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The Price of Jollof Rice Is Rising, Forcing Nigerians Rethink Their Meals

  • The war in Ukraine, inflation, and supply-chain issues are making food prices surge in Nigeria.
  • Rising costs mean some households are skipping meals or cutting back on favorites like jollof rice.
  • The Jollof Index tracks the cost of making the dish as a way of looking at Nigerian food prices.

LAGOS, Nigeria — On a normal day, Adeniyi Shoremi would eat three square meals. 

Breakfast for Shoremi — who lives in Lagos, Nigeria — would be bread, eggs, and a chocolate milkshake. For lunch, he would eat fufu (balls of dough made from cassava) with vegetable soup.

And for dinner, he would have jollof rice, a dish popular across West Africa prepared with rice, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables, as well as chicken, beef, or fish.

But recently, the 28-year-old has started skipping lunch or dinner because of the rising cost of food.

Shoremi told Insider that skipping meals made it hard to do his agricultural job.

“That can affect my productivity, you see,” Shoremi said. “I own a plantain plantation, and the nature of my job requires me to be very active.”

He worries about malnutrition, saying: “I’m also not happy that I no longer get to eat my jollof rice as often as I would like to.”

‘I may not always have enough to eat’

Food prices in Nigeria have skyrocketed since the start of the war in Ukraine in February because of higher fuel prices and supply-chain issues related to the conflict. An unstable exchange rate and historic issues with the country’s supply chain add to the pressure.

Shoremi has loved jollof rice since he was a child. His mom always prepared it for celebrations or when she wanted to cheer him and his siblings up.

Vendor surrounded by bags of rice at a market.

A local vender is surrounded by bags of rice and grains at the international market.

Fati Abubakar for Insider

But the cost of preparing the dish has risen sharply in recent months, according to the Jollof Index, a measure from the Lagos research and consultancy firm SBM Intelligence, which tracks the cost of the dish’s ingredients as a way of studying Nigeria’s food prices.

The average price of preparing a pot of jollof rice jumped 8.3% to 9,311 nairas, or $22, in the second quarter of 2022, from 8,595 nairas in the first quarter. 

Shoremi buys and cooks his own food, which is unusual for a single man living alone in Lagos: Many would prefer to eat out. He told Insider cooking had been more cost-effective but that’s changing.

“Not too long ago, my monthly food allowance was 50,000 nairas,” he said. “Out of this sum, I’d buy rice and other grains, tubers, beans, cooking oils, proteins, and other necessary condiments. But right now, that amount is not enough.” 

SBM Intelligence’s head of research, Ikemesit Effiong, said rising prices could cause many Nigerian households to cut down on their protein intake.

“Some will reduce the frequency of meat or chicken consumption and transition to cheaper but fast-rising alternatives like fish,” he said.

Shoremi now focuses on buying only essential goods and getting basic nutrients.

“I prioritize the staples such as grains, legumes, and tubers, like yam and potatoes,” he said. “And then I cut back on condiments which are quite expensive.”

He added: “I buy everything in moderate quantities, unlike how I used to. This helps me to ensure that I have a fairly balanced diet, even though I may not always have enough to eat whenever I wanted.”

‘People are not buying as much food as they used to’

At Mile 12 International Market, one of Lagos’ most popular, with a wide variety of food at wholesale prices, even the best deals are costlier than they used to be. 

Local venders at 12 International Market.

A sea of vendors and customers navigate Mile 12 International Market.

Fati Abubakar for Insider

Alhaji Ibrahim’s store sells rice and other grains, beans, and lentils.

He told Insider a 50-kilogram bag of rice was selling for 33,000 nairas in June. In January, that same bag sold for just 27,000 nairas. He sees fewer customers thanks to significant price hikes.

“The country is hard nowadays. And so people are not buying as much food as they used to buy. Instead, they complain about prices getting too high,” he said.

“But we don’t fix prices upwards just for the fun of it,” he added, saying he couldn’t afford to sell at a loss.

He doesn’t worry about shoppers deserting his shop altogether, he said: “Nigerians will always eat rice, no matter what, even if it means eating less of it.”

But he’s concerned about people buying smaller amounts “because that is certainly slowing down my business,” he said, adding: “I have a family to take care of with some proceeds from this business.”

At another Lagos market, Oyingbo Market, traders told Insider a basket of tomatoes had surged in price from an average of 13,000 nairas in February to 21,000 nairas in June. The price of a carton of chicken has risen significantly to 21,500 nairas, they said.

And jollof ingredients are just one part of the story. Statistics from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics showed that food inflation was 19.5% in May this year. And there are chances of a higher uptick over the coming months.

No quick fixes

Inflation means the proportion of people’s income spent on food in Nigeria “stands at a breathtaking 60%, according to our figures,” Effiong said.

That means households have less money to use for savings and other spending, he said.

“This means many Nigerians are constrained from participating in two of the known drivers of personal-wealth creation and wider economic-value creation,” he added. “This slow atrophying of economic growth bodes ill for overall national development.”

Samuel Bamidele, the head of research and intelligence at Lagos’ Phillips Consulting Limited, said there were no quick fixes to the crisis.

“There are a myriad of issues that are driving up food prices in Nigeria,” he said, adding that the country’s internal food supply chain faced “structural challenges, including high insecurity, unstable exchange rate, high cost of transportation due to high energy prices, bad road networks, paucity of input resources such as seedling and fertilizers, financing, and a poor, poor irrigation system.”

Since 2015, food inflation has been hovering in the double digits because of these issues, he said.

And Nigeria imports a high proportion of agricultural goods, he added, which means that “distortions from the global environment come at a high cost.”

Unless something changes dramatically with the tumult in the global economy thanks to the high energy prices and the Russia-Ukraine crisis, he said: “The era of single-digit food inflation may be behind us”.

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