By Lydia Ngwakwe
Many Nigerians did not pay much attention to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2022) released in May, which stated that Nigeria was one of 10 countries with the highest number of people in the food crisis.
The report, which covered 21 states and the Federal Capital Territory, was emphatic that 12.94 million Nigerians were in acute food insecurity between October and December 2021.
That figure had undoubtedly risen as of the last quarter of 2022, fueled by the effects of the Russian/Ukraine war and floods that swept across the country.
Similarly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) sounded a warning early this year that rising food prices heightened food insecurity in emerging markets and developing economies, including Nigeria.
The global body attributed the worrisome development to food import dependence on Ukraine and Russia, which had triggered food insecurity across the world.
Nigeria’s imports from Ukraine such as milk, wheat, and maize have declined, with wheat, mackerel, herrings, blue whitings, other fish products and vaccines imported from Russian suffering the same fate.
The disruption caused by the Russia/Ukraine war has exposed Nigeria’s reliance on these warring countries, as the war soon impacted on prices of staple foods and the cost of living.
Indeed, Nigeria has had a significant uptick in the cost of living as a result of high inflationary pressure in the last two years.
On a year-to-date basis, Nigeria’s inflation rate has increased by over 400 basis points from 15.63 per cent recorded in December 2021 to 19.64 per cent in July.
The inflation rate accelerated to a new 17-year high of 21.09 per cent in October, marking a 0.32 per cent points increase from 20.77 per cent recorded in September, says the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The bureau stated that its Consumer Price Index (CPI) surged to 23.72 per cent in October from 23.34 per cent in September, while the core inflation rate rose to 17.76 per cent from 17.6 per cent.
A survey carried out by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos markets on Tuesday showed that prices of essential food items had risen by almost 50 per cent since January.
For instance, a 40-kilogramme basket of tomato, which was sold at N13,000 in January has risen to N26,000, while the price of a 50kg bag of Scotch Bonnet pepper jumped by 50 per cent to N21,000 against N14,000 in January.
Similarly, a 50kg basket of bell pepper (Tatashe) rose to N32,000 from N15,000; a 100kg basket of onions now sells at N60,000 from N33,000 in January, while 25 litres of Kings oil has risen from N22,000 to between N41,000 and 45,000 respectively.
A 50kg bag of local and foreign rice, sold at N30, 000 and N33,000 in January, is now sold at between N40,000 to N46,000 respectively.
A loaf of 500g, which cost N450 in January, has risen to between N900 and N1,000 in December, just as a custard bucket of Garri which cost N350 in January, is now sold at N1,000.
While prices of foodstuff are soaring, the purchasing power of many Nigerians has been eroded, thereby making it difficult for them to maintain their normal standard of living.
For instance, Mr Mark Okono, a retired staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), who sells grains at the Ikotun market, expressed dissatisfaction with the instability in food prices.
He said, “we have never had it this bad in the history of this country, that food prices would rise this high. In time past, I could use N100,000 to stock my shop with bags of rice, (when it was sold for N8,000 per bag), beans, melon, maize, millet and wheat.
“But now, with N100, 000, I can only buy less than three bags. It is crazy. And it does not just end here, there is also an offensive transportation fare to contend with.
“It is discouraging and in the end, you gain little and from the little, I use part to feed my family. I must also say that we do not eat well because the little money cannot really buy much,” he said.
For Mrs Philomena Opara, a resident of Agodo-Egbe, Alimosho, Lagos State, the situation is so worrisome that she had to reduce the number of times her children eat, due to the high cost of food items.
“Before now, my children used to eat three times a day, but I have long reduced the number of times they eat since our feeding money can no longer buy enough from the market.
“I wish the government could have the will to increase workers’ salaries to at least allow families to feed well,” Opara said.
To ameliorate the plight of Nigerians, economic experts have proffered different strategies to deal with the scourge of inflation.
Prof. Hassan Oaikhenan of the Department of Economics, University of Benin, Benin City, urged households to resort to self-help by cultivating essential agricultural products within their premises.
“Given the increasingly tough times, there is a need for households to manage, in a very shrewd way, the limited incomes available to them.
“Spending on necessities and tailoring purchases to essential needs of the home, prioritising with food coming top on their lists.
“There is a need to resort to cheaper but good quality substitute products, where they are available, in addition to cultivating agricultural essentials such as pepper, tomatoes, okra, which can easily be produced within premises,” he said.
He added that there was a need for creative thinking in the deployment of the limited incomes available to households.
Prof. Lai Olurode, a former Dean, of the Faculty of Social Science, at the University of Lagos, also urged family heads to complement food purchases with farming in their backyards in view of the rising trend of inflation.
He advised heads of households to complement food purchases with farming in their backyards and survey villages around the city for markets to buy food items at cheaper rates.
He also said families should consider buying food items during harvest season and preserve them, send money to trusted family members in the village to buy food items and send to them through commercial vehicles.
He urged Nigerians to adjust their eating regime to twice daily and eat less.
Uche Uwaleke, professor of Finance and Capital Market, at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, also advised families to minimise out-of-pocket expenses.
“This is also the time to minimise out-of-pocket expenses. As much as possible, families should prioritise spending and avoid waste,” he said.
Similarly, Prof. Ndubisi Nwokoma, Director of the Centre for Economic Policy Analysis and Research, University of Lagos, advised households to embark on cost-cutting measures in view of the rising inflation.
“Generally, average nominal wages in the economy are not rising, particularly in the public sector and real wages are consequently falling.
“In this regard, prioritisation of household expenditures is very critical for survival. The way out is for the entrenchment of a more conducive macroeconomic environment which will lead to an increase in real wages,” he said.
No doubt, Nigerians had torrid times in 2022, and can only hope that the conditions that spiked food prices would be ameliorated in 2023.