Nigerian nutritionist Emiolo Ogunsola stands in front of a dozen new mothers in a Lagos public hospital, listing the basic foods they need to keep their children well-nourished: Eggs, vegetables and beans among them.
Her pitch is abruptly interrupted. For the mothers listening, even those essentials are increasingly beyond their reach.
“Ma, how can you expect us to buy that, everything is so expensive, there is no money to buy all that,” says one young mother with a child cradled in her arms.
Inflation is rising around the world as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, and while Western central bankers say it is only temporary, the soaring prices are having dramatic consequences in countries like Nigeria.
Africa’s most populous nation with 210 million inhabitants, Nigeria competes with India for the largest number of poor in the world.
But battered by the double economic impact of low global oil prices and the pandemic, the World Bank estimates Nigeria’s soaring inflation and food prices pushed another seven million people into poverty in 2020.
Food prices have increased more than 22 percent since the start of the coronavirus crisis, according to official statistics.
“Every day, during consultation, there are five or seven children that suffer from malnutrition,” says Ogunsola, head of the nutrition department at Massey Street children’s hospital in a poor district in Lagos Island.
“I bet in a few months or a year, more children will be malnourished.”
Even before the pandemic and the surge in food costs, Nigeria’s nutrition figures were alarming: One in three Nigerian children suffered stunted growth due to bad diet; one in 10 is wasted.
As a result, close to 17 million children in Nigeria are undernourished, giving the country the highest level of malnutrition in Africa and second highest in the world.
‘Can’t stand anymore’
Edith Obatuga has six dependents: two of her own as well as four nephews and nieces.
Twenty kilometres (12 miles) from Lagos Island, in Bariga Market, another popular area of Nigeria’s sprawling economic capital, this single mother shops around the stalls, hoping to find an affordable package of spaghetti.
She has already given up on beans, with the price per kilo already up by 60 percent in one year. She also cut portions of rice after a 15 percent rise in prices.
“During the lockdown last year, prices started to go up, and never stopped since. We cannot stand anymore,” says the 43-year-old mother who earns around 50,000 naira or $120 a month selling wood planks.
Obatuga has made adjustments to delay having to cut portions of food from the family meals. First, she left their apartment because she could no longer afford the rent and moved into her late mother’s old house.