For Nashirata* (surname omitted), breadwinner for her husband and three children, jollof rice, the beloved West African staple, is often a lifesaver.
Jobs are hard to come by in Accra, Ghana, where she lives. Her work as a teacher in high school is therefore useful to her until her master’s degree in public health opens the doors to a better one. And on his modest salary, jollof rice – a simple meal of cooked rice with a spicy base of tomatoes and peppers, seasoning and fish or meat – is often an affordable option for his family.
But now cooking is getting more and more expensive.
On the eve of May Day, Nashirata’s pot of jollof rice cost 80 Ghanaian cedi ($7.40), almost double the normal price. Still, it was one of the “simplest meals” she had ever cooked, she said, because she couldn’t afford meat and other condiments at their current prices.
“If I had looked at what I made yesterday,” Nashirata told Al Jazeera, “I would have loved to add more ingredients. But what we’re going through, we can’t really have what we want. You can only really get by with what you have.
Elsewhere in West Africa, in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, the price of restocking monthly groceries has fallen from around 40,000 naira last year ($86.80) to 80,000 naira ($173.61 ) today for Esther Louise, mother of four.
And these days, when cooking jollof rice, she has replaced turkey – which has gone from 3,500 naira ($7.60) per kilogram to 5,000 naira ($10.85) – with Titus fish. , considerably cheaper. It now costs him about 8,000 naira ($17.36) to make a pot of rice, 30% more than 5,500 naira ($11.94) in April.
Since 2020, people across West Africa have grappled with rising food inflation, with popular meals out of reach for low-income households.
According to the Ghana Statistical Service, food inflation in March stood at 50.8%. In Nigeria and Senegal, the rates were considerably lower, at 24.61% and 11.90%, respectively.
In crisis-hit Burkina Faso, food prices have also risen by 30% this year, according to the International Rescue Committee. In Mali, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predicts that acute food insecurity is expected to increase by 30 percent between June and August.
For low-income households in the region, these figures translate into reduced food security, even if people’s incomes remain largely the same.
“We all know that the prices [of commodities] have, in fact, closed astronomically compared to last year. You can’t even compare the two,” Nashirata said.
A recent survey by SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based geopolitical consultancy, examined the rising costs of cooking a pot of jollof rice for an average family of five in several markets in parts of Nigeria and Ghana.
In 14 markets surveyed across Nigeria, the price increased between 2.9% and 14.7%, peaking at 13,150 naira ($28.54) between the third quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023. During this Meanwhile, Nigeria’s monthly minimum wage remained at 33,000 naira ($71.61). .
In Ghana, where the monthly minimum wage is 401.76 cedis ($37.18), a pot of jollof rice costs 287.5 cedis ($26.61), 294.5 cedis ($27.26) and 274 cedis ($25.36) the first three months in Accra and 268 cedis ($24.80). ), 278 cedis ($25.73) and 274 cedis ($25.36) in Kumasi, respectively.
“The index highlights the fragility of the region’s economies,” said Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence.
And while underdeveloped agricultural and farming systems and inadequate policy support have long been seen as reasons for price inconsistencies, experts say the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war have also contributed. to rising food prices.
Like most of the African continent, West African countries rely heavily on cereals, wheat, flour and, to a lesser extent, fertilizers from the Black Sea region, a key geopolitical axis that includes Russia and Ukraine.
According to a 2022 joint According to a study by the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations World Food Program and the FAO, almost half of the wheat flour imported into West Africa comes from Russia and from Ukraine.
“The way West African economies have been structured, they’re largely import-driven,” said Daniel Anim, chief economist at the Accra-based Economic Development Policy Initiative.[It is] making it very difficult for the average citizen in the region to afford to buy goods and services.
“The disposable income of citizens has been reduced due to the effect of the inflation rate, and this affects the standard of living of citizens to the extent that it might have an effect on the nutritional value of citizens, which invariably affect productivity,” he added.
Beyond the global dynamics, the ongoing political, economic and climatic crises are also impacting the economies of the region.
Mali and Burkina Faso have suffered violence from armed rebels for years, as well as several strokes since 2020. During this period, coup attempts have also taken place in Niger, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, as dissatisfaction with the fight against insecurity persists and the cost of living continues to increase.
Severe flooding last year wiped out thousands of farmlands, killed more than 600 people and displaced 1.4 million others in Nigeria’s food-producing states – after years of armed attacks on farmers by armed groups in the region. A failed currency exchange earlier this year led to more inflation and hurt small and medium-sized businesses, according to the World Bank.
Ghana is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a $3 billion bailout. And as of December 2022, Nigeria’s total outstanding public debt stood at $103.11 billion.
Rising debt stocks have also hampered economic growth in stable economies like Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. In 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire would have a debt-to-GDP ratio of 77% and 56%, respectively.
“If you take the West African sub-region as an economic bloc over the years, it seems that the focus has been on resolving political issues versus the economic issues outlined in the various protocols and documents aimed at developing the respective economies of the sub-region,” Anim told Al Jazeera.
“We must manage”
Experts say the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), designed to ease the movement of goods across the continent but which has not yet been launched, could help stem the decline in food supply and the price increase.
“The solution lies in the nature of access – access to capital on one side and access to infrastructure and market,” Akinyinka Akintunde, chairman of the commodity exchange based in AFEX, told Al Jazeera. Lagos. “When land and finance are not available with insurrection on land and [there is ] no access to finance because there is no subsidy in place because the government is not playing the role or there is no infrastructure to access it then there will be prizes students.
“If there is no transparent mechanism to get products at fair and transparent prices, the project is dead on arrival because market access has a lot of momentum.”
For ordinary people like Nashirata, having daily meals that cost more than they can afford is a bitter experience. “Now,” she says, “you can’t just go out and say you want to buy whatever you want, go home and cook a meal for your family. You have to manage.”