The increasing cost of food items

The prices of goods and services have kept soaring in the country lately, especially those of food items that have gone beyond the reach of most citizens. The country’s current year-on-year inflation rate of 15.75 per cent is the highest in the last three years and based on the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) 2020 report, the surging prices of food items contributed significantly to this unenviable statistic. Virtually all food items were impacted, with bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, fruits, vegetable, fish and oils and fats having the worst spike in prices. Like all variants of inflation, food price inflation implies the erosion of people’s purchasing power. For the poor, it means inadequate access  to proper  feeding  and for the average income earners, it indicates disproportionate channelling of income to the purchase of food items at the expense of other basic needs. In total, surging food prices translate into absence of food security, with the concomitant decline in the well-being of the people.  While the recent soaring costs of staple foods may have arisen from the interplay of the Covid-19 pandemic, which restricted economic activities, including food production, and poor storage facility, border closure and insecurity, the heightening and pervasive insecurity in the land stands out as the worst culprit.

The state of security has been deteriorating in the country for some time now, and many discerning citizens have literally shouted themselves hoarse about the far-reaching implications and consequences of this disturbing trend on social and economic activities, including food production. However, and sadly so, the sloppy official handling of the security challenge has not only deepened insecurity in the land but also made it enveloping. It is so bad that farmers cannot go to their farms due to pervasive insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram in the North-East, bandits in the North-West, herders’ onslaught on farmers in the North Central and escalating destruction of farm crops, killings and kidnapping of prominent farmers and other citizens in the other geopolitical zones. Many farmers are too apprehensive to go to their farms as a result of the veritable risks constituted by these variants of outlaws and of course it is axiomatic that when there is limited or non-existent farming activities, famine becomes a natural sequel. It is therefore not surprising that the society is suffused with hungry and despondent citizens.  And sadly, today’s hungry citizens are not just angry persons; they are also susceptible to improper conduct and behaviour. In other words, there is a definite nexus between the prevailing inadequate food supply, galloping inflation, which has eroded the purchasing power of Nigerians, and the spiralling proclivity of some citizens to act outside the ambit of the law.

There is no gainsaying the fact that as a basic need, the availability of food constitutes a stabilising force in any society. Therefore, beyond tackling the root causes of the current food crisis, there is the urgent need to boost supply so as to bear down the prices of staple food items. The national strategic grain reserves and other avenues, including opening the country’s borders to limited and guided food importation, may be deployed to improve food supply in order to crash the prices of food items that have gone out of the rooftops. We recommend this step as an immediate and short-term official palliative response to ameliorate the condition of the suffering masses under the extant and unabated regime of worsening prices of food items. Without doubt, resolving the current food crisis by reining in insecurity is a medium to long-term solution that could even be regarded as a tall order given the prevailing suboptimal official efforts at tackling the menace of insecurity.

The immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, recently told the National Assembly that the country may have to contend with the menace of terrorism for the next 20 years.  Perhaps more amenable to somewhat quick resolution are the issues of bandits and herdsmen’s onslaught on farmers, provided that the government is willing to confront the challenges head-on in a pragmatic and sincere fashion. The bandits and killer herdsmen are terrorists; the moment they are officially regarded and treated as such, that moment will their component of the security problems begin to abate. No meaningful farming activities can take place amidst apprehension by farmers of possible invasion and attacks by these deadly outlaws who operate with a palpable sense of impunity. The challenge of Boko Haram terrorism in the North-East is an entrenched and complex one that won’t be tackled overnight, and that makes it imperative that the other geopolitical zones are made trouble-free and conducive for optimal agricultural activities that can make up for the production shortfall in the ungoverned spaces of the North-East.

The grave implications of the present predicament include galloping inflation, unrest, malnourishment and other health hazards and challenges, all of which are patently avoidable. However, the failures of a government which has apparently chosen to be burdened by primordial partisan interests are largely responsible for the quandary in which the country is currently mired.

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