All around town there is a nuanced story. It’s a challenging moment for average working class Nigerians as they navigate inflated prices of food in order to feed their families but there is no overall food shortage, food is in abundance with distribution around town serving a bottleneck.
Well, there have been numerous explanations coming from both government and citizens. What is driving the current ‘scarcity amidst abundance’ in Nigeria? How did the present situation come to be? How dire is it, and what are the responses coming from communities, social movements, and the government? To what extent is the present situation being distorted in the media, and why? This article attempts to delve behind this story of hunger that touches, to address these questions let’s put the Crude oil economy and a food system in the balance.
It is no news that our economy is centered around oil which accounts for the vast majority of its foreign earnings and budget but the orientation towards petroleum also meant a shift away from agriculture, which came with a massive consequences. As both the Government and small scale farmers withdrew from the Agriculture, Nigeria’s peasant farmers and rural workers could no longer earn money but are well fed, Since money meant riches many flocked to urban cities and other urban hubs in search of work, making Nigeria one of the most urbanized country in Africa. In no time Nigeria became the first country in the Africa to be a net importer of food, as it was cheaper to import food with petroleum dollars than to produce it and this conditions facilitated development of a powerful food import and distribution complex, controlled by national and international corporate conglomerates.
As a producer of a high demand commodity and a voracious consumer of food imports, the Nigerian nation became firmly inserted into the global economy in ways that have rendered it particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil and food prices and to domestic inflation. The companies responsible for food imports and distribution have been able to use these conditions to their advantage in certain ways. Nigeria’s ability to import food through oil earnings in the past did not mean that its population was well fed. Indeed, the imports tended to be at prices well out of reach of the country’s poor majority. Sooner enough the International Oil price downfall causing abrupt surges in food and fuel prices; prices of feeding rose.
New administration is in place and the Buhari led government responded to this by rolling our various Agricultural programmes, Rice was banned many food import was banned and the government focused on extensive agricultural production.
The Efforts Toward Change
With over half of the population facing hunger and poverty, both the government and citizens identified food production and provisioning as strategic priorities and significant strides have been made in the past One year and half on the production end, the northern states have made substantial reinvestments in agriculture, the FG included the N-power agricultural processes to distribute educated farmers to boost the scope of production. On the distribution end, strategies have included increased availability of basic food items at subsidized and regulated prices and provision of free meals via school feeding sites but this is not really going down well, corrupt farmers are trying to play smart by exporting food to other nations for better Monetary exchange.
These efforts should have made historic gains in food security, as recognized by FAO, but they are mainly separated projects rather than systemic shifts. That is, even with domestic production reinvigorated and the population better fed, the country’s powerful longstanding food import and distribution complex has remained largely unaltered.
Hunger, Scarcity amidst abundance?
What is going on in Nigeria today? While periodic food shortages are nothing new, particularly at politically heightened moments, for more than 5 years the country has experienced ongoing shortages of particular basic food products in addition to shortages of medicines and personal hygiene items but this scarcity was heighten by ban on some food imports while the home grown is not being distributed en mass. It is the particularity of the banned items that is essential and often overlooked or distorted in media reports. There is no overall shortage of food and other basic goods in Nigeria. The two most common arguments of the distribution companies are that
a) the regulated prices set by the government to ensure accessibility are too low, providing a disincentive to distributors and
b) with the plummeting of oil prices, insufficient dollars are available for import of necessary primary materials.
c) Ban of some food import by the government
In 2014 before oil prices plummeted and while dollars were still readily available. Even once oil prices dropped and dollars became less available, the government continued to prioritize dollars for food import, and by their own accounting, the production levels of Nigeria’s major food companies have been stable or have even increased in that time. Another option is to buy basic products as contraband on the street through the parallel market, where they are sold at exponentially inflated prices at time like this when many food items are banned from importation. Here it bears emphasis again that the Inflation of specific products, so other food remains available. For instance, Nigeria is largely self-sufficient in fruits, vegetables and root crops, which are mostly produced by small- and mid-scale farmers. As these are distributed through decentralized networks, they have for the most part been unaffected by the inflation and shortages and are abundant in street markets around the country. However, as people substitute available products for unavailable ones (e.g., cassava, potatoes, and plantains in place of corn flour, pasta, rice and other processed carbohydrates), increased demand, together with high inflation and speculation, is driving up food prices overall, both in shops and on the streets. The result is an immensely challenging and stressful situation for most Nigerians as they strive to feed their families.
A Look At Impacts
Beyond the psychological and economic impacts of the inflation and shortage lines, and high prices, what are the physical effects? How are levels of hunger and nutrition being impacted? Here we will share both what we know and don’t know.
There are several reflections to be made. First, averages do not tell us about impacts on the most vulnerable populations. The flip side, however, is that Nigeria has a host of social programs specifically targeted at most vulnerable populations. Second, averages also do not tell us anything about food quality. Some argue current conditions are driving people toward more limited and less healthy dietary options, while others argue just the opposite– that as processed options are less available, people are opting for more nutritious whole foods as replacements. Likely there is some of both happening, and data is not yet available to tell us much more. Finally, in the months since these Import Bans are enacted, shortages and price inflation have both intensified.
The bottom line? Indeed, people are having a harder time accessing food right now in Nigeria. The situation is serious and needs to be addressed urgently. Is Nigeria going to be in the midst of a humanitarian crisis? No, not according to Nigeria’s Department of Health, international authorities such as the FAO, or our own observations and numerous interviews with community
Why, then, the extreme media distortion? Here it is important to look at the broader picture. While the media is painting a desperate situation in Nigeria, the opposition party is calling for the ousting of President Buhari . Both are using the “hunger crisis” as justification and the media is reflecting these claims rather than the much more complex reality on the ground.
While the government can still do more in its campaign to root out corruption in both the private and public sectors as well as implement further reforms in the currency exchange system, it certainly has not been sitting back in the face of the inflations and shortage of food. On the contrary, both the government and communities are taking the situation seriously, ramping up existing social protections while piloting new approaches on Agriculture. Among the other are the Hunger- Avengers rapidly formed across the country in recent months. There needs to be some partnerships between grassroots organizations and the government to provide a food distribution network in all 36 states. There should be a two-fold purpose. In the immediate term, government should be working to combat lines, shortages, and speculation by delivering basic food products directly to people. The government purchases goods directly from both private and state enterprises, a temporary stop-gap solution to the current shortages, aimed at the most vulnerable fifth of the population. In the longer term, The Ministry of Agriculture are also intended to engage in more mass local food production and processing. Like the Obasanjo’s Operation feed the Nation programme there should be a major push for urban agriculture. hese efforts are complemented by a renewed push for production in the Nation.
Meanwhile, social movements are seizing the moment to forge deeper transformation toward food sovereignty. Driven by necessity, unprecedented numbers of people are engaging and re-engaging in agriculture, from community farms to backyard patios, and in the process, exchanging seeds, bartering goods, and creating new local enterprises. A reduced supply of industrial agriculture inputs is also driving a transition toward organic practices and agroecology, in what some are likening to Cuba’s special period. The shortages are also causing a shift from processed foods and a renewed appreciation of local foods and traditional foodways. Many activists see these developments as elements of a new food system, a project they have been trying to advance for many years.
Questioning the Hunger cry
While hunger anywhere deserves high-level media coverage, it bears asking why Nigeria, a country which, by many indicators, has made important advances against hunger and poverty, is being targeted daily for dire coverage that does not reflect reality on the ground. Furthermore, why are the challenges being covered in a distorted manner by the opposition parties, but not the many innovative and successful responses, from an explosion of urban agriculture, to an agroecological transition, to unprecedented levels of citizen organization around food production and provisioning? The answers to this are multifold, complex, and subject to different perspectives and interpretations, but we hope readers are encouraged to seek out more information before taking current news reports at face value.
Note: The federal Government should ensure adequate distribution of Agricultural Product across the Nation.
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