NIGERIAN families are facing harrowing times at the moment. This is due to the alarming increment in the prices of staple foods in the market which is adversely affecting the gastronomic harmony in many homes. Never in the history of market prices have the people been treated to this level of price upswing. Staple food items like maize, rice, sorghum and the like are affected by this increment. Foods that hitherto fell within the people’s grip have become mirages on their menu list.
At the moment, the prices of gari range from N500 upwards per congo, while that of maize is about N400. They used to be far less last quarter and the one before. The other food items are also afflicted by the same upswing in prices. When placed side by side the downturn in the purchasing power of the people and the grim reality of non-payment of salaries, as well as the overall economic recession in the country, the economic fate of the people can be imagined. The groaning across board has exposed the underbelly of governmental mismanagement of the welfare of the people.
Several reasons have been given for the skyrocketing food prices, chief among which is the law of demand and supply. Due to the single harvest of these annual crops, there is always a suppliers’ gang-up which ensures that the prices are determined solely by them. A second factor is the perishable nature of these food crops and the rush to dispense with the food crops that are produced on the farms. The third is the incursion of herdsmen who infiltrate farms and whose animals cause destruction of food crops, thereby necessitating scarcity. More fundamentally, Nigerian farmers are basically peasants and are not exposed to any mechanised system for prolonging the lifespan of their harvests.
Worse still, governments at both state and federal levels have exhibited a lack of understanding of the linkage between food security and good governance. Thus, there is no clear-cut agricultural policy that can adequately address this upswing in the prices of these food crops. The absence of an appropriate policy has revealed the fact that there is an inadequate number of silos which can adequately and effectively store the food produced in times of excess, so that they can be released into the market when there is scarcity.
The skyrocketing prices of food crops and the apparent inability of government to come to the aid of the people bring to their minds a sense of nostalgia regarding how governments handled the same issue several decades ago. The Western Region government, almost seven decades ago, had an agricultural policy through which farm produce were mopped up whenever there was a glut and fanned out in times of scarcity. This was the manifestation of a government that was concerned with the welfare of the people. Under this system, farmers got the right prices for their produce and had stable income all year long. It also ensured that they were not unduly exposed to the vagaries of the agricultural seasons.
In any case, since the military-induced Udoji policy of the government where abstruse and excess allowances were awarded Nigerian workers, the progressive emigration of farmers from the farm has become a fad. Since then, the farm has never been the same and the pursuit of white-collar jobs has become the in-thing among school leavers. This has reduced the depth of the technological component of agriculture and encouraged the perpetuation of centuries-old systems of farming. In saner climes where government is interested in the welfare of the people, the nuances of farming are monitored and reacted to appropriately by the government. When there are surpluses, government mops them up and releases the crops at times of scarcity. When surpluses contravene the policy and projection of government on agriculture in these climes, they are sometimes wasted through dropping them into the oceans. Unfortunately in Nigeria, there is palpable lethargy and indifference to the fate of farmers and the people in general.
We urge the government to articulate a definite policy of addressing the soaring prices of foodstuffs in the country. What is the state of existing silos in the country and how adequate are they to ensure the preservation of these food crops? The long and short of it all is that the people are groaning under the weight of rising food prices, the type never experienced before in the history of Nigeria and the government is in deep slumber. Government must wake up before hunger wreaks further havoc.