BusinessDay

Economic realities warn of impending food scarcity

Food prices in Nigeria are at an all-time high, inflation is shrinking disposal income and marauding herders have chased farmers off farmlands tipping Africa’s most populous country towards scarcity.

Analysts warn that the risk of famine is very real, citing a theoretical explanation for famine as proposed by Amartya Kumar Sen, an Indian Nobel Prize economist.

SBM Intelligence, an Africa-focused research firm, says the high food prices in the face of dwindling income means that affordability will become a problem that conveys a decline in “entitlements” as described by Sen’s theory of famine.

“Nigeria may experience famine in the nearest future as Nigerians have experienced a decline across all the dimensions of entitlement as explained as the legal ways to get food has reduced,” notes Glory Etim, an analyst at SBM.

Sen’s theory of famine posits that famine occurs when there is a decline in one or more of the four categories of entitlement or four legal ways of acquiring food.

These are production-based entitlement (growing food), trade-based entitlement (buying food), own-labour entitlement (working for food), and inheritance and transfer entitlements (being given food by others).

With the government’s inaction to check rampaging herdsmen, food production has been hampered. The limited purchasing power of Nigerians puts basic food commodities out of the reach of many and a country with over 23.2 million unemployed people indicates that the threat of famine is potent.

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However, some analysts say arriving at the conclusion of famine may be premature.

Damilola Adewale, a Lagos-based economic analyst, notes that while these challenges exist to say that the country would get to famine is too extreme; at the very least, it could result in food crises.

For production-based entitlement (growing food), over the past 10 years, Nigeria’s food production has been affected by continuous conflicts between herders and farmers, terrorist and bandit attacks.

More than 62,000 farmers in the Middle Belt were displaced from their homeland between 2010 and 2015, and in 2020 there was the news of over 110 farmers executed by Boko Haram over allegedly cooperating with the Nigerian Army, according to SBM Intelligence analysis.

Secondly, for the trade-based entitlement, which is buying food, the country’s high food inflation rate of 23 percent as of March 2021, a record high, and weakened purchasing power have affected people’s ability to buy food.

A recent survey by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on the impact of the COVID-19 found that more than eight out of every 10 Nigerian households are adversely affected by rising food prices, with 58 percent of the total number reducing their food consumption between July and December last year in response to the pandemic.

The third basis, which is own labour-based entitlement, means the ability for selling the skill or labour-power for purchasing or producing food has declined, as Nigeria’s record high unemployment figure reached 33.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020.

“Things are really tough and the several factors driving food prices and decision making tend to make people very cautious in terms of spending. Investment consideration has gone down and people’s perception, culture or social interactions are fast-changing,” Ayodele Shittu, a lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Lagos, states.

For the country to be prepared to avert this prediction, Moses Ojo, a Lagos-based economist, suggests that there is a need to reform the structure of the Nigerian economy by diversifying from oil as the nation’s major generation of foreign exchange to the non-oil sector, especially the manufacturing sector, to come to life.

“This will enable the country to produce more of what it is consuming, which will lead to exportation that will yield the much needed foreign exchange and create employment. The result of all these efforts will lead to moderation in the headline inflation as well,” Ojo says.

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