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Food Prices On the Rise in Nigeria - 2001-08-08

Food prices are rising in Nigeria. Some blame past military governments, and the present civilian one, for not doing enough to modernize the agricultural sector.

But the current administration says it's doing the best it can to manage the food sector, which it says has long been ignored.

Meanwhile, tempers are flaring at markets in Kaduna, as both distributors and consumers of agricultural products complain about the high cost of commodities. Kaduna market trader, Maikudi Ibrahim, says sales have dropped significantly. "The market is not moving at all", he noted in Pidgin. "Since the price went up, the demand of everything comes down so we are not getting market as before." The person who wanted to buy things for one hundred Naira will hear that the thing has gone to two hundred and he has no two hundred Naira."

Kaduna housewife Khadijat Umar says people are finding it difficult to buy what they need. "The price of things, in fact, is so high. When leaving home, you arrange for something that you want to buy at seventy Naira and on getting to the market, they tell you it is now ninety or hundred naira and this is not okay for those in the country." Shop attendant Idris Ali says the government should introduce controls to stop indiscriminate price increases. "Things are so expensive and the people don't have money to buy the commodities", she added. "We, the traders are worse off. We want the situation checked."

Some blame government for the shortages. They say past governments have not given Nigerian farmers enough training in modern farming methods. Retired vice admiral Murtala Nyako is a former chief of naval staff and the head of the Practicing Farmers Association. He says Nigerian farming must be brought up to international standards. "What we are suggesting here is to look at the Nigerian cow and see how we can upgrade it to start giving us better yields. What we are saying here is that the national acreage of maize per hectare is one-point two tons while in the rest of the world, the standard is twelve tons. Nigerian farmers get two or three tons of potatoes per hectare, the ones in the USA get sixty to eighty tons of potatoes. The average yield of the cocoa farmer in Nigeria is two hundred kilogram of cocoa per hectare while in Cote d'Ivoire is over two thousand kilograms."

The government attributes the higher food prices to poor yields of millet, corn, sorghum and other crops. Higher food prices are expected to help farmers. But that's not currently the case in Nigeria.

Mr. Nyako, of the farmers' association, says the wide swings in commodity prices from year to year prevent farmers from planning their crops wisely, and make it difficult for many to afford next years seeds. "The farmers have no maize to sell so they are not getting anything when the prices are too high. I have not got a single grain of maize in my silos, even in my farm and I am supposed to have over four thousand tons of maize. I didn't farm last year because the prices went down very badly last year. So when you see prices going up, it doesn't mean at all that the farmer is benefiting but it shows that the farmer is going to reap more disaster." The government says it is taking measures to curb the food crisis. One strategy, flooding the market with grain reserves, has done little to lower prices. But the government also says it is setting up what it calls a Nigerian Agriculture, Co-operative and Rural Development Bank that will work through cooperatives to give farmers loans at interest rates under 10 percent. And it says it's adding a tariff on imported foods that can be produced in Nigeria, in order to encourage local production.

Meanwhile, the Senate is asking the federal government to set aside one billion Naira for agricultural development in the 2002 budget. The Senate has also passed a resolution calling for the removal of all import duties on agricultural equipment, pesticides, and fertilizers. And it's calling on the federal government to encourage multinationals to get involved in agriculture by providing greater tax incentives and cultivable land.