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Food inflation still unbearable

The National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) data on inflation in March 2024, showed that food inflation climbed to 40 per cent, in spite of the…

The National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) data on inflation in March 2024, showed that food inflation climbed to 40 per cent, in spite of the marginal increase in general inflation to 33.2 per cent, a sign that the increase in the cost of food items outpaces inflation in other sectors. Specifically, the NBS data shows that food inflation on a year-on-year basis was caused by increases in prices of garri, millet, and akpu (uncooked fermented, yam tuber), water yam, dried fish sardine, mudfish dried, palm oil, vegetable oil, beef feet, beef head, liver, coconut, watermelon, Lipton tea, Bournvita, and Milo.

The month-on-month increase in the cost of these items, between February 2024 and March 2024, was put at 3.74 per cent. At this rate, food inflation in Nigeria is about 10 per cent away from hyperinflation, usually put at 50 per cent increase in prices, year-on-year.

The presence of inflation presupposes that there is more money available to chase few goods, so the prices of goods skyrocketed. However, in Nigeria, this is not the case, as the earning power of the people has not been enhanced in the last year. Rather, Nigerians are pressed under a situation where there is not enough money to chase the few food items available in the market. Most of the items whose prices have increased according to the NBS report, are not imported, so they should not be subject to the volatility of the exchange rate. They are locally produced. All things being equal, the rate of month-on-month increase in their prices should be lower than the inflation in the prices of imported goods.

The food inflation in Nigeria is a pointer to food insecurity, mainly caused by conflicts in the states considered the food baskets of the country. It could be blamed on the inconsistent agricultural policies of government that do not guarantee consistent production of food for the population. However, the NBS has been ringing the alarm bell over rising food inflation since 2023. The inflation had increased from 30 per cent in September 2023 to 40 per cent in March 2024, an increase of 10 per cent, over a period of barely seven months. It is, therefore, evident that government has failed to deliberately tackle food inflation, though its own data warned of the impending hyperinflation.

In February this year, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammad Idris, told the nation that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had directed the release of grains from its strategic reserves in order to cushion the effects of the rising cost of food.

He said, “The first one is that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has been directed to release about 42,000 metric tons of maize, millet, garri, and other commodities in their strategic reserve so that these items will be made available to Nigerians; 42,000 metric tons immediately.

“The second one is that we have held meetings with the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria; those who are responsible for producing this rice and we have asked them to open up their stores.

“They’ve told us that they can guarantee about 60,000 metric tons of rice. This will be made available and we know that, that is enough to take Nigerians the next month to six weeks, perhaps up to two months. Now, the third item is that government is also looking at the possibility, if it becomes absolutely necessary, as an interim measure in the short run to also import some of these commodities.”

Sadly, Nigerians have not felt the impact of these measures, as the prices of food items have remained too high for comfort.

Food security is one of the priorities of governments in most societies. It is for this reason that even developed societies subsidise agriculture to enable them to produce in excess. Such excesses are distributed as aid in parts of the world that are in distress. The federal government cannot be lackadaisical about the plight of the people who are finding it difficult to feed. It is clear that local production of food is not enough to meet the needs of the people. It has become necessary to import food and sell it to the people at subsidised rates. It is now necessary for the government to seek help from other countries to deal with the situation.

For Nigeria, food production is one of the lowest-hanging strategies for rejuvenating the economy. If the unemployed youths are encouraged and supported to engage in agriculture, the country could become a net exporter of food. However, conflicts have driven farmers from their fields, as terrorists and bandits have grabbed arable lands in many parts of the North.

Part of the strategies to deal with food inflation is a concerted military campaign to dislodge the terrorists and reclaim the land. It is unbearable that bandits have taken possession of a huge expanse of land that has held the answer to the country’s food problem, for almost a decade now. The government must do everything possible to make food available in the country in order to tame food inflation.

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