to 80 percent of an average family’s income expended on food and no increment in the minimum wage, there is little or nothing to take care of other bills, such as rent, electricity tariff, and tax.

“We used to buy a bag of powdered milk for 3,500. Now it costs N11, 000. If you want to buy noodles, you will have to spend more. A carton of noodles cost N850 a few months ago. Now, we buy it at N2,500. The loaf of bread that was posted at 300, now sells for a double price because of the high cost of the flour, milk and sugar,” a resident of Lagos, Mrs. Olaiya, told THEWILL.

A commercial bus driver, whose name is Nnamdi, also complained that he was forced to stop his children’s education in a private school and enroll them a government-owned school because he could no longer afford their school fees. Apart from the fees, which were recently increased, there were other bills to take care of. There is the rent on his two-bedroom flat and the monthly payments on the hire-purchase vehicle he is currently driving, as well other needs to consider.

According to Adeshola, another resident of Lagos, the word “tough” qualifies as an understatement when it comes to describing the prevailing economic situation in the country, with a wife, three children, mother and four siblings to feed and care for.

Also, a single mother of two, Sakirat Olawunmi, told THEWILL that she had to take on multiple jobs to make ends meet. She said she provides home lessons for kids, home cleaning and washing services for families, in addition to selling second-hand clothes, locally known as ‘okrika’.

Worst still, the high cost of living has naturally caused the standard of living to depreciate. This has in turn negatively impacted the people’s eating habits and choices. Many Nigerians can barely afford good food. Nowadays they go for cheap options and less than ideal ones. The aim is quantity over quality, where they can, and a disregard for a balanced diet as this is now a luxury. This has given rise to nutrition-deficit diseases, such as kwashiorkor and marasmus among Nigerian children.

According to the 2006 census, the nascent population index of Nigeria puts the country at a breathtaking figure of 200 million people. Due to such a population burst, a series of issues like hunger, poverty, unemployment and genocide have been on the increase as many strive for limited available resources.

Consequently, many youngsters have resorted to Internet fraud, prostitution and other vices in order to survive the harsh economic climate.

In September 2021, the House of Representatives set up a special committee to investigate the high cost of food items and commodities in the country.

According to the House, the committee’s mandate is to launch an investigative hearing with all critical stakeholders in the country and conduct a root cause analysis of the rising cost of living. In addition, it is expected to formulate the policies needed in addressing the issue.

Also, there would be engagement with captains of industries, trade union associations, boards of directors, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and other promoters in the economic sector, on ways for a drastic reduction in prices of goods and services in the country and other strategies that can mitigate the effect of the current inflation in the country.