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The Household Battle Nigerians Are Yet To Surmount (Part 2)

The first essential component of social and economic justice is adequate food production. Even if a nation cannot send cosmonauts to the moon, it should be able to feed her population, only then can it occupy a place of pride in the community of nations. Nigeria is a country richly blessed with abundant natural and human resources that if properly harnessed can feed its people and export the surpluses to other countries, yet it is experiencing a persistent food crisis both in terms of quantity and quality. Cases of malnutrition and undernutrition are growing by the day. The food intake requirements of the majority of Nigerians have fallen far below the international standard.” – Otaha, Imo Jacob, PhD

Covid-19 Or Government Laxity?

In March this year, Nigeria implemented lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun after Nigeria confirmed its first case, in a bid to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Soon, the lockdown extended to all states in the country which triggered panic among many.

Facts by the UN stated that: “Even before COVID-19, baseline projections suggested that 6 percent of the global population would still be living in extreme poverty in 2030, missing the target of ending poverty. The fallout from the pandemic threatens to push over 70 million people into extreme poverty.”

The Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) 2020  presented that: Rising unemployment and under-employment is likely to severely reduce people’s purchasing power. Urban populations, particularly daily wage earners in the informal economies and service sector employees, are particularly at risk of losing their income sources as a result of regulations on social distancing and government restrictions to minimize transmission.

Those who are reliant on remittances to meet their basic needs and those who cross borders on a regular basis to engage in livelihood activities will lose their income sources. As households face reduced purchasing power, there is great potential for a decline in consumer demand – particularly for higher-value products – further weakening the income of producers, including those who produce high-value food products.

Sediq, who sells yam, commutes to different locations in the popular Aduwawa market in Benin City, Edo state capital with his wheelbarrow eulogizing customers to patronize him, a strategy he believes makes him sell faster.  The young trader in his late 20s spends about 9 every day under the scrunching sun.

“When the lockdown started, I almost had high blood pressure because this market is my only source of income and I usually get food with the profits I make after-sales. How to raise money for food was my major concern, not even the virus. I was forced to buy food on credit sometimes because I had no other option. The only way was for me to move from house to house asking if they need yam to buy. Of course, I was not selling up to how it used to be in the market and sometimes I don’t even make sales at all.”

“Since then, the prices of food in the market have been increasing every day. Sometimes customers used to blame us, saying we are wicked, that why should we increase the price of goods in this critical period that people are just recovering from the lockdown because people have not been going to work like before. They don’t know that we are not the cause of the high price. Government has a lot to do to improve the situation,” he added.

Looters allegedly invaded Covid-19 palliative warehouses in different states across the country looting Covid-19 relief materials. Following Analysis of interviews with residents and pictures of the incidents show the looters are mostly not the usually dreaded rogues with thuggish appearances and mannerisms.

They are ordinary community folks who live in the cities and towns they have looted. Many of them married women and men, with kids; unemployed and under-employed youth and petty traders are criminally exploiting the near-total absence of regular security services to steal and commit carnage according to a report available on PREMIUM TIMES.

An Economist, John Osagie said: “One of the biggest challenges now is food. The cost of living now in the country is high and increasing every day. You cannot take the amount you used to shop before now to the market and be able to get food items as much as you used to. Everything is rising every day and it’s really telling on the households. The lockdown imposed by the government in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic was a move that contributed to the hike in the price of food because Nigerians were not prepared for such and no adequate provision was made for households. Even when they spoke about palliatives, many households didn’t benefit from it whereas they were hoarding it somewhere.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s 36 governors denied hoarding the food items donated as relief materials for citizens during COVID-19 lockdown in a statement, titled Governors and the CA-COVID Palliatives signed by the head of the media and public affairs unit at the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, Abdul Razaq Bello-Barkindo.

Nigerians in More Trouble

An analysis of food crisis in 2019 by FOA, more than 12.3 million people in 15 countries analyzed were estimated to be in Crisis or worse in West Africa and the Sahel, and Cameroon during the 2019 peak. The highest numbers were in northern Nigeria with about 5 million people. Conflict/insecurity was the primary driver of acute food insecurity for 10.3 million people in six countries across the region of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria. Continuous insecurity in conflict-affected areas, associated with renewed attacks, looting, banditry and border closure measures, affected market functioning and hindered access to fields and to pastoral transhumance routes, incurring severe consequences for food security.

A nationwide protest against police brutality began on October 8, following a video which went viral in October showing police officers from the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) allegedly shooting and killing a young man in Delta State. Although Nigerian authorities denied the reports, soon protests erupted across the country calling for the disbandment of the unit, agitating with the hashtag #EndSARS.

Killings, violent attacks and vandalism on private properties, individuals and media houses erupted while suspected hoodlums hijacked the #EndSARS protests in different states leaving lots of casualties, and several business premises and vehicles destroyed. This led to different state governments imposing emergency curfew in the states. This translates to further disruption in the business activities of many Nigerians who depend on daily sales to put food on the table.

“I heard they were burning tyres on the road and breaking people’s shops, carrying tables to make fire, I quickly ran down to my shop because it’s close to the road, I  got there and all my tables were gone. I’m a fruit seller; those tables are what I use to sell; now they are gone, I will have to start from square one. This business is what I do to feed my family, for days I couldn’t sell or go to the market because of the violent attacks, some of my fruits especially the bananas and pineapples got spoiled resulting in more losses. Getting money to feed is my major concern, I will have to start hawking on the street for the time being, pending when I get money to purchase new tables,” Mrs Osagie, a resident in Benin City.

A Food Vendor, and resident of Ondo state, V.E Onyenachor, believes that citizens will face a situation of the high cost of living and scarcity of goods and services resulting from attacks on facilities and looting of properties. Little access that can be gotten will end up being expensive such that the citizens will bear the brunt.

“The way it stands, the tax rate may rise due to loss of goods, commodities, properties, facilities belonging to governments. The loss of properties, goods and facilities by private individuals and government will birth scarcity of goods and even services, and high cost of living. The few access that can be gotten will end up being expensive. Transportation costs will rise making it difficult to move from one place to the other which will have effects on the market structure as well as the cost of commodities being transported from rural communities. The citizens will have to bear the brunt as a result of the attacks, vandalism and looting because they are at the receiving end.”

Nigeria At Risk Of Food Crisis Or Price Hikes?

Agriculture exports were said to have hit N204.45 billion, for the first 6 months of 2020, which is a sign of an increase in the sector to enable export growth. However, does this increase replicate itself in the food inflation index? Food inflation has grown significantly for the past 2 years, from a rate of 13.31% in September 2018 to 16% in August 2020. Nigeria’s increased agriculture exports are not enough, as the benefits of restrictions on imports are not being felt by the citizens paying higher prices for food each month.

According to the September Consumer Price Index (CPI), the composite food index rose by 16.66 per cent in September 2020 compared to 16.00 per cent in August 2020. This rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, fish, fruits and oils and fats.

On a month-on-month basis, the food sub-index increased by 1.88 per cent in September 2020, up by 0.21 per cent points from 1.67 per cent recorded in August 2020. The average annual rate of change of the Food sub-index for the twelve-month period ending September 2020 over the previous twelve-month average was 15.13 per cent, 0.26 per cent points from the average annual rate of change recorded in August 2020 (14.87 per cent).

“For a food crisis to occur there would have to be some forms of natural crisis like rain, drought, causing slow growth or famine or war or situations trending towards this line. But we aren’t experiencing any right now. Except for the post-Corona and which I believe Nigeria is safe and well-controlled from (Covid-19). Price hikes which result from basically the unrest in the economy, and value of the naira against the dollar measuring some factors e.g. oil and gas hike in the International trade market. As of right now, the statistics from the government is that our food inflation rate is at 13-15% but trust me I do not know what indices was used to measure that, but from real-time data of things I can say we are way beyond 15% increase and if it continues,  I fear because people are so hungry. Our food Importation restriction was never going to work and it never has and would never work. Simply, we have bad governance, greed, planning and running it. Poverty and ethnic values were not considered at all which made it all flawed even before it began. Now is it helpful? It hasn’t helped us yet. Let’s hope it does. Food security hasn’t existed in Nigeria in about 10years now,” says Financial Analyst and City Group Business Development Manager, Vaughan Emmanuel.

Consequences Hit Hard On Households

Food insecurity seems to be on the rise in Nigeria, particularly in recent times. Nigeria’s population of about 200 million people translates to high demand for food which surpasses the level of food production from local farmers in the country. While people in most other countries of the world spend almost the same amount of money on food, the case of Nigeria is different as average homes salaries in the last few months largely go on food with other major expenses standing as transportation costs, utilities and rents.

The CPI and Inflation report by NBS published in September this year cited by Ruth Olurounbi states that 51.3% of Nigerian households, who took out loans during the lockdown in mid-March, used them to purchase food items. About 1 in 4 of those households were already dealing with growing debt prior to the pandemic, while nearly a third took out new loans since the onset of the pandemic.

According to a Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) 2020, the pandemic may well devastate livelihoods and food security, especially in fragile contexts and particularly for the most vulnerable people working in the informal agricultural and nonagricultural sectors. A global recession will majorly disrupt food supply chains.

In September 2020, food inflation on a year on year basis was highest in Zamfara (20.94%), Kogi (19.06%) and Plateau/Yobe (18.90%), while Nasarawa (13.94%), Lagos (13.87%) and Ondo (13.59%) recorded the slowest rise.

Meanwhile, the composite food index rose by 16.00 per cent in August 2020 compared to 15.48 per cent in July 2020. On a month-on-month basis, the food sub-index increased by 1.67 per cent in August 2020, moving up by 0.15 per cent points from 1.52 per cent recorded in July 2020.

The average annual rate of change of the Food sub-index for the twelve-month period ending August 2020 over the previous twelve-month average was 14.87 per cent, representing a 0.24 per cent points increase from the average annual rate of change recorded in July 2020 (14.63 per cent).

This rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, fish, fruits, oils and fats and vegetables. Consumer Price Index Rise From September 2019 To September 2020.
Source: National Bureau Of Statistics.

The Bottom Line

Frequent policy changes and poor performance of agencies assigned to implement food and agriculture policies have a serious setback on food production and distribution. Each time a new government comes to power, the previous agricultural policies and programmes are abandoned and new ones are put in place, and not that the new ones are better than the old ones. It is in a bid to create opportunities for graft.

This creates no room for stability and progress in food production. Similarly, the dismal performance of some of the past programs like Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, Lower River Basin Development Authorities as well as agencies like National Agricultural and Land Development Authority (NALDA) and the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) have contributed to low agricultural and food productivity in Nigeria according to a paper by Otaha, Imo Jacob, PhD.

There is a likelihood of displacement and increase in migration in Nigeria if the situation continues this way without swift response. Food insecurity can trigger displacement, often exacerbated by and entwined with conflict to form a vicious cycle. Limited or deteriorating access to productive assets such as land, water, livestock, agricultural inputs, as well as low agricultural productivity and/or price spikes reduce household food security and can be among the many push factors leading to migration and displacement. In conjunction with poverty, food insecurity may increase the likelihood and intensity of armed conflict according to FOA.

The Way Forward

With more than a quarter of a billion people potentially at the brink of starvation, swift action needs to be taken to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions. At the same time, a profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish the more than 690 million people who are hungry today – and the additional 2 billion people the world will have by 2050. Increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable food production is crucial to help alleviate the perils of hunger according to the United Nations.

The food and agriculture sector offers key solutions for development and is central for hunger and poverty eradication. At least 22 million Nigerians are expected to face extreme hunger, according to the UN’s food and agriculture agency. Food shortages and rising prices of food items could very well push Nigeria into a food crisis as well as the high cost of living. Nigeria is facing a problem of food insecurity which needs to be addressed by the government.

“There are a lot of possibilities, but Nigeria needs to focus on value addition to agric products, as well as strict adherence to the standards of the export markets. The EU, for example, is rather strict with their standards, so in order to cultivate that market, the standards have to be followed. Also, our exporting system is so cumbersome due to our bad ports. That must also change. Many exporters have had goods go bad because of that,” according to Joachim MacEbong.

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