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Hunger cries drown Tinubu’s renewed hope

…food prices surge 15.7%

Hunger has long plagued the world’s poverty capital, but it has worsened since President Bola Tinubu took office in May 2023.

Households are now grappling with the worst cost of living crisis in decades thanks to Tinubu’s bold but unpopular economic reforms.

The reforms, which include the petrol & electricity subsidies removal, naira devaluation and value-added tax on diesel imports have sent prices to a record high, squeezed household budgets, and caused the worst food crisis the country has ever experienced.

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“The cry of hunger across the country is louder than it has ever been and it will continue to worsen because the government is yet to address fundamental issues hampering food production,” Jude Obi, president of the Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria said in response to questions.

“Insecurity is still a major issue and the Tinubu government has failed to ensure that those who want to farm can carry out their farming activities without any form of fear,” he added.

According to Obi, the country now has a shortfall in all staples and this is mainly responsible for the continuous surge in food prices across the country.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and the top grower of cassava, maize, cocoa, and beans. Yet a growing number of Nigerians are struggling to eat daily and falling into poverty as inflation accelerates and shrinks buying power, especially for low and fixed-income earners.

Around 93.8 million Nigerians or 46.9 percent of its 200 million people are living below the poverty line, and that number is estimated to rise this year, the World Bank said in the country’s development update report in June 2023.

Headline inflation has soared to its highest in three decades hitting 33.2 percent in April, with the naira slumping to record lows, pressured by acute dollar shortages.

Nigeria imports food and fuel and was hammered by the surge in global prices due to the Russian-Ukraine war.

An intense security crisis has teamed up with accelerating inflation and climate change to drive food prices and hunger in Nigeria higher– with 26.5 million people across the country projected to face acute hunger in the June – August 2024 lean season, according to a World Food Programme report.

This is a staggering increase from the 18.6 million people who were food insecure at the end of 2023.

Similarly, a combined report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, World Food Programme and the United Nations listed Nigeria among five other countries as the ‘hotspot of global hunger’ – where people are facing catastrophic levels of hunger.

Nigeria, with a Global Hunger Index score of 28.3 in 2023 ranked 109th out of 125 countries. The index termed the level of hunger in the country as “serious.”

“People are really hungry in the country today owing to the constant surge in food prices amid low purchasing power and many are skipping meals to survive,” Abiodun Olorundenro, operations manager at AquaShoots Limited said in an interview Friday.

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Garri, tomatoes turn gold

In July 2023, President Bola Tinubu declared a state of emergency on food security and unveiled an immediate, short and long-term plan for the sector to fix the country’s food crisis.

Despite this, the average food prices of key staples across major cities in the country have surged by over 15.7 percent since May 29 2023 when the President assumed office, causing food inflation to hit 40 percent in April 2024 from 24.82 percent in May last year.

The price of garri, a popular staple food in Nigeria and mostly consumed by low income households, has surged by 233 percent in a year.

A BusinessDay survey across major markets shows that the average price of a 50kg bag of yellow garri has surged from an average of N18,000 in May 2023 to N60,000 in May 2024.

A 4-litre paint container measure of yellow garri now sells for an average of N4,000 as against N1,200 sold in the same period last year.

The price of a big basket of fresh tomatoes, the most consumed vegetable in the country, has surged by 350 percent. A big basket of tomatoes now sells for N120,000 as against N40,000 sold last year.

The President promised to deploy savings from petrol subsidy removal into the food system to revamp agriculture and grow its contribution to GDP in the long term.

But no meaningful development has taken place since Tinubu made the promise, according to industry players.

“The Tinubu administration has not done much in agriculture even though we are experiencing a food crisis,” Olorundenro said.

According to him, the administration’s plan for the sector in the past year did not address other sub-sectors – livestock, forestry and fishing and investments in research that are critical to attaining food security, creating jobs and boosting export earnings.

Also, the plan for the sector did not include nutrition despite the country having the highest burden of malnutrition in Africa and the second highest globally, according to UNICEF.

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Households squeezed

For the past twelve months, it has been difficult for Nigerians as prices of all items have more than tripled.

Nigerians are now constantly struggling to afford basic needs and desperately seeking financial support as inflation erodes household incomes.

The situation has continued to worsen since the beginning of the year with prospects of more due to the continuous acceleration in inflation.

“I can’t even afford to eat properly again as food prices continue to surge. Once I can feed my children twice daily I am satisfied,” Ronke Raji, a stylist at Ketu Market said.

“People are trying to cut down on their costs so they can survive the difficult moment. As part of the cost measures, ladies are wearing wigs now instead of making their hair. This is taking jobs away from us. So, how can I afford a balanced diet for my children or myself”? She asked.

Moji Adeleke, a teacher and a mother of four said, “I can’t afford to give my children an egg per day anymore despite knowing the importance of their development because it has become so expensive.”