Somehow, the easing of the lockdown has brought about the scarcity and increase in the prices of food items in the market. Food crops and other food items were expensive during the lockdown, but everyone attributed that to the cost of bringing in goods and agricultural produce from farms and states, where they were produced. Before the reopening of interstate borders, security agents and “youths” of different communities made it difficult and expensive to transport food items from one state or town to another. But right now, people move freely so the price increase and scarcity can no longer be attributed to lockdown, at least, not directly.
I thought this problem was peculiar to Enugu until I spoke with people from different parts of the country and realised that the case is almost the same everywhere. One cannot help but wonder the cause of this price increase.
Some people have attributed the increase in prices of some food crops and food items to the season of the year. For instance, crops such as tomatoes and yams are out of season and are therefore scarce. Rainy season has also prevented or disturbed the availability of dry food items that need the sun for preservation. Example of food that belongs to this group is abacha. This truly shows that the high cost of some items is as a result of the season of the year. But how does that explain the high cost of other items such as vegetable oil, palm oil, fish, tomato puree (tin tomato) among others? Besides, this is the season of fresh corn, but that one is not just expensive but scarce too. This finally means that the season of the year is not the cause of price increase of food items.
Some people said the sudden increase in the price of fuel is the cause. According to people that belong to this group, increase in fuel pump price brought about the increase in transportation cost, which led to the unavoidable increase in prices of goods, including that of agricultural produce. Hence the sudden increase in the fuel pump price from N121 to N143 has caused a chain reaction that suddenly increased the price of things in the market. This theory would have been logical if the price of petrol before the lockdown was not N145.
The third theory is what gives me concern. According to some traders, there is unavailability of some food items, even in the farms. They claim that they have ordered for those items but are yet to get them. Some claim that middlemen find it more difficult to penetrate the interior parts of the country, where they buy some of these items. The reasons for this include insurgencies in the parts of the country that produce the majority of the staple foods that serve the nation. According to one of the stories surrounding this theory, insurgents have made roads unsafe and impassable. They kidnap, kill and maim many road users and even destroy or hijack their wares. This discourages people from carrying out any transactions that will take them to those volatile areas.
Another story surrounding the unavailability of food crops in the market is that farmers are afraid of going to farms because their farms have been made unsafe by insurgents, kidnappers and killers. You can imagine when bandits are attacking the North-West, Boko Haram is paralysing the North-East and Fulani Herdsmen have made North-Central unsafe, how then can Nigeria survive when these areas are the chief producers of food crops?
The way I’m seeing our food market today, I can tell you that a food crisis is looming. I don’t know what is happening but it is no longer funny. Our farmers need to be encouraged. If they missed this planting season because of the lockdown or insecurity, the government should consider lifting the ban on the importation of staple food items such as rice, tomato and maize, until things stabilise. If nothing is done, and done quickly, food scarcity will seize the country in no distant time.