In Lagos, “we can no longer feed our children” because of soaring prices

AFP, published on Friday July 02, 2021 at 09:48 a.m.

“To feed your children well, and avoid malnutrition, you have to give them eggs, beans, vegetables,” teaches Emiolo Ogunsola, a Nigerian nutritionist to a dozen mothers who listen attentively in the waiting room. ‘a public hospital in Lagos.

“To feed your children well, and avoid malnutrition, you must give them eggs, beans, vegetables,” teaches Emiolo Ogunsola, a Nigerian nutritionist to a dozen mothers who listen attentively in the waiting room. ‘a public hospital in Lagos.

The nutritionist is abruptly interrupted in her enumeration by a young mother, her one-year-old child in her arms: “But Madam, how do you expect us to do it, everything has become so expensive, we no longer have the money. to buy all that! “.

Nigeria, a country of 210 million inhabitants, already had, along with India, the largest number of poor people in the world. And in 2020 alone, the World Bank (WB) estimates that inflation has pushed 7 million people into poverty.

Since the start of the pandemic, food prices have increased on average by more than 22%, according to official statistics, and feeding one’s family properly has become a daily challenge.

“Every day we see between five and seven children suffering from malnutrition,” said Ogunsola, head of the nutrition department at Massey Street Children’s Hospital, in the heart of the popular and bustling Lagos Island district.

“But I can bet you that in a few months or years, this number will increase further,” laments the nutritionist.

Before the pandemic and soaring prices, the numbers were already alarming: one in three children in Nigeria is stunted, and one in ten is acutely malnourished or thin. That is 17 million children.

– “A bout” –

Edith Obatuga has six dependent children: her own, but also her four nieces and nephews.

In Bariga Market, another popular area of ​​sprawling Lagos, this single mom is shopping around the stalls, hoping to find an affordable package of spaghetti.

It has already abolished beans, the price of which per kilo has increased by 60% in one year. She also “reduced portions of rice”, which increased her by about 15%.

“During the lockdown last year, prices started to rise and never stopped again. We’re at the end of the line,” angered this 43-year-old woman, who earns around 50,000 naira per month (102 euros) by selling boards.

Ms. Obatuga had done everything to delay when she would have to “cut into portions”. She first left her apartment, where she could no longer pay the rent, to move into her late mother’s old house.

“When it rains, it leaks everywhere! And every night we have to fight with mosquitoes,” she said in despair, pointing to the gutted roof of her living room.

When her children get sick, from malaria or typhoid, there is no longer any question of going to the hospital. “Too expensive”, says the head of the household, who now favors traditional remedies: a herbal juice prepared in a plastic container.

– Waste and insecurity –

Before the pandemic, “Nigerians were already spending 60% of their income on food,” said Tunde Leye, an economist at SBM Intelligence. But with inflation, “today we are around 70 or 80%”. So much money that they can no longer spend on their housing, their health …

“They can no longer invest in their trade or education, yet levers to get out of poverty,” continues the economist.

After the rent for her house, it was the rent for her shop that Mrs. Obatuga could no longer pay. She fell into the vicious circle of poverty: she now sells her boards on the forecourt of her house, far from shopping streets, which has reduced her turnover.

The economic slowdown and food inflation observed since the start of the pandemic are affecting the whole world.

But in Nigeria, inflation is not just due to global conditions and each year 40% of total food production is lost or wasted, according to the World Bank.

In this country, Africa’s largest oil producer, corruption is endemic, the roads are in dire condition, the port of Lagos is totally congested, and the faulty electricity does not allow food to be stored properly, argues the economist Tunde Leye.

Added to this is “galloping insecurity”, which prevents people from going to the fields in many agricultural regions, in the center and north-west, where criminal gangs are rife, and in the north-east, in prey to a jihadist rebellion.

In these areas, the number of severely malnourished children is peaking, and in some places it has almost doubled in one year.

Lagos, the economic heart of the country, is hundreds of kilometers away. But at red lights in the megalopolis, we find more and more children from the north, clinging to car windows, one hand outstretched towards the driver or passenger. And the other brought to their mouths.

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