…hunger rises, malnutrition looms as households cut down on food

Many Nigerian households are currently battling with high cost of living prompting them to adopt innovative ways in their purchasing decisions as prices of goods and services reach an alarming level. Households are now being compelled to reassess their lifestyles and reset their priorities.

The nation’s data agency, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), announced this week that headline inflation soared further attaining a new high of 29.9 percent in January 2024 while food inflation rose to 35.41 percent during the same month.

“In January 2024, the headline inflation rate increased to 29.90% relative to the December 2023 headline inflation rate which was 28.92%. Looking at the movement, the January 2024 headline inflation rate showed an increase of 0.98% points when compared to the December 2023 headline inflation rate,” NBS announced on Thursday.

A market survey carried out by The Nigerian Observer team showed that prices of basic food items have hit the roofs. Our findings showed that a 50kg bag of rice which sold at N65,000 months ago is now N77,000. Noodles are now within the range of N6,000 to N7,200 a pack from N3,500 to N5,000 (depending on the noodle brand) a few weeks ago.

Furthermore, a bag of beans formerly sold for N59,500 now goes for N95,000 and even higher in some places, while protein sources including meat, fish, eggs are most times avoided because they are no longer affordable to many households, effectively making it increasingly difficult for families to afford a balanced diet.

This situation puts the country at risk of increased malnutrition which, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), raises health care costs, reduces productivity, and slows economic growth, which can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and ill-health. There are 17.7 million hungry people in Nigeria, with 1 million suffering from acute food insecurity, according to the 2023 Cadre Report, while malnutrition affects 35 million children under five, with 12 million stunted, 3 million wasted, and 23.5 million anaemic.

The Nigerian Observer had reported late 2023 that more Nigerians are patronizing local herbal concoctions as prices of orthodox drugs become more expensive. Already burdened by the high cost of living, many Nigerians find themselves struggling to access life-saving medications due to their exorbitant prices.

Gadgets, electronics, including smartphones, computers, and household appliances, have also experienced significant price increases, making them out of reach of many consumers.

Our findings have shown that more Nigerians now prioritize their buying decisions, similar to what economists call the “scale of preference”. As a result, spending on gadgets and luxury items has taken a backseat, with households focusing primarily on essential needs such as food, shelter, and healthcare.

Citizens are also forced to adopt alternative methods to cope with the financial strain. Many have resorted to forgoing alternatives to cope with the situation, from seeking out cheaper alternatives to adjusting their consumption patterns in order to survive. In addition, businesses are being forced to rethink their operations in order to mitigate the rising cost.

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Victory Osagie, a Benin City resident, said she had to give up some things because they are too expensive now.

“There are many things I have had to let go because they were costly. Like my nails, I used to make them for N6,000 as of December 2023 but now it is N9,000 and I cannot do it again,” Osagie said.

Adeluwoye Oluwapelumi, a student, had to switch to cheaper products because her favourites got too expensive.

“I use Nivea cream so much because it soothes my skin, but when it increased from N1,800 to N4,000, I just settled for another cream. Even body spray is now N3,500 from N1,500 and I had to let go of it because I cannot spend such an amount as a student,” Oluwapelumi said.

Mustapha Sanni, a noodle vendor, is thinking about relocating to his village because it is too expensive to keep his business going.

“I want to relocate to my village because the cost of buying noodles is just too much. I used to sell Superpack for N500 when it was less expensive. Now I buy it for N400. So, by the time I remove the cost of oil, carrot and gas, I will not have enough profit. I am tired of the situation, even now I no longer get customers like before because they don’t want to eat noodles again,” Sanni complained.

Similarly, Mama Osahon, who sells foodstuffs to students, said she has stopped selling some things because nobody is willing to buy them anymore.

“I have stopped selling some products because no one is buying them. Before now, students used to request Nadia bread even before they supplied me, but now, I don’t buy it again because the last one got bad and it is because of the price,” Mama Osahon complained.

In the last few weeks, Nigerians have staged peaceful protests in Lagos, Kogi, Osun, Niger, and Kano states over the rising cost of living and high cost of goods in the country.