• Friday, February 23, 2024
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Balanced diet beyond Nigerians’ reach as prices skyrocket

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Sky-high prices are putting basic food items that meet the minimum nutrient requirements out of the reach of many Nigerians.

Data from Picodi, an international e-commerce platform, shows that the total cost of the ‘survival basket’, which contains 10 litres of milk, 10 loaves of bread, 1.5kg of rice, 20 pieces of eggs, 1kg of cheese, 6kg of meat, 6kg of fruits and 8kg of vegetables, rose by 33.1 percent to N64,060 in January 2024 from N48,130 in the same period of last year.

The cost of the basket increased by 17.4 percent in January 2023, 15.9 percent in 2022, 9.06 percent in 2021, and 2.80 percent in 2020.

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“This amount represents 116.5 percent of the net minimum wage, while at the beginning of last year, it was 160.4 percent of the minimum wage. In Nigeria, the minimum wage is not enough to cover even such a basic set of groceries,” analysts at Picodi Nigeria said.

Afolabi Wasiu, president of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN), said the high cost of food, increased poverty and the rising cost of cooking fuel have made it difficult for Nigerians to afford a balanced diet.

“People are poor, and the cost of food is rising. This is a double burden that has fuelled people’s inability to afford a balanced diet. Additionally, the cost of fuel to cook is also high,” he said.

President Bola Tinubu, in May, scrapped a costly but popular petrol subsidy and lifted currency controls in June, which he said was to save the country from going under.

But his actions have worsened inflation, currently in double-digits and at the highest level in at least 20 years. The rising inflationary pressures have weakened the purchasing power of consumers, even as businesses grapple with higher operating costs.

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Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that the headline inflation rose to 28.92 percent in December from 28.20 percent in the previous month. Food inflation, which constitutes 50 percent of the inflation rate, rose to 33.93 percent from 32.84 percent.

The rise in food inflation can be attributed to the increases in prices of oil and fat, bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, fish, fruit, meat, vegetables, milk, cheese, and eggs, according to the NBS.

“Cooking ingredients and meals saw a relatively strong decline in 2023 despite the fact that its major categories consist of several products that are central to consumer diets and even considered to be essential,” analysts at Euromonitor International said in a recent report.

They added that inflationary pressures, which had been quite strong in 2022, persisted into 2023, impacting consumer spending power.

“I have reduced food consumption for my family from three square meals to two,” Iyanuoluwa Fadairo, an Ogun-based trader, said.

“Even rice, a common food that we consume almost every day, has been reduced to three times in a week. At times, I prefer ‘mama put’ to cooking at home because if you calculate how much you will spend on food like gas, oil, and other food items, it’s a lot,” she said.

The World Bank’s latest Nigeria Development Update report revealed that rising inflation and sluggish growth in Africa’s biggest economy increased the number of poor people to 104 million in 2023 from 89.8 million at the start of the year.

“The impact of this inflation is especially hard on the poor and vulnerable. The government has initiated targeted cash transfers to mitigate some of the impact on the most vulnerable households. In addition, a holistic approach to reducing inflation, including through tighter fiscal and monetary policies, is also needed,” the report said.

Nigeria lags behind its peers in terms of per capita protein consumption owing to its high rate of low-income earners, poor nutritional knowledge, and high cost of protein-rich foods, experts say.

The country’s per capita daily protein intake is estimated to be 45.4g as against the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) minimum of 53.8g.

Earlier in the month, the NBS revealed that the average cost of a healthy diet (CoHD) surged by 66.2 percent to N786 per day in December 2023 from N473 per day in the same period of 2022.

“In the past year, the CoHD and the cost of all other goods and services increased at roughly the same rate, until July 2023, when CoHD increased at a faster rate than all goods and services (general CPI) and more than all foods for which retail prices are collected,” it said.

It said for instance, where the cost of a healthy diet is high, it is possible to identify which least-cost items and food groups are driving the high cost.

“Stakeholders can identify supply challenges in specific foods or food groups to be addressed, for example with improved production, distribution, or market access,” the NBS said.

To make food affordable, Wasiu of NSN said the government should support by providing essential resources such as seeds to bolster agricultural productivity.

He said the escalating insecurity has deterred farmers from their fields.

“I think people should be encouraged or empowered with home gardening, where they can plant some fruits, vegetables and crops they can easily access to reduce the amount of food they will buy,” Wasiu added.

Picodi also revealed that the most comfortable ratio of the food basket to the minimum wage can be found in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and New Zealand.

“Nigeria is far behind those countries – in our country, the survival basket accounts for 116.5 percent of the minimum wage (67th place out of possible 67). The minimum wage is not enough to cover even such a basic set of groceries.”

Africa’s most populous nation ranked lower than countries such as Uzbekistan (96.1 percent), the Philippines (66.2 percent), India (58.5 percent) and Pakistan (42.4 percent).

An outlook report by the FAO, World Food Program, and others projected that Nigeria and other countries across the West Africa region are expected to see increased prices of staple foods such as rice, maize, millet, and cereals, among others, in 2024.

“Staple prices currently remain above the five-year average across the region. This is attributable to a combination of factors including production deficits, trade restrictions, insecurity in the Sahel, elevated global prices, high transaction costs, and currency depreciation in the coastal countries of the Gulf of Guinea,” it said.