• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Catalysts of Nigeria’s worsening food crisis

Insecurity to keep food prices surging

Shortly after taking office in May, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu declared a “State of emergency” on food insecurity in the country. Considering the conceptual meaning of state of emergency when it is declared by the constituted authority, it gives the impression that the government really wants to devote special attention and resources towards an issue.

‘A get it done by all means’ approach, so to say. As a result of this, the declaration was seen by Nigerians and experts as a progressive metric to boost agricultural productivity and reduce the surge in prices of major staple foods in the country.

At the time, Dele Alake, as a presidential spokesperson, highlighted some of the specific steps to be taken by the government in the implementation of the state of emergency. These include the immediate release of “fertilisers and grains to farmers and households” and protecting “farms and the farmers so that farmers can return to the farmlands without fear of attacks.”

According to him, the president was not unmindful of the rising cost of food and how it affects the citizens. While availability is not a problem, affordability has been a major issue for many Nigerians in all parts of the country, he said.

Despite measures put into place to curb the escalation of food insecurity in the country, the rise in cost of food persists as seen in the 18-year all time inflation rate of 26.72 percent in September, now 27.33 percent in October. More especially with food inflation accelerating to 31.52 percent on a year-on-year basis from 30.64 percent in the previous months, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

This rising cost of food has affected the purchasing power of Nigerians thereby adding to the worsening surge in the cost of living, throwing a significant number of Nigerians into abject poverty and as reported by World Poverty Clock that 71 million Nigerians are extremely poor.

Here are the core catalysts of Nigeria’s current food crises;

1. Border closure

A month after Nigeria signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), Muhammadu Buhari, as President of Nigeria, closed the land borders with Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger on August 19, 2019.
According to him, Petroleum and rice were the two most frequently smuggled commodities into the country. There was a significant amount of petroleum being smuggled out of Nigeria, where subsidies make fuel half as cheap as its neighbours.

On the other hand, Benin, via its Cotonou port, stood accused of flooding Nigeria with rice imported from Asian countries. A variety of other commodities are also smuggled into the country, including cooking (vegetable) oil, poultry, tomatoes, flour, and pasta.

In the years following the closure of Nigeria’s border and its rapid implementation, inflation has increased significantly. The NBS’ inflation report in November 2019, showed that year-over-year food inflation increased from 13.2% in August 2019 to 13.51% in September 2019 and then 14.09% in October 2019.

Rice, frozen fish, poultry products, cooking oil, and cereals saw the highest increase from 11.24% in September to 11.61% in October. As a result of the closure, shortages of materials imported from Nigeria have also occurred in neighbouring countries, which has led to concerns about the consequences of trade liberalisation.

The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan for Nigeria in 2017 aimed to intensify investments in agriculture. Furthermore, it aimed to increase the sector’s contribution to economic growth to 8.4% by 2020 from 5% in 2017. The goal was to restore domestic farming and save over $22 billion per year on food imports. It could be described as a precursor to the closure of the border, which claimed to be protecting local farmers from the effects of cheap imported foods.

Rice farmers in Nigeria have been pleased with the actions taken by the government, but concerns remain about the capacity of domestic food production to meet local demand. As a result of the border closure, the price of a 50-kilogram bag of rice has increased from N22,000 as of 2019, and now N55, 000 on average in 2023.

2. Unstrategic removal of subsidy

Six months ago, during the inauguration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he courageously announced the end of the corrupt petrol subsidy with the words, “Fuel subsidy is gone.” Filling stations promptly reacted by shutting down amid concerns about the future.

Days later, the fuel price increased from N185/litre to about N323.6, reflecting an average increase of 174.6 percent. Currently, the economic consequences of this decision continue to manifest, exerting more pressure on fuel price, averaging N617 across filling stations and about N560 at NNPC stations.

This has significantly increased transportation costs, directly impacting agricultural production. Transportation is vital for getting agricultural products from farms to the table. With rising transportation costs leading to increased pricing for goods and services, farmers now face higher costs, resulting in them charging more for their goods. As the cost of producing food rises due to higher transportation expenses, consumers ultimately pay more for food.

3. Insecurity

Violence, armed banditry, and kidnappings are taking a toll on food access in Nigeria, particularly in the northern regions, where substantial food production occurs. Currently, 8.4 million people in these areas are facing food insecurity, according to an article in The Conversation.

Boko Haram terrorists, bandits, and armed herders have compelled over 78,000 farmers to abandon their farmlands in states like Borno, Katsina, Taraba, and Plateau. More than 2,000 Benue farmers were displaced, disrupting farming activities in affected regions.

The Cadre Harmonisé’s recent report on food and nutrition, supported by the government and the United Nations, delivers alarming news for Nigeria. It predicts a staggering increase in vulnerability from the current 18.6 million people facing food insecurity (between October and December 2023) to a daunting 26.5 million in 2024—a whopping 42.47% rise.

Several factors contribute to this concerning trend. Ongoing conflicts, climate change impacts, surging inflation, and the rising costs of both food and essential goods, compounded by the devaluation of the naira and the end of the fuel subsidy, play a role in the crisis.

As insecurity tightens its grip on the nation, the outlook for food security becomes increasingly precarious. The clock is ticking, and urgent action is needed to avert a looming catastrophe.

4. Climate change

In the heart of Nigeria, where agriculture sustains nearly two-thirds of the workforce, an ominous vulnerability to climate change is rapidly unfolding, with weather patterns—especially rainfall—holding the key, according to the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO), United Nations.

As one of the nations most exposed to the perils of climate change, Nigeria has endured a litany of environmental crises, from scorching temperatures and gully erosion to crippling droughts and surging floods.

In 2022, the country recorded some of its most catastrophic flooding episodes since the infamous 2012 Nigeria floods. The deluge left an indelible mark on 33 out of Nigeria’s 36 states.

According to The New York Times, over two million people bore the brunt of this disaster, witnessing the complete or partial destruction of 200,000 homes, the loss of hundreds of lives, and the displacement of over a million souls.

These tribulations have not only drained precious resources but have also disrupted agricultural productivity—a financial lifeline for countless Nigerians.

In the aftermath, an analysis by the World Weather Attribution group pointed an accusatory finger at climate change, attributing the heavy rains that triggered the floods to this global menace. The calamity ravaged thousands of hectares of farmland, worsening Nigeria’s already dire food insecurity crisis. The agricultural sector bore the weight of approximately $2 billion in damages, with crops destroyed in the deluge.

Beyond the floods, the arid landscapes of the northwest and northeastern regions grapple with the formidable adversaries of drought and land degradation. These challenges strike at the very heart of food security, as dwindling water availability for crops compounds the threats.

With the intensification of climate change, Nigeria’s agriculture faces an ever-escalating threat, demanding urgent attention and adaptive measures. The time for action is now as the nation’s ability to feed its people hangs in the balance.

“This rising cost of food has affected the purchasing power of Nigerians thereby adding to the worsening surge in the cost of living”