All the processes and stages associated with getting food to the table for final consumption are becoming increasingly costly; from the time when the food crop is planted to when it is finally cooked and served for consumption.
Even to gulp the food is still somewhat costly as cutlery used for this seemingly simple task has also been hit by rising prices. The alternative of eating with your bare hands is no less costly, relatively speaking, as the cost of water with which to wash your hands thereafter is on the rise.
Let us not talk of ‘washing’ the food down the alimentary canal with drinks because the least of these beverages is getting out of reach of ordinary Nigerians. Time was, when it used to be said that a bottle of soft drink was cheaper than fuel. Not any more as the retail cost of carbonated soft drinks is catching up with that of fuel. What is more, the proposed government tax on beverages will further escalate their prices, thereby pushing them further off the food table of many Nigerians.
Most Nigerians now make do with water or local drinks like kunu, zobo and the likes. Though not left out from the pervasive price increases, sellers of these indigenous brews have found a rather clever way round it by maintaining their price list while reducing the quantity.
Let us track the trajectory of getting, for example, porridge yam for lunch and view the associated price increases at every step. First, yam seedlings have had their prices shot up as demand for them rises because; virtually everybody wants to engage in some kind of farming to reduce cost of feeding. Let us assume you have been storing some parts of the raw yams you had been cooking for lunch and dinner for planting later.
For those who live in urban centres, you will discover that there is little or no land for even subsistence farming due to population explosion and the ever increasing rural to urban migration. So, you have to make do with the now popular method of planting in your compound using sacks – empty cement bags.
However, as the price of cement is rising every now and then, so does that of the empty bag itself. Another reason for its rather high cost is that it is now being used for other things such as mats and tents by sewing many of them together as well as temporary wedges in areas afflicted by moderate erosion. Thus, there is high demand for empty cement bags at this time – rainy/planting season which in turn leads to hike in their price; all of which adds to the cost of planting yam yourself at home.
Should you decide to buy yams from the market, you will find that a tuber is about triple its former price now. This is because of the various cost layers in bringing them to the market place. Those whose primary occupation is farming, especially in the food basket zone of Northern Nigeria, say there is lesser land available for cultivation because of a variety of reasons chief among which are recurring farmers/herders conflicts, menace of bandits, unknown gunmen, terrorists that prowl our hinterlands etc. Thus, there is relatively less land to be cultivated.
Even for what is cultivable, farmers say the cost of fertilizers and other inputs are increasing every farming season, all of which add to the cost of food crops. Not everything planted is harvested because some are lost to small-time thieves that roam farmlands due to high poverty levels. Then, there is rising transportation cost, to bring the harvested yam and other food crops to the market place. Transporters say the hike in fuel prices coupled with poor state of Nigerian roads generally has forced them to hike their own haulage fares accordingly.
That is not end of the story. Once they are offloaded in the market, the seller has to pay to ostensibly local government officials, daily or on market days, for the open space used to display his/her farm produce. That fee has more than doubled now.
The end result of all of the aforementioned is that a tuber of yam goes for an average of N500 in Northern Nigeria and no less than about N1000 in Southern Nigeria. Having now bought the yam from the market, you now have to buy the ingredients for preparing simple yam porridge – onions, pepper, crayfish and palm oil – all of which prices are pointing upwards. Back to your house (I am assuming that the market is within walking distance so that you did not have to take a commercial bus/tricycle/motorcycle to and fro) you peel the yam, cut it to pieces and then need water to wash it. A bag of sachet water has risen by 100 per cent, from N100 to N200.
Suppose you buy from water vendors, a 25-litre keg of water has been raised from N10 to N25 because the vendors say the borehole owners from whom they buy the water to sell have jerked the wholesale price due to concomitant hike in cost of diesel/petrol needed for pumping water, adding that even when they use public electricity for pumping, it is also costly because the electricity distribution company, more popularly referred to as NEPA has increased its tariff.
Thereafter, you start the actual cooking. If you are using a gas cooker, gas itself has shot up astronomically in less than one year to about N1000 per kilogramme. Where you formerly used a little less than N5000 to fill your gas cylinder, you now expend N10, 000.
Should you reason that electric stove could be cheaper, it will occur to you that the discos have in the last few months raised their rates astronomically too. In Lafia where I reside, Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) now gives all those that have analogue metres (which is about 90 percent of the populace) a monthly flat bill of N13,000 per house, up from the less than N3000 we used to pay.
AEDC says it can no longer hold back this new rate which ought to have come into effect several months ago. Charcoal and wood are no better alternatives as such. Their prices have also jumped up and you have to factor in the stress/hazards associated with them. More regrettable is that the price of everything mentioned here keeps rising virtually every few weeks.
Is it any wonder that most people can no longer afford three square meals but skip at least one of them, to adjust to the ‘costly’ cost of getting food to the table for consumption?
Victoria Ngozi Ikeano writes from Lafia