The SBM Jollof Index: Food prices enter geostationary orbit

15th July 2021

In Q2 2021, the prices of major food items continued to rise rapidly on average. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, the gap between food and non-food inflation widened by 10.28% despite overall double-digit inflation.

In March 2021, the average cost of making a pot of Jollof rice for the average Nigerian family stood at ₦7,124 but has increased up to ₦7,618 in June 2021, marking a 6.93% increase within a period of three months.

The increased food prices coupled with a high unemployment rate speaks of the growing misery index of Nigerians and the declining ability to purchase food. The contributing factors are enormous as emphasised in our previous reports; a combination of government and market failures. Restating the key drivers, insecurity, adverse weather conditions, lack of storage facilities, increased energy tariffs, land border closure policy and the Coronavirus Pandemic made critical impacts. This begs the question, how do 40.1% of Nigerians who were already below the poverty line before the Pandemic purchase food considering the exacerbating effect of the coronavirus?

This group of Nigerians, who live below the poverty line, have reduced their number of meals and food quality, our interviews with them revealed. Most of those interviewed in the low socio-economic strata confessed they could no longer afford three square meals but had one whole meal daily supplemented with snacks.

Given the increase in food inflation and the percentage of people living below the poverty line, Nigeria’s hunger index has also increased significantly. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Nigeria ranks 98th out of the 107 countries, getting a GHI score of 29.2 out of a 100-point scale. This places Nigeria at a hunger level that is considered serious. However, when compared with data from 2012, when the country had a GHI score of 32, which is an 8.75% decrease.

Looking beyond the overall GHI score is quite revealing of the impact of food inflation. When we look at specific indicators, the result is quite disturbing. As of 2020, the prevalence of stunting in children under five increased to a 36.8 score from 36.2 in 2012 and the proportion of undernourished in the population grew from 7.6 in 2012 to 12.6 in 2020. However, the prevalence of wasting in children under five (14.1 in 2012 to 6.8 in 2020) and the under-five mortality rate (13.0 in 2012 and 12.0 in 2020) have both dropped.

While the Jollof Index is released on a quarterly basis, it is important to zoom out periodically and take a more long-term look at the trend. SBM began to publish the index in July 2016 and has now done so for five years in the period ended in June 2021. In that period, the average price of cooking Jollof across the country has gone up by nearly 100%. For emphasis, a 100% increase in a staple food price in such a short period is what a food crisis looks like, and Nigeria has been squarely at the centre of a crisis in the last five years.

The government’s policy choices however do not reflect this. Rather than choose to make decisions that will ameliorate the situation, the government has consistently chosen populist sounding policies that have only made the situation worse for the very people these policies are proclaimed to be helping.

We urge the government to begin to deal with the factors that are within its power. The first is to reverse the unnecessary fixation on domestic food production, and rather prioritise the availability of cheap food, whether domestically produced or imported and providing the support everyone needs to produce or bring in food.

Second, the government needs to remove the politicising of security and deal with it across the country, but even more specifically in the food-producing areas of the country. In many parts, farmers have abandoned their farms for nearly a decade now due to insecurity. As many of the respondents in our research indicated, they now do menial jobs in the cities, while their farmlands are taken over by bandits and terrorists.

Finally, the government needs to look urgently into the storage and infrastructure around food preservation and transportation in the country. Many locally-produced foods are neither stored properly nor transported to point of sales effectively. Invariably, this leads to a lot of waste.

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