Spiking Inflation, Food Insecurity: Which Way Out For Nigeria?

A Nigerian market with depleting foods stuff

  • Food Inflation Will Get Worse If Kidnapping, Banditry and Farmer-Herder Clashes Thrive—Security Expert

 In the light of farmers-herders clashes, insecurity, terrorism and food blockades, food security is a major issue globally and Nigeria is no exception. With the increasing insurgency activities and banditry in all parts of the country, which has hampered farming, experts say Nigeria’s food insecurity may continue to be on the increase. The question now is how do we halt this? ROLAND OGBONNAYA writes

Not many Nigerians were surprised when the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) came out with the report last week that the country’s inflation hit a four-year peak in February as food prices jumped more than 20 per cent, heaping financial pressure on households already faced with a dwindling labour market and a stagnant economy at a time of mounting insecurity.

Inflation, in double digits since 2016, reached 17.33 percent, driven by the impact of a coronavirus epidemic that has also induced a drop in the price of oil, Nigeria’s main export, and weakened the naira currency plus insecurity as a result of the activities of Boko Haram insurgency and escalating attacks of bandits and farmers/herders clashes.

The last week’s inflation reading was the highest since the 17.78 percent touched in February 2017. The economy was in a slump then and is tottering on the brink of recession now, having expanded just 0.11 percent in the fourth quarter of the year.

According to reports, food prices, which make up the bulk of the inflation basket, rose 21.79 percent in February, a jump of 1.22-percentage point in January, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.

As a result, food insecurity is also spiralling in a country beleaguered by insecurity following a wave of kidnappings of schoolchildren by all shades of reckless bandits in the country’s lawless north. There are now fears that the “stagflation” combination of rising unemployment and prices and low growth could trigger significant social unrest.

“Straining households will be compounded by increasing reports of insecurity in some regions, fuelling the risk of broader social discontent,” Jacques Nel, head of macroeconomic research at NKC African Economics in South Africa was quoted to have said last week. This is because things like staples including bread; cereals, potatoes, fruits and oil drove the increase in the food price index, according to the NBS in its report.

Inflation pressures would probably remain high in the coming months, Nel predicted, adding that just 30.6 million Nigerians in a population of around 210 million were considered fully employed.

Bismarck Rewane, managing director at Lagos-based Financial Derivatives, re-echoed Nel’s position, explaining that the “stagflation crisis” would take a long time to resolve, with inflation eating up economic gains to the point where any government stimulus might be too weak to generate jobs.

According to NBS, in January 2021, all items inflation on year on year basis was highest in Kogi (21.38%), Oyo (20.17%) and Bauchi (19.52%), while Kwara (13.96%), Abuja (12.96%), and Cross River (12.22%) recorded the slowest rise in headline Year on Year inflation. Same January, all items inflation was highest in Oyo (4.28%), Ebonyi (3.95%), and Lagos (3.33%), while Abuja, Edo, and Cross River recorded price deflation or negative inflation (general decrease in the general price level of food or a negative food inflation rate).

At the same period under review, it said food inflation on a year on year basis was highest in Kogi (26.64%), Oyo (23.69%) and River (23.49%), while Ondo (17.20%), Abuja  (16.73%) and Bauchi (16.37%) recorded the slowest rise. On month on month basis, however, NBS further stated that January 2021 food inflation was highest in Oyo (4.47%), Lagos (3.86%) and River (3.11%), while Akwa Ibom (0.25%) and Bayelsa (0.13%) recorded the slowest rise with Edo recording price deflation or negative inflation (general decrease in the general price level of food or a negative food inflation rate).

The importance of access to food and food security has often been emphasised by the second Sustainability Development Goal (SDG), which aims to end hunger and achieve food security by 2030. According to the broadly accepted Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations definition, food security is said to exist when all people at all times have access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.

The FAO also identifies population growth as a critical determinant of food security. It is therefore not surprising that with the observed large increases in the country’s population, the insurgency that bars farmers from accessing their farms, banditry, kidnapping, and farmers/herders clashes that have caused a shortage of farm yields and food blockades, Nigeria faces a crisis in terms of access to food and general food availability,” according to Nkechi Owoo.

In her study, ‘Demographic considerations and food security in Nigeria’, Mrs. Owoo said close to 14 million people in Nigeria, including children, are malnourished, while hypothesising that demographic considerations play an important role in food insecurity within Nigerian households. “According to statistics from the UN Population Division, by 2050, population growth will result in a doubling of the global demand for food. In sub-Saharan Africa, even if fertility rates were to decline from their current levels, the population of the region is projected to double, with attendant implications for food security,” she stressed.

Dr. Ndu N. Nwokolo, Partner and Chief Executive, Nextier SPD, told Saturday INDEPENDENT during the week that Nigeria’s current battles with food insecurity arising from a multiplicity of issues are mainly remote and immediate. He said spiking food inflation and insecurity in the country can be linked to the current security situation in many food basket states of the country like Zamfara, Benue, Niger and as well as the lack of storage facilities and a good agricultural value chain system that sees many of the produce wasted after harvest.

“So, the connection between the two is obvious, so to wage the food insecurity and inflation, we need to work towards food sufficiency by improving security around farming communities and providing storage facilities to stop waste. Improved roads and transportation into these communities will help to get food into most urban areas where the food crisis is on the rise.

“One of the major issues is to provide security; this is the constitutional responsibility of the Nigerian state.  This is one of the enabling environments needed for the private sector to come in or partner with the government. Nigeria produces enough stable agricultural produce but loses much of them to post-harvest waste. With good planning that allows for private sector investment down the value chain, we can tackle the food insecurity situation in the country,” the security expert explained.

Ebube George, who has done extensive innovative works in mining and farming, said the present administration’s management of the ethnic tension between diverse nationalities making up Africa’s largest economy is key to charting a sustainable course for her food security. “In the last few weeks’ prices of foodstuffs skyrocketed in the markets in the southern part of Nigeria due to food blockades staged at Jebba due to the alleged killings of northerners in the recent Ibadan market crisis.

“The private sector and government must use the enablement of the law to mediate and punish elements that see this crisis as an opportunity to create artificial scarcity and in long run spread the malaise of hunger across Nigeria’s surging population. The laws governing the most efficient use of farmland and water must be promoted. More investment in farming, research, and development within the agricultural sector has to be given priority so as to produce optimal seedlings to boost yield.

“New methods of farming such as aeroponics and soilless/greenhouse farming must be encouraged. The developed world ranches their cattle and the laws outlawing open grazing must be upheld with stiff penalties for offenders. The building of food storage infrastructure, seed banks are all part of the dimension of mitigants to be put in place by a government interested in uplifting its people and eradicating hunger permanently.

“Access to unbiased farmer loans with low interests is key, access to fertilisers and mechanised equipment. Power and water management are key and farmers need regular training and retaining so as to be up to speed on the challenges of climate change and pest invasions given the environment is changing around us daily due to ungraded carbon depositions from industrial activities,” George told Saturday INDEPENDENT during the week.

He said inflation is another factor also propelling food insecurity to alarming heights and must be checked. He stated that SMEs and MSMEs must be encouraged to innovate around the food industry scientifically so as to create new nourishing food brands that are affordable for ordinary citizens. He explained that food subsidies by the government have their role to play to keep food prices low. Consumer protection, policies, and policing of the nation’s borders and food value chains remain a top priority of government agencies so as to ensure a healthy and prosperous nation.

Dr. Nwokolo however expressed his fears that government currently lacks the political will, down in public trust, and has failed to deal with the escalating insecurity in the country. “As long as the farming communities in the country continue to experience this huge insecurity such as kidnapping, banditry, and farmer-herder clashes, food insecurity will continue to spiral, and food inflation will get worse,” he said.

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