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Rising cost of preparing jollof rice signals Nigeria’s worsening food insecurity

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IT was past noon – lunchtime – but there was only one customer at the bukka. Loretta Eze, the proprietor, surveyed the busy street as she stood by the entrance of her restaurant located by the corner of a street in the Wuse 2 area of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory. A number of girls in yellow shirts, who worked as attendants in the restaurant, were hanging around waiting for the solitary customer to finish his meal.

“It was not always like this,” Loretta told The ICIR‘s correspondent, who visited the restaurant while investigating the impact of rising prices of foodstuffs on the preparation and consumption of food, especially jollof rice.

“Food items are very expensive these days and the situation is very hard for those of us that are into catering and food business. Things are hard and as a result, we are not getting as many customers as in the past when things were cheaper,” Loretta added.

Higher cost of foodstuffs has forced restaurants, including roadside bukkas and ‘Mama put‘ joints, to increase the prices of different dishes on their menu and Loretta observed that the development had, in turn, forced some customers to stay away because they could not afford meals as in the past.

Loretta’s observations and concerns mirrored the findings in the SBM Jollof Index report for the first quarter of 2021.

The SBM Jollof Index, developed by SBM Intel, an Africa-focused research firm, simplified the appreciation of food inflationary trends using a common delicacy that most Nigerian households enjoy – jollof rice.

Tomatoes, pepper and onions displayed for sale at a market in Abuja
Tomatoes, pepper and onions displayed for sale at a market in Abuja

Across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, SBM collects data on the most common ingredients that go into cooking jollof rice in 13 markets on a monthly basis except for December, due to the seasonal spikes caused by Yuletide celebrations. From the prices collated, the cost of making a pot of jollof rice for a family of five or six is averaged and used as a proxy for measuring food inflation across the country.

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The commodities that make up the Jollof Index include rice, curry, thyme, seasoning, groundnut oil, chicken/turkey (poultry), beef, pepper, tomatoes, salt and onions.

The SBM Index is published three times a year – at the end of the first three quarters. Data from October and November are reflected in the Quarter 1 Jollof Index of the following year.

  • Cost of making pot of jollof rice rose between March 2020 and March 2021

According to the latest SBM Jollof Index report, the average cost of making a pot of jollof rice rose by 7.8 per cent between March 2020 and March 2021.

The sharp spike in the cost of preparing the delicacy was attributed to a number of events which impacted on food prices. The negative impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown from March to May 2020, the border closure and foreign exchange restrictions in August 2020 were worsened by a sharp hike in energy tariffs by September of that year.

The situation was further compounded by the #EndSARS protests, as well as the food blockade imposed by northern traders on the southern part of the country, which disrupted agricultural supply chain and the movement of people and goods.

The reopening of land borders in December 2020 did not result in a significant drop in the cost of food items – the price of a bag of rice only dropped slightly by a margin of N1000 to N3000 depending on the market but that did not translate into a drop in the cost of making a pot of jollof rice for the majority of Nigerians who buy from retailers.

A woman selling foodstuffs in the market. The prices of basic food items are going up by the day
A woman selling foodstuffs in the market. The prices of basic food items are going up by the day

The SBM Jollof Index noted that food prices remained high due to factors such as reduced local production, exchange rate fluctuations, poor harvest due to adverse weather, and high cost of energy and transportation.

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Insecurity was also a major factor for the increasing cost of preparing a pot of jollof rice, translating into rising food inflation in Nigeria.

“Some of the jollof rice ingredients such as rice, onions and tomatoes have witnessed reduced local production because of protracted conflicts and terrorist attacks on farmers. Out of the 11 main rice producing states in the country, Benue, Borno, Ebonyi and Kaduna have witnessed attacks on farmers with the most gruesome being the execution of about 110 rice farmers in Borno in November 2020,” the report said.

Faced with deaths from terror attacks in insecure agrarian communities, several farmers are leaving the countryside and moving to the cities to take up menial jobs.

  • Despite recent drop in inflation rate, Nigerians are still groaning over increasing cost of food items

According to latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s inflation rate dropped from 18.17 per cent in March 2021 to 18.12 per cent in April 2021.

The 0.05 percentage points decline was the first recorded in headline inflation in about 20 months.

Food inflation also recorded a decline – from 22.95 per cent in March 2021 to 22.72 per cent in April, 2021.

However, while the NBS suggested that inflation might have peaked and could continue to drop, Nigerians are yet to get any reprieve while purchasing foodstuffs.

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For Loretta, a food vendor who deals in foodstuffs, the price of food items has continued to spike in the market.

Loretta Eze

Making a comparison of what was obtainable in the past and the present, she told The ICIR, “Before now, I used to buy a small basket of tomatoes between N300 and N500, but now, it is N1500. Some tomatoes even go for N2500 per basket. Also, a basket of fresh pepper is N1500 now. Before now, you could get a pint of groundnut oil for N300, but it is now N650.”

She added, “Before now, with N2500 or N3000, I could prepare a normal pot of soup or stew but now, if you don’t have at least N7000 you will not get the taste you want due to the high cost of food items.”

Further lamenting the daily hike in the price of staple food items, she observed that, not too long ago, a mudu, or regular measure of beans, was between N250 and N300. But a mudu of beans is N800 now.

“It is the same case as meat. Before now, with N6000 or N8000, you could get the quantity of goat meat that would be enough for you, but now, you will have up to N15000 or more for that same quantity.”

According to her, the increase in the price of onions was ‘manageable’. “The quantity we were getting for N100 before is about N400 or N500 at the moment.”

Loretta also pointed to the sharp increase in the price of rice.

“Before now, a mudu of rice was N300, but now, a mudu of local rice is about N800,” a development which she admitted had increased the cost of preparing a pot of regular jollof rice.

Speaking further, Loretta said, “crayfish and stockfish are totally out of the question” due to recent hike in the prices of the food items.

Nkechi Emmanuel, a housewife, had a frown on her face as she walked out of Dutse Market, in the Bwari area of Abuja. She was clutching a handful of food items.

In a brief encounter with The ICIR‘s correspondent, Nkechi explained that the feeding allowance her husband gave her each month, which was never enough in the best of times, was now barely able to provide a pot of stew and soup.

“It has never been this bad and it is getting worse by the day,” the woman said in a frustrated tone.

All types of foodstuffs are becoming out of reach for the poor and the lower middle-class by the day.

Mary Okon-Essien operates a restaurant in the FCT. She took a break from serving a customer to respond to questions by The ICIR‘s correspondent on May 20.

Mary Okon-Essien
Mary Okon-Essien

Okon-Essien stressed that the increase in the prices of basic food items, which had driven up the cost of food, had resulted in reduced patronage for food vendors.

“Before now, the highest amount you could get egusi is N250 or N300 for a mudu, but now, a mudu of egusi is N700 or N800.

“The situation is very difficult for those of us that are into food business. Due to the high cost of foodstuff, it is not easy to sell and make profit anymore because customers are having problems with the higher prices,” she said.

Garri is generally regarded as ‘poor man’s food,’ but Okon-Essien said that was in the past.

“Garri is longer a poor man’s food. A mudu of garri is now N500,” she told The ICIR.

Okon-Essien also noted that another staple foudstuff – red oil – had become more expensive.

“Before now, you could get a tin of red oil for N200, but now, it is not less than N500,” she said, while observing that the situation was more worrisome because the food items were locally produced and not imported.

Besides becoming more expensive, some food items which Nigerians took for granted, due to their availability, are becoming scarce.

The increase in the price of fufu, a cassava meal, goes with the increasing scarcity of the food item, according to Okon-Essien.

“Fufu is a food item that is loved by Nigerians but right now, fufu is scarce and that has made it very expensive. I don’t know if Nigerians are not planting cassava again. Fish has also become very expensive. People now find it very difficult to afford fish for their meals.”

Okon-Essien corroborated the findings of the SBM Jollof Index for the first quarter of 2021.

“Not too long ago, with as little as N1000, you could prepare a pot of jollof rice for your family because with that amount, you would get rice and some amount of crayfish, onion, maggi and other foodstuff you needed.  But now, that N1000 will only be enough for a mudu of foreign rice and if you want to cook local rice, then you will need N700 or N800 to buy a mudu of rice and as a result, you will not have much left for the ingredients needed for the jollof rice.”

Highlighting the dismal impact of high food inflation on the food industry, she observed, “Before now, when it was lunch time, you would see many people coming to eat, but now, lunch time seems like morning time, you hardly see anybody. You only see a few people coming to eat and this is because there is no money and everybody is ‘checking his pocket.’ Before now, they could get a plate of food for N250 or N300, but the least you can get a plate of now is N400 or N500,” the woman said.

The number of customers in restaurants has dropped, Okon-Essien noted.

  • Inflation rate still very high despite recorded decline

Nigeria’s inflation rate might have recorded a marginal decline in April but it remains very high and this is especially so for food inflation.

This was stated by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) which decried the current inflation rate of 18.12 per cent.

Director General of LCCI Muda Yusuf noted that despite the recently recorded decline in the inflation rate, “food inflation at over 22 per cent is still very high in spite of the marginal moderation in food prices in April 2021.”

 

Food items on sale at the market. Traders and customers are complaining about the increasing price of foudstuff across Nigeria
Food items on sale at the market. Traders and customers are complaining about the increasing price of foudstuff across Nigeria

 

Yusuf said the situation had continued to exert a negative impact on the activities of every economic agents, including households, businesses and investors, with profound impact on the citizenry, particularly the low and middle-income households.

“The high level of inflation continues to dampen consumer purchasing power at a time households incomes are not increasing in proportion to cost,” he said, adding that the development had resulted in rising production costs and depressed margins for businesses.

  • Nigeria at risk of famine

Meanwhile, the latest SBM Jollof Index report, which said Nigeria was currently on a slippery slope, noted that Nigeria might experience famine in the nearest future if production, consumption and political-economic dynamics remained unchanged from what was currently obtainable.

Noting that decline in food availability, exponential population growth and decline in entitlements were the main contributors to famine, the report observed that “history shows that the famines with the highest mortality rates resulted from poor harvests, natural disasters (droughts, flood), war/conflict, poor governance and policy failures – conditions which Nigeria fulfills easily.”

The SBM Jollof Index noted that over the last 10 years, food production in Nigeria had been dismally affected by continuous conflicts between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt, where more than 62,000 farmers were displaced from their homeland between 2010 and 2015, including terrorist attacks on farmers in the North-East and bandits’ onslaught in the North-West.

Added to these are adverse weather conditions and decreasing agricultural land due to urbanisation, and the effects of governance failure and some government policies, such as border closer, foreign exchange restriction, hike in electricity tariff and petrol pump price.

The SBM Jollof Index stated that the different factors had combined to continuously drive up food prices in Nigeria.

Poverty rising

The 2020 report by World Poverty Clock showed that over 105 million Nigerians lived in extreme poverty – as against 98 million in October 2019. The figure represented more than 51 per cent of the population.

This placed Nigeria as world poverty capital for two years running. Unemployment in Nigeria reached 33.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020. Nigeria is among most miserable countries in Africa, scoring 50.6 points in March 2021, as against  14.8 points in Ghana, 6.9 in Ethiopia, 13 in Kenya and 12.1 points in Egypt, among others.

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