Food security and silly policies

It is an instructive coincidence that my latest column in BusinessDay NG was published on the same day that we learned that food inflation has hit 16%. If it remains stuck there, then your ₦120 loaf of Agege bread will cost ₦240 on 15 September 2026. That is if the ₦/$ rate remains at the exact point that it is now.

The column is on BusinessDay’s website for just ₦1,000 per month. As always, I’ll just put a small snippet here…

Why are these policies not very bright? Well, Nigeria is pretty self-sufficient on the maize score, except for when something happens such as insecurity, which this newspaper highlighted in an August 2019 report titled, “Nigeria’s food insecurity to worsen on Buhari’s actions”.

Pretty much since the Brits left us to our devices in 1960, Nigeria has never struggled to meet the demand for maize within the country. In fact, asides a period of economic collapse in the early 1980s, a shortage caused by flooding in 2012, and then post 2016. A week after the CBN placed maize on the restricted list, Dr Ikechukwu Kelikume, the Programme Director of the Lagos Business School Agribusiness programme predicted that we’d run into problems because, in the case of a shortfall, maize importers would have to access forex at the parallel markets, forcing them to pass increased costs to end consumers.

The policy thrust completely ignored two facts: that merely making it harder to import a commodity does not mean that local production will automatically increase if other (local) factors weigh on production and Nigeria is pretty much self-sufficient in maize production, except during special circumstances such as now. The dissonance in policymaking has now deepened to the point where the CBN is making fiscal policy using monetary tools and other parts of the government are not working in tandem to deliver stated objectives. In this case, there is a need to resolve the insecurity bedevilling the maize production areas, to improve production by way of inputs such as quality seeds, better farming practices and broaden access to finance — many of which aren’t the responsibility of the monetary regulator.

It also brings into question the utopian pursuit of the FG to guarantee food self-sufficiency rather than food security — already, food comprises 56% of Nigerian consumer spending. There is a likelihood that at the current rate, this may rise to 80% in the next four or five years. Prevailing policy thinking is likely to end up pushing costs even higher in the short term ( the rising cost of eggs and poultry being a case in point). Perhaps like never before, this moment calls for bold and fresh policy thinking. The alternative to courageous policy design is a Nigeria that continues to sink deeper into poverty and extreme poverty too, with food security proving more elusive. In conclusion, the new outlook by the CBN is, to put it politely, defective.

Using big data to understand West Africa one country (or is it region?) at a time.