Wednesday, May 7, 2008

For the last 3 weeks, my local wholesale store has been out of my favorite Basmati rice. I quickly realized that the global food crisis had hit my doorstep. I couldn't help but think that if the richest country in the world is experiencing the effects of the global food crisis, Nigerians, and especially poor Nigerians must be suffering.


The global price of rice has increased by over 100% in 2008 alone. That, coupled with the fact that other food items and goods, such as oil, have also increased sharply does little to give piece of mind to consumers. News reports show that average Nigerians are not happy with the reality of the effects of the food crisis and are appealing to the Federal Government for a remedy. Like their counterparts around the world, Nigerians are spending more of their money for everyday necessities, but their income has remained the same. These very factors recently led to violent riots in Somalia, Egypt and Haiti. Except for Somalia, the riots in Egypt and Haiti resulted in concrete political changes. In Egypt, the government ordered a salary increase for all government employees and in Haiti, the riots led to the replacement of the nation's Prime Minister.

While there has thankfully not been any rioting on Nigerian streets as a result of the food crisis, the national bakers association planned a strike for May that would cause bread to increase by 25%. In fact, bread has gone up by 25% every year for the past 3 years and this forced bakers to demand that the government take steps to keep the price of flour down or risk the collapse of their industry.

According to various reports, it appears that the Yar'Adua administration is taking the current food crisis seriously. Although the government is not ready to lift the high tariff on rice importation, it is in government-to-government talks to import rice into the country to remedy the current shortfall. Other additional measures have been taken, such as the release of additional food into the market place to be sold at subsidized prices. Furthermore, through the National Roots Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), the federal government has increased yam production from 27 million tons to 30 million tons and aims to do more. The federal government has also approved the use of N80 billion to import food and help the domestic agricultural sector.

Additionally, the government is laying on the charm offensive with the head of Nigeria's recently created National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) giving an interview to reporters and begging the nation to stay calm because concrete steps have been taken to prevent any food scarcity. Samaila Ingawa, the Executive Director of NFRA, also said that the federal government is working with state governments to release their reserves and is encouraging other states to begin to create such reserves if they are yet to do so. Allowing officials to talk directly to the people about specific plans is always an excellent move in my book and will hopefully increase accountability if federal officials fail to maintain their promise.

However, I am not sure what the government can do to truly alleviate the effects of this problem when the price of oil is sky high and salaries are not keeping up with inflation. But, some relief is better than none. Nigerians, like the rest of the world's people, will have to ride out this storm. Yet, I cannot see things improving as long as groups like MEND and others continue to shut down oil interests in the Delta and directly impact the jittery global economy.

Now, there are reports that MEND has asked former American President Jimmy Carter to mediate an agreement between the Nigerian government and itself. MEND pledged a truce and Carter has now agreed to come to Nigeria but is awaiting an invitation from the Yar'Adua administration. As one who spent a significant amount of their youth in the Delta at my mother's village, Abonema, I have looked at MEND as freedom fighters whose goal has been the achievement of economic justice for the residents of Nigeria's breadbasket, or oil mine, as is the case here. Despite this, I am not sure that bringing Carter into mediate will be beneficial. Carter would lend more credibility to MEND which, unfortunately, would embolden other militant groups and ordinary thieves who have seized upon MEND tactics and used them not for the interests of Delta residents and suffering Nigerians, but merely to line their pockets with the profits of black gold.

If Yar'Adua does extend an invitation to Carter, then I strongly think that Ibrahim Gambari must play a role in whatever talks ensue. Gambari was the runner up in the Nigerian Curiosity Person of 2007. He is a well respected UN big whig and the head of the UN's talks with Myanmar (Burma). In fact, the Nigerian government made a special request in April, that Gambari be reassigned to head a special Niger Delta Summit Steering Committee. His participation in any resulting negotiations would be crucial and would guarantee a Nigerian solution that is geared towards this very Nigerian problem.

To get the global food crisis under control will require a significant amount of strategic action on the part of not just the Nigerian government, but governments around the world and the many large conglomerates that control access to food. As long as the Yar'Adua administration does its part, the majority of Nigerians will get through this storm in one piece. I am not an expert on these things, but considering the fact that in 2005, the United nations forewarned that Sahelian countries, Nigeria included, were at risk of food shortage, the federal government must have expected the current crisis. I can only hope that the measures that have been implemented will be enough to prevent the currently high price of food from transforming into something much worse.

* Please stop by tomorrow for the newest installment in the Music: Nigeria Vs. The African Continent series. This special edition is to commemorate mother's day (US/May 11) and features the musical stylings of one of Nigerians best musical artists.

Further Reading:
- Is Nigeria A Breeding Ground For Terrorism?
- MEND Announces A Cease Fire in the Delta

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12 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

Dojaa said...

What will be the effect of allowing food to be imported into Nigeria without any duty? I have always struggled with this question. I feel it will make food cheaper, I am not sure at what cost to the economy though.

shhhh said...

the government needs to support local farmers with subsidies, loans etc. if not we will keep on being in the mess we are. can u imagine as God has abundantly blessed nigeria, we still import food. we cannot feed our own people. very sad

Naapali said...

"Other additional measures have been taken, such as the release of additional food into the market place to be sold at subsidized prices. Furthermore, through the National Roots Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), the federal government has increased yam production from 27 million tons to 30 million tons and aims to do more. The federal government has also approved the use of N80 billion to import food and help the domestic agricultural sector."

- food to be released from where? Does Naija have stock piles of food somewhere we don't know about?

- increased yam production by 3 million tons, in one year? What is the secret they have been holding back?

- how does importing food help local farmers or raise productivity?

It appears they have taken cues from the McCain and Clinton campaigns approach to gas tax holidays.

Anonymous said...

People are really feeling the effect of the food crisis.
The lower class have nowhere to turn for help. I pray that God will intervene in this crisis.

As for the situation in the Niger Delta, you are quite correct that the struggle has been hijacked. Hoodlums who are not indigene of Niger Delta are now hiding under the banner of the struggle and unleashing mayhem on innocent citizens.

What has the kidnapping of nursery school children got to do with the Niger Delta struggle?

May God help us.

ababoypart2 said...

Another knee jerk reaction - 80 billion pledged towards the importation of food, more millionaires made. I am not sure what this years budget was for Agric, but I can bet it isnt too far off the 80 billion mark. I dont really get it. we have neglected the agric industry for so long, and I guess there is always a price to pay. I feel sorry for the poor folks back home - mine and everyone else's. Rice running out of shops, tell me all about it. My madam is equally irate, she can eat rice 7 days a week. There are still good deals to be done at Costco...


@ Doja: I believe that the idea is for the government, and not individuals, to import food. What impact that will have, I am unsure but I think it just might change the dynamic if such importation is limited. I leave it to the more economics-inclined (Omodudu, Chxta, Imnakoya, any takers?) to flush this issue out more thoroughly.

But, you are right, the impact on the economy could end up worsening things. This is were a thorough understanding of economic factors and the extent to which they can be manipulated must be exercised. The Nigerian economy and the people of Nigeria cannot afford any screw ups. But, even more importantly, we cannot afford more hunger particularly for poor children. Thanks Doja, for asking a great question and pushing the conversation further.

@ TLKOS: I am under the impression that some farmers do receive subsidies, such as free seed, fertilizer and other equipment and feed at reduced prices. Now, how extensive such programs are is the question. As is too often the case with most Nigerian issues, finding credible, rational information online is impossible! As such, I spent 3 days researching a simple issue and still found little to no answers because all these various agencies have no websites. If anyone reading knows the heads of NRCRI, NFRA or anyother Nigerian institution or office, please I implore them to become much more accessible. My 14 year old nephew can and likely would build a site for most of these offices. Anyway, now that that rant is over...I share your frustration about food importation. But, Nigeria's agricultural sector has been neglected for decades. Yar'Adua has targeted that sector to reach his Vision 2020 goals. But, to do so, he has to do a lot more such as fix the decayed road system and power sector. I've got my fingers crossed and will watch his administration closely. I will support what is good for Nigeria and hopefully discuss what might be questionable. We shall see what happens...

@ Naapali: lol @ your reference to the Clinton/McCain 'gas holiday'.

I'll try and answer your questions with the limited knowledge that I have. I ask anyone reading to please take the time to share their insight on these issues and steer us all in the right direction. Thus,
Q1 - my research suggests that Nigeria does have food reserves. As to how extensive said reserves are, I cannot say because as I stated in my response to Last King's comment, getting information on Nigerian affairs is like pulling teeth. It is purely difficult. And, my bread and butter is in research.

Q2- You can click on the highlighted words 'increased yam productivity' in the post, as it will take you to the news report from which I got the info. But, I understand that NRCRI has created new breeds and varieties of yam that are sturdier and this has boosted productivity.

Q3- Although Nigeria is not categorized as having a food shortage, the price of food has increased incredibly, making it harder for poor and not poor people to provide for their families. Now, if my memory of macro-economics serves me correctly, a food shortage or the mere perception that there is a food shortage, will cause the price of food to go up. There is a perception of shortage in Nigeria and it is quite likely that reserves and local production might not fill the demand that the perception (or actuality) has created. hence, the alleged need to import and shore up the market. Now, your uneasiness with this logic is warranted because almost anyone with a little understanding of these matters will realize that this short term fix can become a long term disaster. However, I rather not have people get hungry or violenc break out on the assumption that there is no food. Yardy and friends are definitely, on this point, borrowing from the Clinton/McCain handbook, while pushing forward with building national (federal and state level) food reserves and pumping money into the local agriculture sector.
I hope that helps...

@ Naija Entrepreneur: Yes, my brother, times are very hard for the average Nigerian. My own mother has mentioned more than once that the high price of garri has limited her daily ice cubes soaked garri with groundnut snack that she has cherished since childhood. I can only imagine what the desperately poor are experiencing, with or without higher food prices.

As for the Delta situation, i won't lie, I am tired. Everyone knows what the solution is but I feel that people are dancing around the issues. Thus, my frustration with new Committees and conferences. There is a roadmap already that most of the sides have agreed to. Let's start what we can start. I know that Delta state has begun reinvesting oil money into schools, hospitals and microfinance loan programs. We must continue to do the good work and not get distracted by the fluff. Okay, my second rant for the day is over. lol!

myabubakar said...

what a take. thanks for this expose of an article. its typical of you and i often wonder about your sources of current info on naija.
the food crisis is indeed for real as it begins to bite hard on nigerians. 80 billion naira worth of rice will only be a temporary relief and a money spinner for some. going back to agriculture is the oly way out. our ample arable land can feed the entire continent. if only we can cotton onto our priorities ..

Nine said...

Given that part of the problem is the current increase in transportation costs of everything due to rising fuel prices,I'm not sure how much short term relief is even possible.

Add the fact that subsidies,loans et cetera are ALWAYS diverted in Nigeria,and you have to ask if it will do any good.

PS I never trust Nigerian official statistics,particularly when they have a motive for fudging them.

יש (Yosh) said...

So true about lending Mend credibility and making other hungry groups thirst for the spotlight also.

As if Jimmy Carter has really solved any conflict he's mediated in. He's responsible for the radical takeover of Iran when he handled the US hostage fiasco back in the days.

He should stick to his peanut farm, I beg.

guerreiranigeriana said...

not so sure i understand what mr. carter is going to do that kofi annan or nelson mandela couldn't do...maybe i just don't know...i'm rather over the whole idea that some westerner or outsider must come in and help us solve our problems...

...regarding the food issue, i had similar questions as naapali, but seeing as you have answered them...sad that we no longer can even farm for ourselves...highly complex issue indeed...

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Virginia @ lose weight said...

Food crisis is a very common problem in many African countries while in Europe and USA people use actual food to fuel their vehicles. I am talking about bioethanol or E85 which is produced from corn - and how fair is this?

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