Border Closure: Nigerians groan amidst food scarcity

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Buhari
Buhari

The partial closure of land borders has resulted in food scarcity and high food prices in Nigeria. The federal government needs to take drastic measures to avert a national food crisis, which may be only weeks or months away

By Anayo Ezugwu

UNLESS the federal government takes drastic action, Nigeria may soon experience major food crisis. Since the border security exercise began across the country, which led to partial border closure, the prices of some basic food items have skyrocketed with traders and consumers groaning in the midst of economic challenges.

A market survey carried out by Realnews in some major markets in Lagos showed that the hike has not only affected foreign goods, but also influenced the prices of locally produced goods. Some of the items affected include rice, frozen foods, groundnut oil, okra, stockfish and beverages.

At Ajuwon Lagos, a 50-kg bag of foreign rice, which was selling for between N15,000 and N16,000 prior to the closure, is now going for between N20,000 and N22,000, while the locally-produced brand goes for N16,500. Similarly, 25 liters of refillable groundnut oil, which sold for N8,000 and N9,000, now costs N13,000 while non-refillable costs N10,800.

Frozen food is the most affected in Lagos as 1 kg of frozen chicken, which sold for N900 now costs N1,400, while 1kg of frozen turkey now goes for N1,700. A carton of frozen turkey, which sold for N13,000 before the border closure now sells between N19,000 and N20,000, while a carton of chicken, which was sold for N9,500, now goes for N14,000.

Further findings by Realnews revealed that other staple foods like spaghetti, crunches, beans, and pastries were affected. The survey also showed that the prices of salt, sugar, palm oil and seasonings were not affected by the closure.

Tawa Ibrahim, a trader at Alaba Rago market Ojo area of Lagos, said the border closure was affecting his business. “Lake Rice (locally produced rice) would have been a better alternative for us, but we are not getting it to buy. Even the quantity of okra needed by consumers cannot be produced in Nigeria. We rely so much on Benin Republic for okra. That is why its price has also shot up since the border was closed. A big basket of okra, which sold for N4,000 or N5,000, is now N8,000,” Ibrahim said.

Zainab Ahmed
Zainab Ahmed

At Mile 12 Market, Chike Emodi, who sells frozen foods, complained that the commodities are scarce in the market. “I have exhausted my stock and I don’t know where to get the products. A customer, who usually buys four cartons of Croker fish for the weekend has now decided to buy small fish called ‘’Panla” due to the scarcity of the items.

In Ikorodu, Ovie Elizabeth, another trader, urged the federal government to lift the ban. ‘’Nigeria is not self-sufficient. Our government should let us have enough local foods in stock before coming up with the restrictions,” she said.

Joke Akinwumi, who sells second hand clothing at Supa, said she used to buy directly from Cotonou, but since the closure, she now patronises the dealers at The Arena at very high cost. How are those dealers getting their wares? Akinwumi said it is “By Direct’’.

She explained that it’s a term only understood by traders. Throwing more light, she explained that “they book their market in advance with Cotonou agents and settle customs officials very well. That way their goods are allowed to pass through the border”.

Michael Itoro, a big time dealer in men’s second hand shirts at The Arena, said: “There is no market to sell because we did not receive goods from Cotonou. At the moment, it is very expensive to bring in goods from Cotonou. Traders are wary. We are waiting for things to normalise at the borders.”

At Balogun and Oke-Arin markets in Lagos, the stories are the same. Speaking with Edwin Nnamdi Onye, immediate past president general of Oke-Arin Traders Association, he said “there is no market to sell because traders cannot bring in anything through the border. “We are selling only old stock.”

But Hameed Ali, comptroller general, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, said Nigeria’s borders would remain closed until the country and its neighbours agree on existing Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS protocol on movement.

Ali, who spoke on Wednesday, September 11, at Maigatari/Niger border, Maigatari local government area of Jigawa State, said: “But there is no specific time for opening the borders. However, if they agree with us tomorrow on the existing laws, then we sign and update the existing protocol of transit, that’s all. And we are looking forward to meeting with them and there are moves to sit with them to make them understand why we are doing what we are doing and what we want to achieve by doing what we are doing,” he said.

Ali said by closing the borders, Nigeria was able to completely block the importation of contraband. “We are able to completely block the influx of illicit goods, and most importantly, stopped the exportation of petroleum products, which is the biggest problem we have.”

According to Ali, through the measure, the importation of foreign rice has stopped and the market for local varieties has risen. “We’ve also stopped the influx of rice and our rice is now selling. Even those selling garri that have been abandoned because there was cheap rice are making brisk business. This is because people are now buying garri as food. So, I think the economy is now picking up and we are grateful for that,” he said.

Likewise, Bismarck Rewane, managing director, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, said the closure of the border has forced the price of petrol down to N144 per litre. Rewane in a report he presented at the monthly Lagos Business School’s executive breakfast meeting for September, said the closure had blocked smuggling of petrol to the neighbouring countries.

He said the development showed that part of the nearly 60 million litres of petrol said to be consumed daily in Nigeria were smuggled to the neighbouring countries. He revealed that diesel price has also crashed to N210 per litre from N250/litre.

Apart from the closure of the borders, security challenges facing the country have impacted negatively on food production. Unchecked insecurity is threatening food security. Millions of Nigerian farmers, mostly in the north can no longer go to farm for fear of attacks by either the herdsmen, kidnappers or bandits. As a result, farmlands across the country are increasingly becoming battlefields.

Smallholder farmers, who brave the odds daily are uncertain if they will make it home alive. Some big farmers, who have invested millions are weighing their options to abandon their farms, while several others have suspended operations. Consequently, it is estimated that 22.7 million Nigerians in the north are at risk of food crisis if the state of insecurity worsens.

Ironically, the security situation in Nigeria is unlike that of Yemen, the Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan. Yet Nigeria is ranked along with them as countries expected to face the most severe food crises in 2019, according to the 2019 Global Report on Food Crises. The country was ranked among the top eight countries that saw many of its citizens go hungry last year. In 2018, 5.3 million Nigerians in 16 northern states experienced acute food crisis.

That millions are facing, and more will face, severe food shortage in a country with over 82 million hectares of arable land, young and large population, a tropical climate and soil that supports vast array of crops is scary. What is scarier is that the World Bank has raised the alarm that the country’s food crisis has assumed a frightening dimension, blaming the development largely on poor policies of successive administrations in the country.

It regretted that the most populous black nation has fallen from its enviable position of producer and exporter of produce in the early 60s and 70s to world’s largest importer of food. The global lender stated that the nation was “tragically living on borrowed times and being unable to feed its citizens, who are now very hungry, angry and war-threatened.” Adetunji Oredipe, senior agricultural economist for the World Bank, said Nigeria was reaping the price of lack of sustenance of investment in agriculture, adding that to reverse the ugly trend; the country must henceforth invest at least seven percent of its national agriculture budget to Gross Domestic Product, GDP, in the sector.

“These anticipated rewards and positive changes will only happen if Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses undoubtedly can receive expanded access to more capital outlays, uninterrupted electricity, modern technology and well-irrigated areas to cultivate high-value nutritious foods. For Nigeria, it is a great window of opportunities to harness the countless openings that exist in the agricultural value chain towards building a sustainable economy that creates hope for the realisation of our much-desired national development and sustainable food security.

“To maintain its share of the continent’s agriculture GDP by 2030, Nigeria will need to grow its agriculture sector revenues by a compounded annual growth rate of 4.7 percent. To ensure this is achieved, a national agriculture budget to GDP would have to be sustained by at least seven percent annually,” he said.

Consequently, Oredipe advised the federal government to articulate a clear vision towards achieving a hunger-free Nigeria through an agricultural sector that grows income, accelerates food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms the nation into a leading player in global food markets.

Agriculture is seen as the one-way ticket to diversifying the Nigerian economy. But insecurity is threatening this aspiration. If farmers, farmlands, roads and markets are unsafe, the vast non-oil income expected from agriculture will remain unchanged. It will make nonsense of all the incentives (and billions of naira) the central bank has laid out for the 10 commodities identified as potential foreign exchange earners and job creators.

It is reckoned that the impending food crisis may be a few months away. The looming food crisis can be averted, but it requires a totally different approach to national security.

– Sept. 13, 2019 @ 18:45 GMT |

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