Urgent Action Needed to Address Food Inflation

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By Elvis Eromosele

“An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.” This is a popular saying from Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”. Many times, these days, I feel like that old woman in the saying, especially when I see skits where food is wasted and there are too many of them now. I don’t find them funny. I can’t laugh. They offend my sensibility. Food don cost. 

This rising food cost is called food inflation. Food inflation refers to the rate at which food prices increase over a specific period, typically measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food. This metric indicates how much the cost of a standard basket of food items has risen, impacting consumers’ purchasing power and overall cost of living.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, “In April 2024, the food inflation rate reached 40.53 per cent on a year-on-year basis, marking a substantial increase of 15.92 percentage points from the 24.61 per cent recorded in April 2023.”

People across the length and breadth of the country have adopted (and are adopting) various strategies to cope with soaring food prices. It’s a picture that should worry anyone with a conscience.

A simple scan of households reveals that many families are shifting from more expensive food items to cheaper, less nutritious alternatives. This often means reducing protein intake and relying more on carbohydrates. This is inadvertently compounding the nation’s protein deficiency woes.

Reports indicate that some households are reducing the number of meals they consume daily. Instead of three meals, many now eat just once or twice a day. Take a closer look at your driver, security guards and other domestic staff today, do their necks appear thinner?

Fortunately, community support appears to be on the rise. This refers to informal community networks that play a crucial role in augmenting family meals. It can be neighbours or extended families sharing food and resources to provide a buffer against acute shortages.

There is an increased reliance on street food. Street food vendors, offering relatively affordable meals, have become an essential part of daily sustenance for many urban poor. They are a good reason many people are surviving. They provide a life-giving service.

Many people have equally resorted to the time-honoured pattern of borrowing money or buying food on credit from local vendors. While this ensures people can live to fight another day, it equally perpetuates the cycle of debt.

It is time to mitigate the adverse effects of food inflation. The government, the major driver of inflation through its policies, must now take several urgent measures to help curb it and provide immediate and long-term relief to Nigerians.

Let me start with my favourite theme, the government must provide food subsidies. I believe that implementing subsidies for essential food items and controlling prices can help make basic foods more affordable. Subsidies on fertilizers and seeds can also reduce production costs for farmers.

Two, it needs to urgently strengthen food security programs. This includes expanding food aid programs and school feeding schemes that can ensure that vulnerable populations, particularly children, receive adequate nutrition.

Three, agricultural support initiatives must be pursued relentlessly including security. There are several states where farmers can’t go to farm because of fear of bandits and kidnappers. The government must stop treating the security situation with kid gloves.

In line with the first point, emergency relief funds should also be on the card. Establishing emergency relief funds to support households in dire need can provide immediate financial assistance to purchase food. The Lagos State Government, earlier in the year, spoke of a mass resident feeding program through local bukas. Who knows how that initiative is progressing?

I’ll be the first to admit that the government cannot possibly do everything by itself.

Private organisations also have a vital, even if, complementary role to play in addressing the food crisis.

Companies can launch CSR programs focused on food distribution, nutritional education, and support for local agriculture. They can, in addition, collaborate with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to fund and implement food relief projects to expand the reach and impact of aid efforts.

The food inflation crisis is real. The hunger in the land is pervasive. The government cannot afford to keep paying lip service to the situation. Concrete action is required, urgently.

While the government must take the lead in implementing policy measures to stabilize food prices and support agricultural production, private organisations can play a significant role in providing immediate assistance and promoting sustainable solutions. By working together, we can help mitigate the impact of food inflation on the most vulnerable populations and ensure food security for all citizens.

Eromosele, a corporate communication professional and public affairs analyst, wrote via: elviseroms@gmail.com