Soaring food prices are forcing Nigerians to make tough choices
- It can trigger unrest, political instability – Expert
Christiana T. Alabi, Lagos, Jude Aguguo Owuamanam, Owerri and Jeremiah Oke, Ibadan
Nigerians have continued to groan under soaring food prices in the country, a situation that has created tough choices for many.
Daily Trust Saturday observed that even cassava flake, popularly known as garri, which used to be considered a low-income food item, is now expensive and cannot be afforded by many.
In Lagos, a small bucket of paint from garri costs N1,200, the same measure of brown beans known as oloyin, sells for N3,000, while the cost of iron beans is between N2,500 and N2,800, depending on market and seller.
Many families can no longer afford daily three square meals because they cannot afford it.
A vulcanizer, Mr. Shamsudeen Yekini, said Daily Trust on Sunday that his four children, aged 10, 13, 15 and 17, only receive breakfast and dinner, adding that food alone absorbs more than 80% of his income, but he cannot allow them to be fed three times a day.
Additionally, many retailers can no longer afford to buy at scale due to the high cost of groceries.
A shopkeeper named Ms Evboifo said that due to a tough economy, more and more people are buying groceries on credit and their income cannot support them.
“In fact, there are people to whom we have stopped selling on credit because they cannot afford to repay.
“Some customers who used to buy groceries in large quantities are now buying in small quantities because of inflation. It is more painful that as prices continue to soar, the quality of groceries like spaghetti, macaroni and canned tomatoes, among others, has declined,” she said.
Our correspondent also understood that the age-old saying that Owerri is a center of pleasure is being eroded by the difficult economic situation, forcing residents to adapt to the realities of the times.
The hospitality industry is one of the hardest hit sectors, with hotels seeing very low footfall. Some of them have been forced to close or reduce some of their services, such as running their generators from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.
A receptionist at one of Owerri’s surviving hotels told Our Correspondent that business had tended to decline in recent months.
The receptionist, who identified himself as Emeka, said the hotel, which has 50 rooms, barely had five rooms booked in one day.
He said: ‘In normal situations, at weekends tenants would struggle to find places, but now we can barely get five rooms booked. If we have 10, we consider it a rainy day.
Our correspondent also conducted a survey of many eateries and eateries where locals relish the famous “Ofe Owerri”.
Some of the operators lamented the tough times as they were forced to reduce the amount of food they cook due to low attendance.
Patricia Ike, who runs a restaurant in New Owerri, said she used to cook at least half a bag of rice a day, along with other delicacies, but was forced to cut back on the amount to less than a quarter.
Families are also forced to change their eating habits.
Ms Gloria Okpe said her family of five decided to limit the number of times they ate to two.
She said: ‘What we do is make sure we have breakfast in the late morning which would take us until the evening. Even at that, the evening meal is very frugal.
“We don’t buy in bulk like we used to; we buy just as our money can afford.
Market research conducted by our Relief and Cluster market correspondent revealed soaring food prices.
A mudu measure of garri has gone from N700 to N1,000, while the rice equivalent has sold for 1,500 from N1,000. A small bag of rice is now sold for N30,000 from N17,000. The same is true for condiments, the prices of which have increased by more than 30%.
Families give up cooking gas, stoves for charcoal, firewood
In Oyo State, many residents have adopted the use of charcoal for cooking instead of gas and kerosene.
A state official, Mr Jones Adeoye, said Daily Trust Saturday that economic difficulties forced him to leave the city for a suburb where food is cheaper.
“My salary is less than 50,000 naira and I have three children and a wife. How can I survive on house rent and food? I finished a room in my village and took my family. I only come home twice a week. I often sleep at the office.
“We no longer buy kerosene and our gas has been discontinued. We use charcoal and firewood for cooking.
“As a Nigerian, I cannot be proud of this country at the moment. We are back in the era of Abacha; It’s the truth. Another reason why we moved to the village is that we can cultivate, even if it is little,” he lamented.
A mother of three, Temitope Adetayo, told Daily Trust Saturday that relatively, every household in their area has started using charcoal for cooking.
She said economic hardship has forced many residents to use sawdust, charcoal and firewood to prepare food.
She said some of her neighbors and family friends had recently been evicted from their rented apartments for non-payment of rent on their house.
“My dear, the question of hardship is becoming unbearable for many of us. I have told my children not to cook the beans with gas anymore, but how long can we go on like this? I have charcoal wood and firewood in the enclosure for cooking.
“Some of our family friends have recently been evicted from their apartments. The government must stop this situation before many people start starving,” she said.
A food trader at Orita Merin Market in Ibadan, Oyo State, Ms. Mojisola Ogundeji, said traders are not making profits as they have in the past despite the high cost of things.
She lamented that the cost of transport from the farm to the city, coupled with the high cost of living, was responsible for the frustration.
“I can only call on the government to do something about all the challenges we are facing. We haven’t seen anything yet because there is no improvement. As for us, we can only see what we buy. It’s not our fault. We made more money when things weren’t so tough.
“I didn’t have a formal education and I would like to be able to give the best to my children, but I decided to withdraw them from private school for a public school because we cannot afford the first . One of them paid 35,000 naira before, and the letter they sent to us before the holiday was 65,000 naira. We can’t blame the school owner, and that’s why we had to take them from private school to public school,” she said.
The president of the state’s All Farmers Association, Elder John Olateru, blamed the cost of food on the high cost of inputs.
He said that apart from inputs, the high cost of diesel, unstable exchange rate, high cost of fertilizers and ultimately the high cost of activation, were the main problems farmers were facing.
Olateru, however, said the weather had encouraged farmers to move to the farm compared to recent years, adding that they were in the business to earn money.
Soaring food prices may trigger unrest – Expert
The Director General of the Center for Promoting Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said the spiraling inflation had serious implications for social, economic and political stability.
According to the economist, intense inflationary pressures deepen poverty, raise social tensions and could snowball into social unrest if not quickly addressed.
“With such a scenario, economic and political stability could be threatened,” he added.
He also said the situation was particularly worrying as even basic foods were no longer affordable for the majority of citizens. He called the situation an emergency.
While calling on policy makers to think outside the box to ease the current social tension caused by soaring prices, he argued that the situation should not be allowed to drag on.
He therefore called for urgent engagement with agriculture stakeholders, including food crop and poultry producers, fisheries investors, agro-industries, especially those in staple food production, with a view to proposing strategies for quick wins that could urgently slow down inflation, especially food prices.
He also recommended that manufacturers of essential foods and pharmaceuticals be granted temporary import duty exemptions, while all forms of levies should be suspended.
He added that the importation of paddy rice should be temporarily liberalized to supplement current domestic production and boost domestic rice processing capacity.
He further noted that urgent exchange rate policy reform was imperative to boost investor confidence and attract foreign exchange inflows into the economy. This, he believes, will moderate the current depreciation and volatilities in the forex market.
He stressed the need for the government to take extraordinary measures to address insecurity so that farmers can return to their farms.
“Also, the problem of oil theft and attacks on installations must be dealt with firmly. This would improve oil production and increase our foreign exchange earnings,” he said.