By Ebele Orakpo

Hunger is actually the worst weapon of mass destruction. It claims millions of victims each year – Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil

A hungry man can’t see right or wrong. He just sees food. – Pearl S. Buck

It’s no longer news that hunger is staring millions of Nigerians in the face. Since the war in Ukraine started on February 24, 2022, some world leaders have blamed the food and fuel crises ravaging the globe on President Vladimir Putin of Russia. These people conveniently forgot that the crises began way before Putin attacked Ukraine. In the case of Nigeria, the cause of fuel and food shortage has to do mainly with terrorist attacks and government policies. Reports had it that in November 2020, over 40 rice farmers were killed in one day by terrorists while harvesting their crops; also whole farming communities have been sacked and inhabitants who survived the onslaught now live in IDP camps.  

Since Boko Haram, bandits and armed Fulani herdsmen took over most farmlands and forests in Nigeria and increased attacks on farmers, the level of hunger being experienced in Nigeria today was long in coming, it was just a matter of time! In some parts of the North, farmers are made to contribute millions of naira to terrorists before they are allowed to go to their farms and cultivate, they also pay to harvest their crops. Unfortunately, the most affected are the so-called food belt of the nation.

In this report, Saturday Vanguard brings you the experiences of families and what must be done to make life bearable.

Prices of food

Indeed, when it rains, it pours. Nigerians not only have to grapple with skyrocketing food prices but have to struggle to buy fuel to cook the food. This is what the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti called Double wahala for dead body.

A careful observation shows that in order to stay in business, most production companies have reduced quantities and increased prices of their products because when the music/beat changes, the dance step changes. For instance, a popular sardine brand that used to have three or four pieces of fish now has one or two   pieces of fish like what traditionalists sacrifice to the gods at road junctions, despite almost doubling the price. Talking about sacrifice to the gods, those foodstuffs like corn pudding, yam, palm oil, eggs, akara and money placed in clay pots and kept at T-junctions in Lagos, have disappeared! These are indeed difficult times.

Vanguard findings show that prices of foodstuffs like yam, beans, rice, garri, cassava flour, maize etc., have gone beyond the reach of many households.

According to Mrs. Vera Anyagafu, Chief Executive Officer of Nelson’s Place: “As cost of  fuel, charcoal, kerosene and gas continue to rise, businesses are finding it difficult to cope so they have no choice than to raise their prices and pass them on to their customers. I wonder which way Nigeria is headed.

 ”A bag of flour that was N14, 000 is now almost N30,000; a litre of diesel is about N850, cooking gas is N950 per kilo.”

Corroborating the above assertion, Mrs. Anwuli Ogbonnaya, CEO/Founder of PartyPartyKitchen, said a crate of eggs which was N900, is now N2,200; 12.5kg of gas moved from N6,500 to N10,000 while 250g   of margarine went from N200 to N450.”

In a chat with Vanguard recently, a cassava farmer in Abia State, Eze Philip Ajomiwe blamed food scarcity in Nigeria on the activities of criminal herdsmen and high cost of materials. He said: “These days, we are just planting for cows of Fulani herdsmen. Not only that the cows enter and eat up your crops but the wicked herders sometimes uproot the crops to feed their cows.

“Diesel is now N700 per litre. I use diesel for my tractors, range, fry drier and generator at the factory, and when you add all the costs, you discover that one kilogram of cassava vita for instance, is about N1000 but people can’t afford it. So, how can farmers survive?

“Fifty kilogram of fertiliser that we bought for N7,000 last year, now sells for between N25,000 and N37,000. You need eight bags for one hectare of land. A bag of feed we were buying at N4,000 is now sold for N9,000,” he said.

Isn’t it said that “he that is down needs fear no fall’? But the opposite seems to be the case in Nigeria because while on the ground, you still need to be afraid as you may be pushed underground. How else will one explain the order by Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State, banning the felling of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal in seven local government areas of the state? Or the adoption of a bill banning the felling of trees for firewood and charcoal by the Adamawa State House of Assembly? Or the banning of charcoal production across the 21 LGAs of Kogi State by the government in March?

Those mostly affected are the millions of households in rural communities who use firewood or charcoal to cook.

Many more families in urban areas have joined those who use charcoal, sawdust and firewood due to the astronomical rise in the cost of kerosene and cooking gas.

Although government said the ban was to protect the environment, but they have left the people with no viable alternative.

Moreover, some people have vowed never to stop using firewood because they believe that meals cooked over firewood tastes better as it adds aromatic flavour to the food. Also, wood is free from harmful chemicals.

A respondent who simply identified herself as Mama Ejima, a food vendor, lamented that a bag of charcoal which was N2,000, now goes for N5,000.” Of course, all these will have a ripple effect on cost of other things. She said a plate of food was between N200 and N300, but now, it goes for N500.

Mrs. Ogbonnaya noted that the high cost of cooking fuel and foodstuffs have affected her profit margin. “Prices of things are over the roof. The income and profit made is little to nothing. The cooking industry has been hard hit.

“Back when we could get cooking gas for N6,500, a pack of food was between N1,000 and N1,200.

Now, with the 12.5kg of cooking gas going for N10,000 as well as other commodities, a pack of food goes for a minimum of between N2,200 and N2,500, leaving business owners with little or no profit.”

Mrs Ngozi Ndaji who lives in Jos, Plateau State, described the situation as pathetic saying: “I use gas to cook. I couldn’t believe the price I am buying gas now compared to last year. The same goes for charcoal. They use smaller bags to pack the charcoal and still sell it at a higher price.

The price of kerosene is abnormal. The sad thing is that the average Nigerian home uses kerosene to cook, to light charcoal, firewood and lantern. The economy is really biting,” she said, adding: “Here in Jos, gas is N800 per kg from N560 last year; kerosene is N640 per litre as against N460 last year.

Charcoal is better, it’s N3,000 a bag now, it was between N2,300-N2,500 last year.”

Mrs. Anyagafu said that prices of commodities rise daily, thus, making expenditure higher than income. “The gas, fuel, diesel, kerosene, even charcoal, have become too expensive. As a result, a lot of businesses have shut down.”

 The respondents all said that kerosene is another story. Mrs. K, a mother of three, complained about the kerosene being sold now. She suspects that aviation fuel is being sold as normal kerosene. She said her suspicion is based on the fact that it burns out so fast unlike normal kerosene.

Unprecedented poverty

Speaking on the issue, the President/CEO of Morgan Smart Development Foundation, Dr. Evelyn Urhobo said it was regrettable.

“Nigerians, especially Niger-Delta women, are suffering untold hardship from the rise in the cost of cooking fuel. All efforts made over time at poverty alleviation for the women, through assistance in setting up small businesses, have been completely destroyed.

“As you know, all activities in the informal sector which is the mainstay of the economy, is tied to the usage of cooking fuel. So you can imagine the damage being done to this sector. Women who need kerosene or firewood to fry akara or dodo or charcoal to roast plantain and fish for sale, have all been thrown out of business and others have had their capital depleted because they can no longer afford cooking fuel.

The hospitality sector is comatose because of the more than 300% increase in the price of diesel needed to run generators. Hotels are cutting down on operations as a result of lack of patronage leading to mass retrenchment of staff.

“The economic empowerment enjoyed by women in the past few years, has been completely eroded; they no longer have a means of livelihood and the NGOs can’t do much to assist them due to paucity of funds. The poverty in the land is unprecedented,” she lamented.

Solution

On the way forward, Managing Director of Lagos-based PSC Solar UK Limited, Dr Patrick Owelle, said the solution would be solar cookers but right now, they are very costly.

“Although solar cookers are not really part of our product offering but there are lots of available options online.

“I had thought about designing a solar cooker for Nigeria but cost was our main hindrance because the system if built very well, will cost nearly N450,000 which in my opinion, defeats the purpose.

I had designed a portable solar-powered stove with one solar panel and two heating elements with Lithium batteries and this stove could be used anywhere and anytime of day but the finished product would have run between N450,000 and N600,000,” he said.

Cheap but inefficient

He said there are “crude traditional solar cookers that use the heat of the sun and refracting mirrors to concentrate heat on a spot on the cooker to cook meals but obviously, these are useless when there’s no sun and at times, take upwards of 4-5 hours to cook a small pot of rice.

The advantage is that it is cheap, costs between N20,000 and N55,000 and you cannot buy any type of stove anywhere in the world for less than $40 considering that they do not have to buy any type of fuel to power this.

The problem is not the cost here but it is not an efficient solution.

“There’s another solution we had looked at about 10 years ago which consists of solar panels and silicate sand heated to high temperatures but again, this solution was jettisoned because of cost.”

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.