Way out of high food inflation rate

The alarm raised by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in July, 2022 that Nigeria’s inflation rate soared to 19.64 percent, the highest in 17 years-since September 2005-should be a source of serious concern to all Nigerians. And that should begin of course, with our policy makers and those who implement them. It is high time that our current crop of chest-beating politicians climbed down from their high horses, face the harsh economic realities in the face and act promptly, before it degenerates to extreme hunger situation, turning us into a beggar nation!

So scary the situation has become that the federal government, through the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Abubakar has humbly admitted that the current inflation rate of food prices across the country may drive more Nigerians into the poverty, unless appropriate measures were taken.

He expressed this concern in Abuja at the national workshop on the applications of Juncao technology and its contribution to the achievement of sustainable agriculture and Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs in Nigeria.

The workshop, which was organised by the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD), was supported by the National Engineering Research Center for Juncao Technology of the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University (FAFU) of China and Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Represented by the Director, Federal Department of Agriculture, Abdullahi Abubakar, the minister said: “Food may become more expensive as climate change mitigation efforts increase energy prices. Water required for food production may become more scarce due to increased crop water use and drought. Competition for land may increase as certain areas become climatically unsuitable for production.

He added that; “extreme weather events, associated with climate change may cause sudden reductions in agricultural productivity, leading to rapid price increases.

“Holistic efforts are being made in recent times to address these multi-faceted challenges and unlock the potentials of the Nation’s livestock resources for increased employment opportunity, improved livelihoods and income, and we earnestly look ward to potential leverages the Juncao technology will provide to boost these efforts,” he added.

In her remarks, the National Coordinator/Chief Executive Officer AUDA-NEPAD Nigeria, Gloria Akobundu, said Nigeria must harness the yet to be tapped possibilities in the agricultural sector to tackle the challenge of food insecurity.

Read also: Food inflation to worsen as insecurity bars farmers from harvest

She said though government was doing its best to alleviate poverty in the country, there was real danger of communities being exposed to insecurity, youth restiveness and malnutrition due to the nation’s population of over 200 million people.

“We are concerned with ensuring food security in and to cushion the effect of COVID-19 towards building long-term resilience for sustainable economic growth and development. The Agency’s innovative strengthening of smallholder farmers’ capabilities towards productive land restoration amid COVID-19 was initiated to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic,” she added.

Truth be told, we cannot afford to run away from the bitter realities presently on ground. According to media reports, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the rate of change in prices of goods and services, surged 17-year high from 18.60 percent. The increase was recorded against the dark backdrop of food inflation, which rose to 22.02 percent in July from 20.60 percent in June. The sudden rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, food products, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, fish, oil and fat.

Breaking the figures down, the NBS in its Consumer Price Index (CPI) report for July 2022 said that on a month-on-month basis, the Headline inflation rate in July 2022 was 1.817 %, which was 0.001% higher than the rate recorded in June 2022 (1.816 %). The pertinent question is what is food inflation, all about?

Food inflation is defined as a change in prices of food items over a period of time. The rising rate of food inflation is evidenced in the rising prices of food items such as rice, beans, bread, yam, vegetables, fruits and eggs which have all gone up by at least 100 per cent between 2011 and the current year.

Furthermore, the NBS has stated how the situation looks like in some states across the country. Precisely, it stated that: “The percentage change in the average CPI for the twelve months period ending July 2022 over the average of the CPI for the previous twelve months period was 16.75%, showing a 0.46% increase compared to 16.30% recorded in July 2021,” the report said.

On a state-by-state basis, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi and Kogi states witnessed the highest prices while Jigawa, Kano and Borno recorded the slowest rise in inflation. “In July 2022, all items’ inflation rate on a year-on-year basis was highest in AkwaIbom (22.88%), Ebonyi (22.51%), Kogi (22.08%), while Jigawa (16.62%), Kaduna (17.04%) and Borno (18.04%) recorded the slowest rise in headline Year-on-Year inflation,” the report said.

All these fear-fuelling figures may not mean much to the ordinary Nigerian, who is currently finding it increasingly difficult to feed himself and his family; not to talk about paying rent, meet all manner of obligations including paying children’s school fees. So, the million-Naira question is what is the best way out of the misty economic wood? The answers are not far-fetched.

Though the Agriculture Minister, Abubakar has blamed the rise in food prices on the global Climate Change, even the ordinary Nigerian knows that the persisting challenge of insecurity is greatly responsible. Several farmers in states such as Zamfara, Bornu, Benue, Niger, Kaduna and down south to Imo and Ono states have been kept away from their farmlands by the bandits, Boko Haram terrorists and kidnappers!

Some are compelled to pay one charge or the other to get to, stay and return safely from their farms. Sustained efforts are therefore, required by security forces to guarantee safety for the farmers to increase food production.

In addition, more incentives similar to the CBN-Anchor Borrowers Fund are needed at the state and local government councils, provided at single-digit interest rate, to encourage large-scale farming. Those set of farmers should be well trained by extension workers on modern, hi-tech agricultural methods, similar to what the popular Xtralarge Farms Ltd is doing with the first Agric-tech City in Africa, at Idi-Iroko, Ogun state through organic farming techniques.

In addition, most of our increasingly restless youth should be made to channel their abundant energy into fruitful farming through such stated incentives. And they should be provided with several hybrid seedlings which are early-maturing, disease-resistant, with bumper yields. These are made available at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture(IITA).

They also need to be exposed to research findings at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi(FIIRO) so that they can capitalize on them to process, package, preserve and even market/ export some of their products. These could include cassava and yam flours, rice, beans, fura de nono, kunu, zobo, plantain chips, cashew nuts and cocoa beans.

To actualize and sustain such vision, the restructuring of this country has become an imperative. It will galvanize the states to look inwards and unleash the hitherto untapped potentialities. It will also encourage the spirit of healthy competition, as it was during the First Republic, with the Northern Region boasting of the true pyramids of groundnut, cotton as well as hides and skins. The Eastern Region had its oil palm, yams, cassava and rubber, while the then Western Region survived on its own with proceeds of cocoa, coffee, yams, and cassava.