Despite billions on agriculture, food inflation up by 108% since 2015

Nigeria’s food inflation has more than doubled since August 2015, exactly 5 years after the Buhari Administration took charge of the Nigerian economy.

This was determined by comparing the composite index for food inflation rate in August 2020 versus same period in 2015. The difference is a whopping 108% increase in inflation rate, in just 5 years. Within this period, Nigeria’s exchange rate has been devalued by 49%.

Whilst the Nigerian economy has been ravaged by a very low oil price environment, since it fell from over $100 per barrel in 2014, most of the reasons for the increase in cost of living are partly attributed to some of the policies of the government.

Since 2015, the government has focused on a ‘grow-what-you-can-eat’ policy, pouring billions of naira into the agricultural sector. Since its inception in 2015, the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), has received about N190billion disbursement from the CBN.

Another N622billion was lent through banks under the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme. Add the various grants, tax incentives, and concessions, that’s almost N2 trillion spent in the last 5 years on helping Nigeria to achieve food self-sufficiency.

Whilst modest successes have been recorded, the cost of staple food items remain high – galloping in each passing month. Since the border closure was announced in August 2019, the food inflation rate has risen every month, from 13.17% in August of 2019 to 16% last month. It is projected to hit 20% by the first quarter of 2021, when the effects of the increase in petrol and electricity prices are accounted for.

Despite billions on agriculture, food inflation up by 108% since 2015.

Nigerians have never had it this bad. Despite the good intentions of the government, things have not particularly turned out well. A common challenge in trying to solve a problem is not being able to manage what is outside of your control. In agriculture, a lot seem to be outside of the control of this government.

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Yield per hectare for most farming is well below global standards, driving up the cost of whatever is left to be sold to Nigerians. Farmers also face insecurity, flooding, and sometimes famine affecting their ability to plant and harvest. Even after harvesting, supply chain challenges still persist, leaving farmers to contend with middlemen, transportation, and storage. The result is far less farm produce reaching the final consumer.

For items under its control, it still cannot determine the outcomes, and the causes and effects. Just last week, it announced the banning of maize, only to flip-flop after learning that poultry farmers lacked maize feeds to grow their chickens. It quickly granted licenses to four companies to import maize.)

Thus, while the government attempts to manage what it can control such as banning of imports, denying access to forex, and of course border closure, it cannot solve all these problems with CBN funding and banning. They are structural, and require a better approach that is private sector driven, yet pragmatic. The government also needs to tell itself the truth; Nigeria cannot be self-sufficient by banning.

So long as we continue to avoid relying on data and objective reasoning, to balance the need for local agro-processing and imports to meet demand, food inflation will remain high and galloping. Who knows, by the time this administration’s tenure is up, we could be looking at a state of emergency driven by a full blown food crisis.

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