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Food For Thought

Food For Thought


As humans, our wants are insatiable. Hence the constant need to reach and maintain a standard of living which can adequately cater to our ever-changing demands. However, we can agree that when push comes to shove, our priorities automatically change, forcing us to create a scale of preference. This is where basic necessity comes in; that is food, shelter, and clothing. Once sorted in this regard, it’s safe to say, “we are good.”

The basic needs approach is one of the most effective ways in evaluating and measuring the level of poverty in developing countries, and more specifically, Nigeria. Indeed, regardless of what steps are being taken to improve the nation’s self-sufficiency (which may include bringing down the import bill), its citizens should never be left stranded when it comes to the basic needs which help them survive daily.

As a homemaker and entrepreneur in the food industry, I can authoritatively say that the border closure by the Nigerian government (though with good intention), has had a huge impact on both my home and business and not in a positive way.

I have a large family of five consisting of both direct family members and domestic staff and, in recent times, I have had to go back to the drawing board to find more sustainable ways to cut cost without compromising the quality of the food which comes to the table. My spouse, who doubles as financial adviser and manager for my catering company; Summers Cuisine, is aware of the sharp rise in the prices of food items due to the border closure. Thankfully, I am spared the drama of having to explain why we’ve had to review funds allocated to feeding. But these conversations can take place and be put into effect because we are fortunate to be in a situation where we can continue to feed our home without jeopardizing our health. This, however, begs the question: how do the minimum and below-minimum wage families feed?

Post-border closure, a 50kg bag of local rice surged from N16,000 to N25,000; a paint rubber of tomatoes went from N600-700 to N1,200; live Chicken from N1,800/N2,200 to N2,500-N3,000; our local fish are popularly known as Sawa or Bonga Fish from N400-N550 a kilo to N800-N1,000. The list is endless. To add to these, the prices of minor items like crayfish, Moi Moi leaf, and other items which have nothing to do with the borders have also been impacted.

As a business person in the food industry, I start the year with a food menu which has its prices flexible enough to accommodate changes in food prices driven by factors such as fuel scarcity, the crisis in food belt regions as well as festive periods. This is done in order to avoid situations where I give my customers different prices for the same item over the course of the year. But even with our projections, the issue of border closure forced us to carry out a mid-year review in 2019 and increase our prices considering that we were selling at a loss. The irony of the situation is that Summers Cuisine uses 100% organic and home-grown food produces when it comes to food items. The upward price pressure on local items to suddenly compensate for the absence of imported goods in the market caused an overnight price hike on local produces as well.

The price inflation was made possible because Summers Cuisine has a target market which could accommodate this increase. Unfortunately, I know a good number of food businesses which have had to shut down due to their set target market being unable to handle the price hike, and they, as business owners, could neither afford to sell at a loss nor source for unhealthy alternatives to stay in business. 

Essentially, weaning a Nation off import dependencies is understandable. That said, adequate measures need to be taken to ensure what we are producing locally, will cater to demand. Otherwise, the pressure of demand itself will not only increase prices drastically but also force a high and extremely risky level of counterfeit and substandard goods in the market, with price terms which will be more appealing to the bottom pyramid of the population. This type of environment is also fraught with the risk of high rates of Food-Borne illnesses. Putting Lagos and other urban regions – which have strong patterns of street food cultures – vulnerable to these risks.

Unaffordable food prices also have a strong impact on institutions such as hospitals, shelters, relief centres and orphanages. Ideally, funds allocated to feeding in these institutions should be reviewed upwards but is this the case? Taking all these into account, the authorities have underestimated the negative multiplier effect of the border closure in Nigeria.

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