• Thursday, July 25, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Food prices remain high despite steep decline in forex

A common cry amongst Nigeria, is the current hike in the prices of food and agricultural commodities. While many traders have blamed the high costs on the rise of the dollar, prices have remained high amidst forex decline. RUTH TENE NATSA, writes on the many factors responsible for these:

A disturbing factor, amidst the fluctuating forex market is the escalation of prices of food commodities which retailers always blame on the increasing dollar rates, while consumers complain and, in several cases, simply accept as the norm.

However, it is important to note that while the recent horrendous rise in the dollar had led to a heavy increase in the cost of food commodities, several factors can actually be blamed and must be addressed to help alleviate the rising cost of food commodities.

It is no longer news that the dollar which had risen to an all-time high of N1,600, with speculators suggesting it would get to as high as two thousand naira to a $1, had to swallow their speculations, as the naira steadily gained and has hovered around one thousand two hundred-one thousand three hundred in the past week.

The instability of the naira was such that major stores and malls, were refusing to paste prices on their shelves, as customers would pick up products/produce and at the pay point/cashier’s desk will find the prices had tripled or been changed.

This instability further informed retailers, hiking prices indiscriminately as, the public outcry by consumers forced producers to defend themselves and subsequently publicly disclose their off-taker rates.

Aside the fluctuating forex market, is the tragedy of the killer herdsmen/unknown gunmen, known to attack farming villages and communities, most particularly in food producing states, such as Benue, Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara. These is totally not adding the regular re-occurring communal disputes, political and other security challenges known to affect other communities.

It is no longer news that in some communities in Kaduna and Zamfara states respectively, the people are forced to pay huge amounts weekly, to kidnappers or risk being kidnapped and paying huge ransoms to be freed or killed.

The high cost of fuel and ultimately transportation, is also another factor that has influenced rising cost of food commodities across Nigeria, but most particularly in the FCT, which mostly has its food imported from other states.

This reality has totally rejected the idea of price control, as farmers, retailers and transporters argue the justification of government to impose price control, when there is little or no subsidy to support their production.

It is also no longer news that as Nigeria strived to promote locally grown products, the border closure no doubt formed a major challenge as farmers of local produces, such as rice rather than become cheaper and more affordable, hiked prices, further adding to the high cost in food commodities.

Again, just recently, Nigeria witnessed the new electricity tariff hike, and there is no doubting the fact that these will subsequently have an effect on suppliers of frozen foods and even non frozen foods.

The climate effect on agriculture is another effect that Nigeria, cannot deny, as high/low rains continue to affect farmers, flooding and other natural disasters take grueling effects, leading farmers to great losses.

However, the most obvious and generally agreed cause of rising cost of commodities, remains greed. There is no doubting the fact that most retailers, in the rush to make quick gains are more concerned about their profit margin as against the consensual fair price margin.

For many retailers, the choice, between small gains for larger sales will always be rejected as they prefer to make huge profits for lesser sales. This sadly remains the reality of the Nigeria’s commodity market.

Meanwhile, responding to the question on why prices are still high despite, the rise of the naira, President, All Farmers Association, Architect Kabiru Ibrahim says

“The farmers are as surprised as everyone that the food inflation is still higher than the general inflationary trend in the country, because they mostly sell at the farm gate at reasonable prices.

“The middlemen who buy from them and sell to the public are responsible for the hike in prices. They generally attribute the price hike to handling and transportation and of course their margins of profit”, he alleged

He maintained that “As the Naira continues to firm up, I believe prices will appreciably come down to the gratitude of the majority of Nigerians”

In the case of Aboi Kaduma, a farmer from Kachia, “We can only stay in the farm between 8-10am now. We cannot go earlier because of the security situation here. Go out too early and herders and unknown gun men can waste (kill) you, and by 10 the scorching sun is roasting and weakening us.”

It is sad that despite the outcries by citizens, Kaduna state continues to witness terrible attacks by so-called bandits. So, the little we are able to produce, we use it to sustain our families. Prices, will remain high, until the security situation is tackled’

For Madam Chinwe (Surname withheld), a trader at the Dutse market in Abuja “The cost of bringing in fresh food into Abuja is high. It is also very risky transporting food across Nigeria. The transporters risk their lives daily, from being kidnapped to being killed, and so when they are able to successfully deliver, they charge for surviving the risks” she added

For Collins Nwegbu, a father of two, the present economy is no one’s friend, and he has decided certain foods are luxuries that can be done without

“In this economy, we eat to survive. The economy taught me that we do not need three square meals anymore. We eat breakfast by 11 and have lunch about 4-5, that takes care of the day’s meal.

Rita Olowo, a civil servant who beliefs the dollar has no effect on the cost of everyday commodities argues the reason for the high cost of commodities remains greed “most Nigerians are just greedy and wanting to take advantage of everything, using the excuse of the hiking dollar as a reason’ is the opinion of.

‘Which one concern dollar with poor farmer wey dey farm for her backyard’. We do not buy seedlings with dollars; we do not transport with dollar. Don’t even tell me about transport cost. Yes, transport is high, but we still do not buy the day-to -day fuel with dollar” she argues.

In addressing the myriad challenges promoting high cost of food commodities, many Nigerians have advocated reopening the borders with stringent measures to protect the nation’s economy.

Nigerians also believe there is need for government to provide subsidies to farmers and thereby have a level of control, that would ensure some forms of checks and balances on traders/farmers pricing.

The call for security is one that government at all levels must continue to battle, to protect not just lives and properties but also promote food security.

Whatever the case maybe, there is no denying that the high cost of food commodities has become a worrisome situation, considering that food forms one of the three basic human needs (food, clothing and shelter) and as such, solutions must be found to avert the looming disasters that may occur if not presently tackled.