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Food Insecurity And Rising Poverty: Nigerians Lament Increasing Cost Of Rice, Others
Published Oct 22, 2022 IN SATURDAY COVER,
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RICE is no doubt, arguably the most consumed food in Nigeria for many reasons. Many Nigerians eat rice at least twice a week, and in some homes, it is a Sunday ritual – whether fried, Jollof or with stew – however prepared, one of them is consumed. In fact, Nigeria ranks among the leading global consumers of rice, as the nation consumes almost 7 million metric tons of the food, annually, which accounts for more than 20 per cent of Africa’s consumption.

However, the commodity which can be described as essential, has become something which many Nigerians cannot now afford due to its very high price in the market, despite series of government’s interventions to make it available to the masses and to ensure food security. This means that a lot of Nigerians now go hungry, as the produce is now out of their reach, coupled with the dwindling fortunes of the Naira, which means their purchasing power is further weakened.

According to the World Bank, in its latest 2022 Poverty and Prosperity Report, Nigeria contributed 3 million people to global extreme poverty, while the country is “home to a large share of the global extreme poor. “Every minute, more than six Nigerians enter the extreme poverty bracket as the number of poor persons in the country race towards the 95.1 million projected this year by the World Bank.

Also, last weekend, Nigeria was ranked 103 out of 121 countries in the 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI), a position that signifies the nation has a level of hunger that is serious. The Global Hunger Index was jointly published by the German-based Welthungerhilfe and Dublin-based Concern Worldwide to mark the World Food Day.

The report, which ranks countries by ‘severity’, gave Nigeria a score of 27.3 – a hunger level that falls under the ‘serious’ category.

The index has five levels of hunger under which each country falls – low, moderate, serious, alarming and extremely alarming. This is the second consecutive year in which Nigeria’s ranking on the scale remains the same. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, ranked 103 out of 116 countries in 2021 and 98 among 107 countries in 2020.

At the beginning of this year, the number of poor Nigerians had increased to 91 million, with the World Bank estimating that an additional one million people were pushed into poverty in Nigeria from June to November 2021.

The latest figure of the poverty index, nearly half of the country’s estimated population of about 214 million, had jumped from 89 million, given by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in May 2020. This means that 6.1 million more persons would have fallen beneath the poverty line in two years, making it the poverty capital of the world.

In this piece, The Pointer x-rays the current plight of common Nigerians as many households are faced with the inability to afford the popular food item and how it affects other segment of Nigerians. Several stakeholders in the rice value chain share their views on the current situation, while also proffering solutions that would boost production and enhance food security.

Government’s intervention to enhance a food secure

society have, in fact, defined themselves by the way and degree in which they have succeeded in increasing agricultural production and the Nigerian government had, at different times, proposed policies to improve food production and consequently, ensure food security. Under Yakubu Gowon, the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), was introduced to ensure significant increase in the production of maize, cassava, rice and wheat in the northern states through subsistent production within a short period of time. The programme was designed to spread to other states in the country after the pilot stage that was established in Anambra, Imo, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, Benue, Plateau and Kano states. The programme did not yield the desired result as it lacked farmers’ participation.

ADP, formerly known as Integrated Agricultural Development Projects (IADP) was earlier established in 1974 in the North East (Funtua), North West (Gusau) and North Central (Gombe) states as pilot schemes. The earlier impressive result of the programme led to its replication in 1989 to the entire then 19 states of the federation. Present problems of ADP include: high frequency of labour mobility, limited involvement of input agencies, dwindling funding policies and counterpart funding, intricacies of technology transfer etc.

Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) evolved under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The programme was launched in order to bring about increased food production in the entire nation through the active involvement and participation of everybody in every discipline thereby making every person to be capable of partly or wholly feeding him or herself. The programme failed as preference was given to government establishments and individuals in authority/administration over the poor farmers (real producer of food) in terms of input supply.

The National, Special Programme on Food Security (NSPFS), was launched in January 2002 in all the thirty six states of the federation during the Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. The broad objective of the programme was to increase food production and eliminate rural poverty. Other specific objectives of the programme were assisting farmers in increasing their output, productivity and income, strengthening the effectiveness of research and extension service training and educating farmers on farm management for effective utilization of resources. However, despite the noble objectives of the programme, it suffered setbacks, such as the inability of majority of the beneficiaries to repay their loan on time, complexity and incompatibility of innovation and difficulty in integrating technology into existing production system.

Recently, the Buhari administration, in a bid to encourage the Production of rice and other commodities, introduced the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to encourage rice farmers to improve their production and ensure that demands for local consumers is met and subsequently for export. However, by 2015 when the ABP launched, only about 3.7 million metric tons were locally produced with the remaining imported or smuggled into the country through porous land borders, but with the shutting down of the borders and crisis in some parts of Europe, importation has suffered a big hit.

The ABP intervention was, therefore, also to scale down food import bills and conserve foreign exchange as the country’s economy was then sliding into recession amid falling oil prices. In addition, rice mills could raise their capacity utilisation with more farmers assisted to produce more rice paddies.

In the two years that followed the launch of the ABP, Nigeria’s local rice production jumped to about 4.5 million metric tons and 5 million metric tons by 2021, meaning, nevertheless, local production is still unable to satisfy demand.

Detailed statistics on government spending on the interventions are not available. But for perspective, by 2016, the Central Bank of Nigeria disclosed it had released N11.7 billion ($45.6 million at the average exchange rate of the time, 257/1) for rice cultivation in Kebbi State alone. And between April and May 2022, the apex bank said it had released N57.9 billion ($138.8 million at the current official exchange rate of 417/1) for the cultivation of Nigeria’s commonest grains, namely rice, wheat, and maize, under the ABP.

However, despite the relative gains of the programme, many Nigerians as of today cannot afford to buy rice because of the high cost.

 Stakeholders have their say

 While some may attribute the rising cost of the staple to the current flooding witnessed in parts of the country, it is pertinent to note that the cost has witnessed incremental movements in the past few months, due to several other factors.

President of Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN), Peter Dama, attributed the lingering rice insecurity and rising cost of the produce across the country to the impossibility of farmers to access their farms, saying this has left millers without paddy to mill. He said there are situations where, after planting, farmers who were able to access their farms would discover that the bandits had harvested their rice and taken them away.

Dama also noted that climatic conditions such as drought, were also affection rice production in some parts of the country.

“You find out that people are being chased out of their farms, or they go to their farms and find out that vandals or bandits have harvested their crops and taken them away. Insecurity is a very big challenge and it is affecting production in terms of cultivation.

“Secondly, the rains are not just there, a lot of the rivers or places people use for planting rice are dried up, that is not within our control, you give somebody a farm, he digs a borehole and there is no water, these are natural things affecting production”, he said.

Furthermore, he said poor power supply and vandalisation of power infrastructure in the factories and high cost of diesel have left miller frustrated.

“For production, power is very essential, because in a factory or production area, you need to have power. In Spite of the difficulties that power distribution companies are having, there are some Nigerians that are so terrible that they go to vandalize power infrastructure.

“Government is trying to provide for you to be able to process and mill rice, at the end of the day, you go to your factory to find out that your armoured cables have been vandalised; that is a problem.

“A lot of millers depend on generators because of the failure in the provision of energy, but these generating sets don’t use water, they use diesel and petrol, but the price of diesel has skyrocketed, and it is a problem.

He said Nigerian millers and rice processors are doing their best in such a way that, in spite of the challenges, they still continue production.

“Do not expect millers or processors to be the people that subsidise consumption for this country, it is expected that with the difficulties we are passing through, we should be able to make little profits. The sac bag used to cost maybe N1000, but currently, it has gone up to between N3000 and N5000 per sac bag”.

A major stakeholder in the agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy, who craved anonymity, said the issue of insecurity and high cost of production are major factors contributing to high cost of rice in the country.

He noted that “Locally produced rice is not available as being speculated. At the end of the day, the output on rice production may not even justify the inputs unless we view it from the angle of government subsidising rice production.

“Currently, imported rice still compete with the little local rice available in the market. If imported rice is removed from the market, local rice would be nothing to reckon with”.

How it has affected Nigerians

A trader, Mrs. Judith, who deals on rice in wholesale quantities and also doubles as a caterer and event planner, with a warehouse close to the Midwifery market, along Okpanam road axis, attributes the high cost of rice partially to the current flooding being experienced in some parts of the country and on other factors in the supply aspect, like cost of diesel/fuel and transportation.

“In July we were buying rice at N26, 500 depending on the variety of the locally produced rice you want to buy. In August the price increased N29, 000, by September,the price increased due to diesel increment. Then the floods came and it skyrocketed to N40, 000 as vehicles cannot deliver the goods on time and also the bad roads, too. Majority of the rice farmers right now, have their lands washed away and the crops have been washed away, too; this is the reason we will have this increment and scarcity of rice, even those of them not affected by this flood cannot transport the goods over”.

“Even those traders that have stock of that same goods in their warehouses would start increasing the price because they now see that the demand is high, so they will increase the price since the good is scarce. The increment affects businesses, as salary earners cannot even buy and it will affect we the sellers because people cannot buy again they run from rice so is affecting the rich and the poor. As a caterer, it also affects us, because our clients would be forced to spend more money or even look for other alternatives”.

She also predicted that the cost might not come down anytime soon due to the floods.

“The current cost of rice may not come down because of the flood and you know in Nigeria, when prices go up, they seldom go back downwards”, she added.

A restaurant operator, just close to the Stephen Keshi Stadium, in the heart of Asaba, Mrs. Chinedum, added that the ever increasing cost of rice has seen her make little adjustments in her service delivery, especially for those who prefer to consume the staple. “We purchase a bag of rice now for about N40, 000 which is not friendly at all,; so, we had to adjust the quantity of our servings, so at least we can break even and afford to go to the market with something. Some of our customers do not understand, as rice is like the best seller in every eatery, so we tell them about the current predicament and ask them to bear with us”, she said.

For Divine Ezeh, who is in the dog business, with over 20 assorted puppies including Caucasians and Boerbels, getting food, especially rice, for his puppies is now a very big task as his supply has more than dwindled. “The situation is getting harder every day, to get rice from these fast food outlets, before from about two outlets, I used to collect about two to three big custard buckets full of it, but now it’s not the same. In fact, few days ago, it was just a small nylon cellophane bag’s worth I was able to get; now, I just have to supplement with other items like indomie noodles”, he lamented.

A civil servant who did not want his name in print, bemoaned the same issue just as the yuletide is around the horizon. “The cost of rice is too high, if I manage to buy just one bag, a tangible part of my salary is gone, Christmas is around the corner, I still have my parents and inlaws to send some other items, we have not added other condiments like tomatoes and groundnut oil into the mix, before you know your salary is gone and you wonder how. We may just have to look at other alternatives, if we are to survive”, he concluded.

With the Yuletide less than 70 days away, the reality of many Nigerians is akin to that of Chike, in Chinua Achebe’s Chike and the River, whose mother used to say to him, “A Poor Man should not dream of rice”.

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