The recent report that Nigerians’ spending on daily needs such as food, clothing, housing, energy and others, in the first half of 2021 rose to N54.84 trillion is scary. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report on recent Expenditure and Income Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the figure is higher than the N48.22 trillion recorded in the first half of 2020. The report also showed that household consumption accounted for the largest share of real GDP at market prices, which stood at 53.68 per cent and 51.82 per cent in Q1 and Q2 of 2020, respectively. Similarly, 76.83 per cent and 72.88 per cent were recorded in the corresponding quarters of 2021.
In a related development, farmers under the aegis of the All Framers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) have enjoined the South West governors to declare a state of emergency on household agricultural produce. According to them, the call is based on the continuous increase in prices of food commodities on a daily basis. They said that the price of beans had increased by over 400 per cent. They contended that a bag of beans which was sold at N20,000 or N30,000 is now being sold at over N100,000. Other food items are also not exempted from the sharp price increase.
Also, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has raised the alarm that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 20 per cent increase in the number of undernourished persons in Nigeria and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa to 264 million in 2020. Data from the World Bank put the number of undernourished in Nigeria alone at over 25 million. IMF’s Deputy Managing Director, Antoinette Sayeh, made the disclosure in Washington, United States during a parley on “Supporting Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa amid COVID-19 Pandemic and Climate Change.”
It is unfortunate that the number of undernourished people is on the increase in Nigeria and other African countries. Nigeria, with enough arable land for agriculture, should not be among countries with high number of undernourished people in Africa. The government must do something urgently to address the anomaly. In 2020, the prevalence of undernourishment for Nigeria was 14.6 per cent. It increased from 7.1 per cent in 2006 to 14.6 per cent last year. This represents an annual rate of 5.65 per cent.
According to Sayeh, the COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted production, imports and supply of food, resulting in volatile food prices. As a result, the IMF says there is urgent need to safeguard food security and increase the efficiency of public expenditure by giving necessary support that will ensure food security, reduce poverty and strengthen social protection through cash transfers that will provide the income to purchase food items that will boost nutrition in people.
It is in this regard that we welcome the pledge by the President of the African Development (AfDB), Dr. AkinwunmiAdesina, that the bank will provide Nigeria with strong support to tackle its food security challenges. He gave the assurance when he received a high-level Nigerian delegation led by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Abubakar. We believe that high rate of inflation has fueled food prices, as current consumer price index, which measures inflation, is at 65 per cent. This means that if food prices will go down, government must put necessary measures in place to drive down inflation. As the World Bank and IMF data show, poverty, lack of social protection and labour, state of the economy, external debt, are some of the factors that drive undernourishment.
For six consecutive years, statistics show that majority of Nigerians have become poorer. Therefore, safeguarding food security and tackling malnutrition have become a daunting challenge. It requires private and government’s investments. This requires focusing on developing the right team and strategy to boost farming season in the country. However, tackling insecurity should be given priority attention. It is sad that the presidency is oblivious of the rising food prices even when the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, admitted publicly that food prices are on the increase.
It is not difficult to see where the soaring food prices are coming from. The economy is still suffering from the negative impact of COVID-19 on the food supply chain. All of these fiscal and monetary policy measures have had their toll on food prices. Added to this is the worsening insecurity across the country that has adversely affected farm produce. In this respect, government should do much more to tackle insecurity so that farmers can return to their farms.
In addition, there should be deliberate policy to promote large-scale mechanised agriculture. Altogether, what is needed is a comprehensive approach that will address the remote and immediate causes of the current hike in the cost of food items. Failure to urgently adopt a holistic approach to the problem could have serious consequences. Considering the nation’s increasing population and the volatility in prices of crude oil in the international market, efforts to boost food production should attract more funds at low interest rates as well as the support of private investors.
While we appreciate the various interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in agriculture, a lot should be done to reduce inflation and the resultant effects on prices of food items.