Early 2017, the Federal Government set up a high profile Presidential Task Force on food security, charged with the responsibility of checking the rising cost of food items in markets across the country.
This, of course, was Federal Government’s immediate response then to the rising prices of food items and a practical demonstration of its determination to urgently tackle this dangerous development.
But unfortunately, since then, Nigerians have been regaled, by successive ministers of agriculture, with tales about government adopting measures on how best to implement its plan to bring down the prices of food items throughout the country.
High ranking government officials often speak glibly of having identified the reasons for the hike in the cost of food items, proffering equally pedestrian measures to bring an end to this anomaly.
But almost five years after, the suffering masses know better! In spite of all the media hype that surrounded the inauguration of the task force, Nigerians are still far away from feeling a whiff of its effect. The excitement that greeted the initiative had since given way to disappointment and despair. The prices of staple food items, including beans, garri flour, yam and others have continued to skyrocket. Right now, the prices have gone several notches higher than what they were before the Federal Government’s announcement of its 2017 task force. For example, a bag of beans, which used to sell for N30,000 a few months ago, is now a whopping N100,000!
The nearest cheaper alternative, bread, too, is no longer affordable. On more than three occasions in the last one year, bakers have raised the prices of bread and other confectionaries across all categories of sizes throughout the country. Now, the price for the big size loaf sold for N300.00 has been increased to N400, the one for N500.00 is now N600, while the N100.00 size has been raised to N150.00.
This hike in bread prices has been blamed on incessant increases in prices of the condiments for baking, which negatively affect the profit margin of the bakers and create fears amongst Nigerians who consume bread.
Already, the high prices of cooking gas have forced many Nigerians to go back to the use of firewood, sawdust, charcoal and other crude and unhealthy means for cooking, driving prices of those materials too on the rise.
It is alarming that the incessant skyrocketing of the cost of food items has since reached an unbearable level, as Nigerians now pay through the nose for such food items as beans, yam, garri, and yam flour – staple foods most poor Nigerian families almost completely depend on.
Year in, year out, the United Nations keeps Nigeria on the list of the top four countries threatened by famine, especially due to what it described as the greatest crisis on the continent unfolding in the Boko Haram-ravaged North-Eastern part of the country.
Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East alone, the UN says, exposes 1.8 million people, including 75,000 children, to famine in that region. This is aside from the effects of the menace of bandits in the North-West and North-Central as well as the murderous activities of killer-herdsmen in the South-West and South-East of the country. There is no doubt that the ripple effects of the worsening insecurity that have enveloped the entire country have manifested in the shortage of food and the resultant constant hike in food prices.
There’s no gainsaying the fact that hunger stares all Nigerians in the face!
According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 15.63% year-on-year in December 2021, from the 15.4% rate of increase recorded in the preceding month of November 2021. This has, of course, aggravated the price conundrum in the food markets across the country. This sorry situation makes it impossible for millions of poor families in the country to afford the proverbial three square meals per day.
In 2021, Nigeria’s inflation rate was projected to reach 16 per cent, according to the NBS, the highest in recent times. In 2020, this was just 13.25 per cent.
A breakdown of the NBS report reveals that food inflation, which accounts for all volatile agricultural produce increased from 0.16% points to 17.37% in December 2021, when compared to the 17.21% recorded in November last year.
However, inspite of government intervention worth trillions of naira in the nation’s agricultural sector, the incessant increase in food inflation and the surge in food prices, as reported by the NBS food price index, have made such efforts to pale into insignificance.
Surely, the effects of inflation metrics will continue to vitiate Nigerians’ purchasing power and aggravate the parlous situation of vulnerable households making efforts to survive the current economic hardship in the country.
It is alarming that the incessant skyrocketing of the cost of food items has since reached an unbearable level, as Nigerians now pay through the nose for such food items as beans, yam, garri, and yam flour – staple foods most poor Nigerian families almost completely depend on
It is, therefore, trite to state that Nigerians are now assailed with more hardship with the astronomical rise in the prices of foodstuffs. Farmers across the country continue to abandon their farms for the fear of being kidnapped by ransom-seeking bandits or killed by marauding killer-herdsmen, as the case may be.
The current situation, therefore, makes it imperative for the Federal Government to take effective practical steps to stem the tide of insecurity across the country. Government must also re-examine its strategies regarding its efforts towards boosting agricultural production and diversifying the nation’s economy.
This is the auspicious time for the government, through its various intervention programmes, to go the extra miles to check further rise in the prices of staples, a disturbing trend that has, unfortunately, rather become the norm throughout the country.
There’s no doubt that the country requires a drastic and holistic approach in tackling incessant and indiscriminate increase in the prices of staple food items. The current unpalatable situation is beyond what the usual release of grains from the National Strategic Grains Reserve can address. It’s obvious that this time-worn measure can no longer help the country.
Taking practical steps to improve agriculture to achieve higher productivity to check the rising prices of food is now a necessity. In this regard, massive irrigation and other all-year-round farming measures must be adopted, applied and complemented with massive investment in mechanised farming, in both food and cash crops. This will go a long way in ensuring food security in Nigeria.
More importantly, more funds should be allocated in the nation’s yearly budget to the agricultural sector, at both the state and Federal Government levels, especially as the country’s population increases and oil revenue in the international market plummets.
Strengthening existing government intervention programmes such as the CBN Anchor Borrowers’ scheme and other financial assistance to small-holder farmers, whose population is higher than those of other persons engaged in the agricultural sector in Nigeria, will not only create more jobs and reduce poverty among the people at the grassroots, it will also result in higher agro production and adequate food for the entire country.
The current situation does not deserve half-measures from government, just to give immediate and temporary relief to Nigerians; all available reliable steps must be taken to provide sustainable solutions that will make staple food items available and affordable in all parts of Nigeria.
The country can no longer afford to be papering over a national emergency issue that food shortage and the imminent hunger represent. We cannot continue to apply a political solution to a problem of grave national concern that should naturally deserve an emergency. A Yoruba adage says ‘when hunger is effectively tackled, poverty is mitigated.’ Nigerians can no longer endure a situation where government continues to overlook a leprous condition, but concentrates on treating mere rashes. A stich in time, they say, saves nine.