Food Crisis: Why its happening and what can be done about it. – Ogho Okiti

Last week, the National Bureau of Statistics released inflation figures for April 2024. Headline inflation was 33.6%, up from 33.2% in March 2024. Food inflation was 40.53%, compared to 24.61% in April 2023. 

The inflation report coincided with the release of an excellent brief by Nextier, an Abuja based think tank on the 15th of May titled “averting Nigeria’s imminent food crisis.” The brief relied on the combined work of four major international institutions to arrive at its conclusions. UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in the report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023, and the United Nations World Food Programme 2023 all estimated that 25 million Nigerians were at high risk of food security last year.

The international rescue committee has now projected that that figure will reach 32 million this year. These estimates mean that in the space of two years, 15 million Nigerians have been added to the number of those at risk of acute food security and hunger. 

It is not only unacceptable, but also grossly irresponsible and portends serious social danger for the country.

We all know how we got here, and all the reports alluded to that. According to the reports, continued conflict, climate change, inflation and rising prices were the key drivers of the awful trend. The reports went further to say that food access has been affected by persistence violence in the North East States of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, while armed banditry and kidnapping in States such as Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Benue, and Niger have displaced farmers. 

In addition to these reasons, Nigeria experienced a catastrophic flooding across many states in the country in 2022. According to the National Emergency Management Agency, the 2022 flooding damaged more than 600,000 hectares of farmlands, affecting harvests in the year and subsequent farming seasons. Many of these communities have not recovered nearly two years after the crisis. 

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So, the food inflation figure of 40% is no fluke. If anything at all, it masks the dangerous and rapid increases in the prices of food that have left millions of families in the country impoverished. In preparing this, I found out that the price of a bag of garri is now N90k, while the price of a bag of rice is now N70k. The price of a paint bucket size of beans is now N7k, whereas it was N3k in December 2023. A loaf of bread is now above 1k, selling as high as 2k in some areas. Generally, prices of foodstuffs now double every 3 – 4 months. 

In most of the analysis, there are some critical points that are missing, though and these points have implications for food production in the future. The most important is the data shared by the National Population Commission ahead of the planned 2023 census. 

The 2023 enumeration recorded a significant shift in urbanization of the Nigerian population. In 2006, 65.1% of Nigeria’s population lived in the rural areas, while 34.4% lived in the urban areas. In 2023, rural population is now 41.3% while urban is 58.7%. It means that since 2006, there has been a rural urban shift in Nigeria’s population of about 20% in favour of urban areas. While population growth means that some previously classified rural areas are now urban, it has mostly been caused by migration. For context, the average urbanization for Africa is 44.5% in 2022, according to the UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD). 

The rural urban migration that we see coincided with the rise in insecurity in the country. The implication is that the rise in migration has not followed the economic motivation reasons of jobs and economic opportunities in urban areas. The corollary of this is that migration into urban areas has not translated into increasing productivity in the urban areas, but also means less agriculture production in the rural areas. Nigeria is thus losing both ways. 

Symptomatic of that is the many thousands of young people that one sees on the streets of Lagos that are very likely out of school and homeless. Food prices are also up in the rural areas, which suggests that the usual narrative of subsistence farming requires reexamination. 

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Now, long term fall in food prices have implications for both long term growth and underline productivity. Until food prices are relatively stable, it is difficult to have stable prices, rising productivity, and rising real income growth. The long-term prospects of the economy to generate long term savings, low interest rates, and increasing discretionary income is dependent on the increasingly lower proportion of income growth spent on food. This pattern of development has been replicated everywhere else and needs to be replicated in Nigeria. 

As I conclude, I propose three things. First is the deliberate and intentional support of large-scale farming. The rural migration data has shown a decreasing number and proportion of people in the rural areas. The continuation of that trajectory leaves the continued reliance on subsistence farming in tatters. Second, improve the security of the rural areas to slow down the migration to the extent any form of migration from the rural to the urban areas is only motivated by better income opportunities. Third, there should be a deliberate focus on rural infrastructure. That will not only improve the living conditions in the rural areas but also improve their capacity for income growth and opportunities. 

For more of my thoughts, please visit tb. Africa.

I thank you.

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Ogho Okiti

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