NBS inflation figures, grim news on food affordability

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The federal government might have lost count of Nigeria’s endless string of deleterious firsts. The list is lengthened almost on weekly basis.

Nigeria is the world’s headquarters of poverty. It snatched the inglorious crown from India in 2018. In 2020 alone, Nigeria pushed 10 million more compatriots below poverty line. The World Bank claims that surging inflation helped to worsen a bad situation.Nigeria now has the highest number of people without access to electricity in the world. It has beaten DR Congo to that notorious toga. Close to 55 per cent of the population of Africa’s largest economy has no access to electricity. The 45 per cent of the population with access to electricity are tormented with perennial darkness that has crippled the economy, rendered 20 million people jobless and pushed 122 million others below poverty line. No one knows how to rescue Nigeria from the merciless grip of epileptic power supply.About 13.5 million Nigerian children of school age are out of classrooms.

That is the world’s highest. Nigeria alone accounts for 2 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths. With 814 deaths per 100, 000 live births, Nigeria has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate. It has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates too. The healthcare delivery system is in disarray. In some rural communities in Bauchi and other northern states, pregnant women in labour are ferried on the back of donkeys to the nearest maternity which could be some 30 kilometers away. Nigeria’s unemployment rate of 33.3 per cent is the world’s second highest. It is a thin margin below Namibia’s.

The list is still growing. Two weeks ago Britain’s Institute of Development Studies added yet another feather to Nigeria’s growing list of deleterious firsts.The British think tank awarded Nigeria the second slot in the list of nations with the poorest food affordability. The research group based its ranking on global cost of living leveraged on the monthly minimum recommended global spending on food per adult and average monthly wage.It uses the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard on the number of calories to be obtained from food that would sustain an adult in a day.

WHO recommends 2, 100 calories as the minimum required to sustain an adult in a day.Leveraging on that indubitable global standard, the British think tank draws an analogy between a country’s averagemonthly wage and what is required to purchase the food that would give an adult the required 2, 100 calories in a day.The conclusion is that at the level of food inflation in Nigeria, and the average monthly wage at the moment, a worker would spend 101 per cent of his average monthly wage to purchase the food that would give him 2, 100 calories per day.That means that a Nigerian worker’s monthly pay is not enough for food alone if he has to be healthy. War-torn Syria topped the list of the world’s poorest in food affordability as a worker would have to spend 177 per cent of his average monthly wage to purchase the food that would give him the required 2, 100 calories per day.

Besides Syria and Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Sri-Lanka, Ghana, Indonesia, Algeria, Iran and Uzbekistan constitute the top 10 countries in the poorest in food affordability list.Afghanistan which has been at war for 40 years now was clearly missing in the top 10 list. It could therefore be argued that food is more affordable in Afghanistan than Nigeria despite 40 years of war.The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 24, 1979. The Mujahedeen engaged the Soviets in a guerrilla war for almost 10 years until the soviets ran away in February 14, 1989, just a few months before the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) imploded.Even after the soviets withdrew, there was internecine insurrection for control of power between Islamic theocrats and some liberal politicians with the Taliban actually in control.

That was the situation on ground when President George Washington Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 911 terrorist attack on New York’s twin tower that killed almost 3, 000 Americans.The Americans fought the Taliban for 20 years. After the death of 4, 500 American service men and $1 trillion of tax payers’ money sunk into the war, the Americans ordered a withdrawal last month.The lesson from the above analogy is that Afghanistan has been at war for well over 40 years, yet food is more affordable there than Nigeria.

Even with the ouster of the Afghan government by the Taliban, many believe that Nigerian rulers can learn a few lessons in food crisis management from Afghanistan’s banished rulers.Ironically, Britain’s Institute of Development Studies appears to be talking to itself. No one in the federal government is listening to its grim news. Government is celebrating a mysterious decline in inflation figures.The picture painted by the Institute of Development Studies is at variance with the food inflation figures churned out by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).NBS statistics suggest that food inflation dropped from 23.5 per cent in April to 21 per cent in June.

However, just like the report of the British think tank suggests, there are fears among economy watchers in Nigeria that the NBS food inflation figures may not be a true reflection of the situation in the market.Prices of food and practically every other item climb on weekly basis. A bag of beans was N56, 000, in July, up from N18, 000 in a similar period last year. Last week it climbed to N70, 000.In one patent medicine outlet in Lagos where the owner is honest about pricing, one could spot three different price tags on a popular drug like Amoxil capsule indicating weekly hikes in whole sale prices. The price differential per sachet of capsules ranges from N10 to N20 per week. The purchases were made in different days over a period of three weeks and the prices climb sequentially.

The situation in the food market is even more volatile despite the emergence of new yam. The new yam is simply not affordable. The price of a medium size tuber of new yam hovers around N1, 500. Ironically, like the eternal darkness in Nigeria, no one knows how to tackle the country’s food crisis as worsening insecurity, a skewed income distribution system and endemic corruption combine to inhibit food production and price the little from the farms out of the reach of the poor.

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