Nigeria: Climate change is driving the cost of jollof rice

By Ruth Olurounbi
Posted on Friday, 3 December 2021 18:30

A food vendor prepares "jollof rice", a traditional meal often made using chicken, in the northern city of Kano
A food vendor prepares a traditional meal of "jollof rice", city of Kano, Nigeria. Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde (NIGERIA)

“I do not think anyone in Nigeria needs persuading of the need for urgent action on the environment. Desertification in the north, floods in the centre, pollution and erosion on the coast are enough evidence. For Nigeria, climate change is not about the perils of tomorrow, but what is happening today,” President Muhammadu Buhari said during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in October. And today means Nigerians are finding it increasingly hard to afford basic food items.

As Christmas and end of the year festivities roll in, Nigerians are starting to fear that they may be unable to afford a pot of their favourite meal – jollof rice. A September 2021 survey of Jollof Index by the SBM Intelligence shows that the cost of making a pot of jollof rice for a family of five remains high across the country.

Jollof rice index

In September, a pot of jollof rice cost about 5% more to make – on average – at N8007.50 ($19.41), compared with an average cost of N7,618 ($18.47) in Q2. In Nyanya, a satellite town of Abuja, the nation’s capital, the cost rose to N10,050.

However, according to Temiloluwa Anjonri, food prices have since gone up. “One kilogram of rice that I bought at N1,500 now sells at N2,000, and that’s just rice. We haven’t added other commodities like peppers, oil and even chicken. Don’t even get me started on chicken. I bought a kilo and a half of chicken at N6,000 just last week. It used to go for N3,500 at the maximum.”

Although Nigerian inflation decelerated for nearly 10 months food costs, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, earlier in the month citizens say prices of food are increasing in the market and they are having to skip meals as they struggle with the effects of inflationary pressures.

“I eat only once a day now,” Abel Samson, 25, a security specialist, tells The Africa Report. “My salary is about N100,000 a month, but I have a family back home that I send money to. I also have a sister in university [who] I am putting through school. At the beginning of this year, I used to spend N20,000 a month on food, now that same N20,000 can barely last me for two weeks and that is me stretching it. I have decided to now eat once a month just to save cost,” he says.

Food inflation

A 2021 report by AFEX, an agency that tracks commodities market and production, prices of Nigeria’s grainstock are expected to trend upwards, this year and the next, on demand outstripping supply. The exchange expects lower supply of maize – a major staple for poultry feed – in the open market to push price  by at least 17% to the range of N210,000 to N230,000/mt by May/June 2022.

Food security, ethnic and resource conflicts and political instability are sure to worsen not just domestically, but [also in] much of West and West Central Africa due to economic and social linkages

Nigerian middle-class families say additional pressure from energy costs – electricity tariff went up by nearly 20% between October and November – and increases in children’s school fees are causing them to tighten their belts as well.

Contributing factors

The food crisis in Nigeria is being driven by factors, such as climate change that has led to a deadly clash between the nomadic cattle herders and farmers. It has also led to insurgent attacks as well as infrastructure deficits in the food value chain.

Food losses driven by inadequate storage facilities as well as other infrastructure problems account for about $400bn loss in revenue to the government, and about 30% of income to farmers, according to data from the World Bank and the UN.

“Rising desertification in the Sahel, unpredictable weather patterns, the preponderance of subsistence agriculture and competition for land and dwindling resources have helped fuel conflict in these regions and constrained agricultural production, ease of movement of crop proceeds and ultimately food prices,” SBM Intelligence’s Ikemesit Effiong says on how climate change is affecting food prices in Nigeria.

The situation this year is not so encouraging because we may […] witness the same weather condition we witnessed last year, but more important is the likelihood of dry spells, which will be greater and a larger number of places will be more affected.

Violence between nomadic cow herders, who are migrating south due to climate-induced degradation of pasture, and crop farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt was six times deadlier than that of the insurgency group Boko Haram, in 2018 for instance, claiming nearly 2,000 lives, according to a 2020 World Bank report, ‘Food Smart Country Diagnostic on Nigeria’. “This conflict further hinders potential gains in productivity, leaving the sector with a weakened outlook,” the report says.

As global stockpiling begins and trade restrictions by countries producing major food grains continue, populations of food import-dependent economies, such as Nigeria could begin to see sharp increases in food costs, and worse, they could experience exacerbated food shortage, hunger and malnutrition, according to data from Nature Food. Added to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) predicted crop failures on climate change-induced elongated droughts amid raging insecurity, the situation becomes extreme, analysts say.

“The situation this year is not so encouraging because we may likely witness the same weather condition we witnessed last year, but more important is the likelihood of dry spells which will be greater and a larger number of places will be more affected,” says Abubakar Mashi, Director-General of NiMet.

Projected decreased rainfall in the southeast, northeast and north-central regions of Nigeria, rises in temperature for the entire country during most of the cropping seasons and increased weather variability could see farmers being the worst affected, an SBM report indicates.

The Nigerian central bank governor Godwin Emefiele expects bumper harvests from this year to offset inflationary pressures next year, but farmers see floods and droughts getting in the way of larger outputs, as experienced in recent years.

A survey by SBM, for instance, shows that nearly 53% of farmers polled agreed that their harvest was affected by adverse weather conditions of flooding and drought. In August 2021, floods destroyed 116,000 hectares of farm costing the farmers millions of dollars in revenue, and food output. “Drought and shrinking river bodies are some of the leading causes of conflict in the middle belt, as herders move down their flocks in search of pastures,” the report says.

Short-term solutions?

“[…] we are hopeful for a bumper harvest, but the fact remains that as long as we are confronted with challenges that [are] beyond our control – like insecurity and climate change – food prices will always go up in Nigeria and Nigerians will suffer [from] hunger,” says Rikotu Isah, a farmer from Kebbi, Nigeria’s largest rice producing state. “As long as farmers don’t have the peace of mind to go to the farm, there is no way to produce food, and if we don’t produce food, everyone will go hungry,” he says.

In the absence of climate solutions, “food security, ethnic and resource conflicts and political instability are sure to worsen not just domestically, but [also in] much of West and West Central Africa due to economic and social linkages. Furthermore, the sceptre of economic migration from Africa to the developed world will only rise in a climate emergency,” SBM’s Effiong says.

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