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Harvests in havoc: How insecurity is contributing to Nigeria’s food inflation

With a 25.18 percent contribution to Nigeria’s real GDP in 2023, agriculture is undoubtedly a major contributor to Nigeria’s economy. In 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in its Consumption Expenditure Pattern Report, revealed that food spending accounted for 56.65 percent of Nigeria’s total household expenditure. More recent research published by Picodi in 2023 also showed that 59 percent of Nigerian consumers’ spending is food-related. The facts and figures indicate that a significant portion of Nigeria’s economy rests on food and agriculture. Even without numbers and statistics, it doesn’t take much to convince anyone that a thriving and vibrant agricultural sector is essential for every country.

Over the past few years, farmers across Nigeria have faced a common enemy—insecurity. It has been from farm to farm for many farmers as kidnapping and insecurity have affected farming activities in Nigeria. Several farmers have abandoned their farmlands, which has reduced the nation’s food supply and resulted in food inflation. In this article, I summarise the recent happenings and reports on insecurity and agriculture in Nigeria.

“Even without numbers and statistics, it doesn’t take much to convince anyone that a thriving and vibrant agricultural sector is essential for every country.”

Reports and warnings about insecurity and food prices

This insecurity challenge is not new; it has been around for a while. Several organisations have raised concerns about how insecurity has contributed to Nigeria’s food crisis. As far back as March 2022, Forbes published an article titled “In Nigeria, Terrorism has Become a Major Threat to Food Security.” The article reported that hundreds of farmers were killed and kidnapped in 2021 alone. The article also confirmed that farmers have fled their farmlands, leading to the inflation of food prices. “At the national level, since July 2020, staples such as beans and tomatoes have seen a 253 percent and 123 percent surge in prices, respectively,” the article reads.

A United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) press release published in January 2023 also warned that 25 million Nigerians are at risk of hunger. The press release listed insecurity as one of the key drivers of food insecurity. “Food access has been affected by persistent violence in the north-east states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe (BAY) and armed banditry and kidnapping in states such as Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Benue, and Niger,” the press release explained.

National newspapers and media outlets at different times have also reported farmers being kidnapped and terrorised.

Read also: Why are Nigerians so displeased with the economy?

The current situation of Nigeria’s food prices

Food prices have been on an upward trend over the past few years. With each passing year, Nigerians spend more of their disposable income on food.

NBS’ April 2024 Food Inflation Report revealed that the food inflation rate in April 2024 was 40.53 percent on a year-on-year (y-o-y) basis. Compared to April 2023’s food inflation rate of 24.61 percent, the data confirms that food prices are growing at a rather concerning rate. NBS’ Selected Food Price Watch Report for February 2024 details price movements for selected food items. One kilogramme of rice was sold for N540.84 in February 2023; however, one kilogramme of rice was sold for N1,222.97 in February 2024. This is a 134.81 percent increase in the price of rice over a twelve-month period. The year-over-y percentage increases in the prices of a kilogramme of beef, beans, garri, and yam were 49.41 percent, 98.25 percent, 109.16 percent, and 131.33 percent, respectively.

Are the insecurity reports exaggerated?

You might wonder, “Is it that bad, or is this just another exaggerated occurrence?”

According to multiple reports, insecurity has become so prevalent among farmers that bandits have attained new heights of audacity. Bandits now impose levies to allow farmers to plant and harvest in peace. In March 2024, a Business Insider Africa article reported that farmers in Northwestern Nigeria paid at least N139.5 million to bandits as levies between 2020 and 2023.

According to a news publication by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN in November 2023, Nigeria is expected to see about 26.5 million people grappling with high levels of food insecurity in 2024.

Many small and big farmers have abandoned farming activities. The farmers who still cultivate are on the verge of closing up their farming businesses out of fear. On May 8th, 2024, a multi-billion-naira plantation in Nigeria, Okomu Oil Palm Plc, threatened to shut down over insecurity. The managing director of the company complained about the constant attacks and kidnappings that have plagued their business. These were the words of the company’s managing director: “It’s absurd that we pay over N12 billion in taxes to the government annually and still are left to fend for and seek security for equipment and personnel by ourselves.”

Multiple reports and thousands of social media comments confirm the reality of the insecurity challenges. Sadly, the claim that insecurity is affecting Nigeria’s food prices is not mere supposition. It is a real challenge that requires a quick and permanent solution.

Final thoughts and solutions

While insecurity is not the sole contributor to food inflation in Nigeria, it is one of the key drivers of food price increases that require a solution. The solution to insecurity is simple: security. The farmers left their farms because they didn’t feel safe. Once the farmers feel safe again, they will return to their farms. Deploying military aid to the “notorious” areas will be a great start.

Many residential areas in Nigeria have informal community watch groups (vigilantes) that protect them from robbery. With the right approval, establishing local community watch groups and security outfits in affected communities will be helpful too. After solving the insecurity issue, the government should develop fresh agro-initiatives, subsidies, and tax incentives to make farming attractive again. I believe in Nigeria’s potential for growth, and I believe that growth and stability in Nigeria’s agriculture sector are attainable.

The best time to address the insecurity challenge was yesterday; the next best time is today.

About author

Leke Olushuyi is a chartered accountant and a finance professional.