Nigeria declared a state of emergency that would allow the government to take exceptional steps to improve food security and supply, as surging prices cause widespread hardship.
The move will trigger a range of measures, including clearing forests for farmland to increase agricultural output to ease food inflation, Dele Alake, a spokesman for President Bola Tinubu, said at a media briefing in the capital, Abuja, late Thursday. It follows the president's removal of fuel subsidies and sweeping exchange-rate reform since he took office in May.
Food is becoming unaffordable to a majority of Nigerians, Alake said. "This has led to a significant drop in demand, thereby undermining the viability of the entire agriculture and food value chain," he said.
Africa's most populous country has seen a jump in the cost of food and transportation since the fuel subsidies were ended, which were costing as much as $10 billion a year but made gasoline prices one of the cheapest globally.
The government will use the savings from the removal of the subsidies on gasoline to revamp the agriculture sector, Alake said.
A National Commodity Board will be created to continually review food costs, maintain a strategic food reserve and moderate spikes and dips in prices while the central bank will continue its funding of the agricultural sector.
In addition, the government plans to release 500,000 hectares from land banks, including by clearing forested areas, to increase available farmland and boost agricultural output.
Even before Tinubu cut subsidies, consumer price growth had accelerated to an almost 18-year high of 22.4% in May in the West African nation, with the rate of food inflation rising more than two full percentage points faster in the same month.
Years of insecurity and recent flooding in the country's north central region, which is the nation's main food producing areas, have reduced farming activities, leading to a sharp rise in prices.
The removal of fuel subsidies could lead to a further acceleration in the price index to nearly 30% by end of the year, according to Bank of America's sub-Saharan Africa economist Tatonga Rusike.
An indication of the emerging price pressures can be seen in the sharp rise in food costs in Borno State in northern Nigeria, where food prices jumped 36% and transportation fares 78%, one week after the subsidies were cut, according to a report by Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization operating in the area.
This has led to increase in hunger and petty theft at the community level, according to the report.
"More people are resorting to walking long distances instead of using motorized transport, and some students have stopped attending school due primarily to high transportation costs" according to the report.