By Chinwendu Nnamani and Annastecia Isife
Planting seasons every year is usually characterized by low supply of food stuffs like yam, plantain, fufu and garri as well as an almost surplus supply of food like corn, pear, mango, Okro, vegetables and other crops that are grown during the planting season.
But the reverse is the case in this year 2020 and the cause is not farfetched. The restricted interstate movement that was imposed on all states to curb the spread of COVID 19 is certainly the cause. Due to the lockdown, movement of available food stuffs from state became an almost impossible task and costly for those that finally succeeds in moving them. This has caused a considerable scarcity of food items like Yam, Garri, Plantain and other food commodities that are supposed to be in surplus supply this period.
With the fact that Enugu State does not cultivate these essential food items in large commercial quantity, it has triggered scarcity of these food items.
Some traders have resorted to selling of commodities that are readily available in the state to make ends meet while hoping and praying for the relaxation of the interstate restriction. According to these traders, though the restrictions are not placed on consumables, the cost of getting them down to the state from other states like Ebony, Abia, Cross River, Benue etc where they usually buy them from, has tripled and they end up not recovering the money spent more so making gain.
Foods like Fufu popularly known locally as Akpu that was readily available has become so scarce that you don’t see any trader selling it along the roads like Mayor market (one of the major urban markets in the state, located in Enugu South) where they were sold in large quantities spoilt during the Lockdown which has resulted in scarcity of the commodity.
Speaking to some traders that deal on these essential foodstuffs like Plantain and Yam, The Choice Flame Newspaper was told by Nkechjinyere Ukaegbu, a foodstuff dealer, that; “the scarcity of essential commodities in Enugu this period is partly because of the planting season as farmers are engaged in planting for the season rather than harvesting cassava and processing foods like Garri and Fufu, and also due to the fact that people from the neighboring states no longer bring their wares into the state as a result of the restricted movement.”
She said that places like Gboko in Benue State is where some traders in Enugu State buy food stuffs and some other commodities from, but due to the lockdown, supplies are no longer coming from there.
She also said that apart from food scarcity in the state, the economy of the state is also affected by the lockdown as the commodities that are produced in large quantities for sale in the state to other traders from other state are now sold only within the state and this has caused a drastic fall in the price of such commodity. She gave an example with a basket of okro which usually sells for N4000 but is being sold for N300.
Another trader, Mrs. Ngozi Ezeanya also reiterated the concerns of other traders saying that the difficulty in conveying food items from other states has made food stuff scarce and the available ones very costly. “
“This is the season of mango, the time when you are supposed to be seeing mango at every turn but it is not like that due to the restricted movements. It is costly bringing Mangos down here from Ebonyi state. One might not recover the capital,” she said.
The traders said that the situation has made most of them to delve into the sale of other food items that are available within the state while waiting for things to return to normal.
More uncertainties ahead
The country is already feeling the heat of the effect of covid-19 pandemic with the Federal Government recently announcing that the country cannot afford to import food anymore, citing paucity of fund.
President Muhammadu Buhari who recently spoke on the looming food crisis in the country had advised Nigerian farmers to increase their food production as Nigeria has ‘no money’ for food importation.
Even before the Corona virus pandemic, Nigeria has restricted food importation as the country strived to produce a lot of the food it consumes. The country also shut its borders with neighboring countries, largely to prevent the importation and smuggling of items such as rice, poultry and petrol. The borders are still shut but were also closed to human traffic following the Corona virus pandemic, although smuggling and other illegal activities still go on.
“I wish the farmers could go and stay in their farms so that we can produce what we need sufficiently so that we don’t have to import. In any case, we don’t have money to import so we must produce what we have to eat,” Buhari said.
What’s next for Nigerians
Meanwhile, there might not be a quick fix in sight as the country is still battling with the Corona virus crisis and the economy in a battered state.
According to data from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the amount of money the country has been spending on importing food and drink increased from 2015 to 2017, dipped in 2018 and if the trend from the first quarter of this year continues, the bill will go up again for this year.
In 2015, Nigeria spent nearly $2.9bn (£2.4bn) and by 2017 that had risen to $4.1bn, the NBS says.
As at ending of 2018, the Governor of Central Bank Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele said the annual food import bill was $1.9bn and had fallen from $7.9bn in 2015, the Punch newspaper reported.
But in September 2018, the agriculture minister at the time, Audu Ogbeh, said Nigeria spent $22bn importing food every year.
However, in a BBC special report on the ban on food importation in the country in 2019, it was reported that the agricultural sector, which remains a major employer, has suffered years of neglect as Nigeria has spent decades relying on oil to provide much-needed foreign exchange and government revenue.
There may be lots of people working on farms but lack of investment has led to low productivity. In addition, not all available agricultural land is being used. It is estimated that just over a third of available land is being cultivated.
As the country is reopening gradually even with the ravaging Corona virus pandemic, people have become less expectant over what the future holds for them and as usual wouldn’t trust that Government will do much in stepping up its efforts to salvage the situation.