Coronavirus: Food insecurity fallout from Nigeria’s lockdown

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 10 May – 15 May

By Oluwatosin Adeshokan, in Ogun.

Posted on Monday, 11 May 2020 17:47
Virus Outbreak Nigeria Food
In this photo taken on Friday, April 17, 2020, people buy tomatoes from a vegetable market in the commercial capital Lagos, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

In a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus that has infected over 3000 people and killed over 100 people in Nigeria, a five week lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and the neighboring Ogun state was in effect. But as the number of people out in the street came to a near halt; the price of food took off, creating a difficult situation for many Nigerians.

For residents of Lagos, the price of food materials have increased unfairly to make the most of an unfortunate situation.

With the prices of food increasing up to 50% in some instances, locals have bemoaned the lockdown and its effectiveness, especially as Nigeria’s informal sector was hit hardest during the lockdown.

Lockdown and extension “not done properly”

“The lockdown and the extension were not done properly by the government because we were unable to plan. The prices of food went up and it might never come down. Because of the lockdown, I was unable to go to the bigger markets to see if I could buy food for cheaper.” says Bolu Fashina a university student based in Lagos.

Food insecurity and a recession are unfortunately now an economic forecast for Nigeria

The general prices of food in Nigeria had already increased after the government shut its borders, particularly those with neighboring Benin Republic in an effort to stem the smuggling of rice.

READ MORE: Flour Mills of Nigeria backs closure of border with Benin

But food sellers in Lagos also argue that they too, get food at prices higher than before the lockdown was announced.

“Everything is expensive now. And it is because there is scarcity. Suppliers say there is a problem getting food into Lagos,” says Adebisi Adeleye, a food trader.

Unclear directives

Movement restrictions as well as uncertainty in the lockdown rules by the federal government have led to food supply chain problems with a lot of farmers on the receiving end. As commercial transportation wound down to a halt and roadblocks littered the streets of Lagos and Ogun state, movement of food and agricultural produce proved difficult.

In a statement released by logistics company Kobo360, confusion over the government’s directive on regulations of trucks led to less than 3000 involved in the flow of essential good parking, out of fear that if caught circulating, both the trucks and goods would be impounded.

The company called for the government to clarify the restrictions so that cargo drivers can move without harassment from security agencies, to ensure continued flow in the food supply chain.

Budget constraints

Already, Nigeria is unable to fund its budget as a collapse in the price of crude oil as well as reduced economic activities have left the government unable to raise money.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Nigeria goes home for funds out of fear on COVID-19 impact

To help alleviate problems in the country, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has announced a fund that policy experts have argued is too small to matter. The government has also announced a freeze on loan repayments for farmers and small businesses.

But a lack of data and infrastructure means that there is very little trickle-down in government’s activities.

Easing of lockdown

There is a temporary respite as the lockdown orders have been relaxed and business is almost back to its full strength especially in Lagos.

But there is a fear that the country has not done enough to flatten the curve and might be headed back for another lockdown.

“Look at oil revenue lost, trade opportunities lost and lockdown orders picking up in other states like Kano and possibly Lagos again and Nigeria will face more serious problems in the short and medium term. Opportunities were missed by the rather unclear message of the lockdown and food prices climbed up as businesses and people became poorer. Food insecurity and a recession are unfortunately now an economic forecast for Nigeria,” says Oluwatosin Ajani, a Lagos based economist.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: death of Nigeria’s Chief of Staff sheds light on conflicting rules

In theory, food supplies should be exempt from most of the restrictions in place against the coronavirus and available for transporation. However, small scale farmers have been unable to access supplies and even their markets, leading to business losses.

For Fashina, the government needs to be better strategic in dealing with the virus and providing the basic essentials.

“While several state governors have shown up to do the hard work of organising and keeping the peace, we have seen a much bigger problem I will call a lack of planning in our government. There is no way people will survive a second lockdown that seems to be unfortunately coming.”

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