Feyintola Bolaji, a Nigerian trader struggling with stagnant earnings and diminishing sales, is now being squeezed by her food suppliers’ ever-increasing costs, forcing her to reduce the amount she can put on her own family’s table.
Bolaji’s austerity measures are being emulated by millions of people across Africa’s most populous nation. Shortly after Nigeria’s statistics agency reported that one in every three people in the continent’s largest economy is unemployed, it declared on Thursday that food inflation has reached its highest level in 15 years, exacerbating the suffering of many households.
Bolaji, a mother of three in her 50s who lives in the southwestern city of Ibadan, said, “I can’t literally afford to give my children what they really need in terms of food.” “I try to provide them with the nutrients they need as growing children, but it is not enough,” she said, adding, “I have had to reduce my meat and fish consumption.”
Food poverty is worsening in Nigeria due to insurgency, instability, and President Muhammadu Buhari’s government’s stance on food imports in a country where more than half of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
According to a Covid-19 impact survey published by the statistics agency last month, the coronavirus pandemic has robbed 70 percent of Nigerians of some kind of income.
In March, food inflation reached 22.95 percent, owing to price rises across the board, including cereals, yam, meat, fish, and fruits. The rising costs have been attributed in part to an escalating dispute between farmers and herders in Nigeria’s agriculture belt, which Buhari has struggled to resolve.
According to SBM Intelligence, the instability, combined with the more than decade-long Boko Haram insurgency in the north, a weakening currency, and higher fuel prices, have all led to increasing food prices.
Import restrictions on some staples, such as rice, have also aggravated the situation, despite Buhari reopening Nigeria’s land borders in December after a 16-month closure in an effort to curb rampant smuggling.
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria said in a statement on Friday that rising inflation has harmed producer profitability and is a major contributor to the low export penetration of made-in-Nigeria products in the international market.
The manufacturing group said, “There is an urgent need for government to intentionally ensure market stability before the situation becomes deplorable.”
According to Cheta Nwanze, a lead collaborator with SBM Intelligence, food prices will remain high until the security crisis that has stopped farmers from returning to their land is resolved. That is unless the government “does the smart thing and allows food imports to take place,” as he put it.
Nigerians, who already spend more than half of their earnings on food, have had to make sacrifices until then. According to Nigeria’s statistics agency, between July and December last year, just over half of all households recorded lower consumption due to the twin pressures of falling wages and increasing food costs.