X-raying food price volatility in Kwara

By Mike Adeyemi
COVID-19 has had a dire effect on global economies, no doubt about that. Rising infections rates have led to social distancing directives, persistent lockdown, the closing of businesses, travel restraints, salary cuts, and a looming high unemployment situation.
Economic activity has shrunk dramatically, and with it the food supply value chain globally. The story for Kwara has been no different.
The state has instituted a range of measures to try to curb the pandemic. These have included waves of lockdown in major town , movement wavers to farmers and other essential businesses.
These measures have affected all sectors of the economy. But food supply has taken the most severe hit.
Recently I look a market survey of the state of food prices in Kwara. I found out that prices had risen astronomically between February 2020 till date. The survey indicated that prices of some food items jumped by more than 25 per cent.
A 40 kilogramme (kg) basket of tomato, which was sold for N6, 000 in March has risen to N8,000.
The price of a 50kg bag of Scotch Bonnet pepper jumped by 50 per cent, selling for N14,000 against the previous N7,000.
Similarly, a 50kg basket of bell pepper (Tatashe) rose to N15,000 from N10,000.
The survey further showed that a 100kg basket of onion is now selling for N19,000, up from N14,000 last month.
The price of 25 litres of vegetable oil has risen from N17,000 to N19,500 but the same quantity of palm oil dropped from N18,000 to N12,000.
However, prices of both local and foreign 50kg bag of rice remained the same at N22,000 and N23,000 respectively for short grains.
I then set about tracing the reasons for these price hikes. I concluded that the measures taken to contain COVD-19 have indeed had a major impact on food supplies in Kwara State and indeed the country at large.
But I also discovered that other factors were going up even in country’s best food producing states. This, I concluded, was due to factors unrelated to COVID-19, such as violent conflict.
No farmers incentive
Reports has identified a number of factors that have had a dramatic effect on the ability of farmers to maintain agricultural output. These include tight access to credit and the complexities of loan repayments for the farmers, and limited access to farm inputs.
Other factors I identified included how the shutdown of markets and slow transportation networks in Nigeria have resulted in wastage and inadequate food supply. Likewise, the border closure limited food imports, further shrinking the supply chain.
The consumer price index for food has increased all through the pandemic period. It rose from 14.9% in February 2020 to 15.18% in June 2020, showing an increase of about 0.28% within only four months. It also increased to 17% by January 2021. This is a considerable rise from 13.39% in July 2019 and 14.09% in October 2019.
The peculiar situation for Nigeria was that the food price increases varied across the country. Some states felt the hit of food price inflation harshest.
In Kwara (north central) prices went up year on year by 16.99%, in Gombe (northeast) 16.96%, Edo (south-south) 16.71%, and Kano (northwest) 16.45%.
The states with the lowest food price rise were Bayelsa (south-south) 11.89%, Katsina (northwest) and Bauchi (northeast) 13%, Nasarawa (north central) 13.5, and Ondo state (southwest region) with 13.53%.
Kwara is well known for extensive Rice, Maize, Cassava, Yam, Sweet Potatoes, Okro, Cashew, groundnut, Guinea corn and pepper.
What then could be responsible for the food price hikes in these regions? Could this imply that quite a lot was overlooked even before the pandemic began? What part did other epidemic outbreaks like Lassa fever play for some of the states affected?
Since lower food supply has been related to lower yield per hectare, lower supply of seedlings, fertilisers, and other inputs, what then makes the conditions rather dire for Kwara?
The likely indicator for food price hikes, especially in the worst-hit states, was the continual violent conflicts that characterise the northern region of the country.
Incessant conflicts
Insurgency, conflict and displacement had been topical for six years in northern Nigeria. Displacement of farming communities led to a decline in the cultivation of arable farmland, resulting in lower yield per hectare of agricultural land.
Communal clashes, banditry and farmer-herder conflicts in the north-central region of Nigeria continue unabated and are now spreading to neighbouring states. The situation is fast becoming a critical challenge.
What next?
Food price inflation is not likely to improve anytime soon if the predicaments facing parts of the country remain unresolved. This will be true even if economic activity gradually picks up.
Kwara is endowed with good arable land, weather and water supply and has the potential to be self-sufficient in food production. The state could even go beyond sufficiency and become a valued exporter of food.
This would improve Kwara’s food security and earn the State a better position in the comity of states in Nigeria.

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