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Christmas dinner in Nigeria this year misses one key ingredient
NIGERIANS may have to do without their favourite delicacy this Christmas. Jollof, a mixture of rice, tomatoes and spices, is practically a national dish in Nigeria, Africa's most-populous country with almost 200 million people. It's particularly coveted by the poor at Christmas and other festive periods, when increased demand for its ingredients contributes to seasonal price rises.
The cost of imported rice, the main ingredient in Jollof, has already almost doubled since the West African nation shut its borders with neighbouring Benin and Niger earlier this year in a bid to curtail smuggling. Domestically produced grain prices are up 70 per cent.
"I cannot afford to cook rice for my family this season," said Olatunbosun Bosede, a 30-year-old mother of three who sells candy and groundnuts on the streets of Ado Ekiti in south-west Nigeria for a living. "Rice is very expensive here. It has turned to gold."
President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the partial closing of Nigeria's border with Benin in August to halt illegal imports of foreign rice that undercut the price of locally produced grain. In October, his administration further restricted the trade of all goods across land borders with Benin and Niger.
While the government has begun talks with the neighbouring states, it has yet to find a way to stem smuggling once they re-open and the authorities say the frontiers will remain shut until at least January.
The resulting increase in food prices drove Nigeria's inflation rate to the highest in 19 months in November. More than four out of 10 Nigerian households are unable to feed themselves properly, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
"Forty-four per cent of households reported being unable to eat nutritious and healthy preferred food because of lack of money, while 41 per cent ate only a few kinds of foods because of lack of money," the NBS said in its latest household survey. "The increase in the price of food items was the most prevalent shock."
Nigerian households spend almost two-thirds of their income on food, according to Lagos-based SBM Intelligence, a research firm that publishes the Jollof Index, which tracks the changes in prices of the main ingredients of the dish. "On average, Nigerians pay 60 per cent more for the family pot of Jollof today than they did three years ago," SBM said in its October report. BLOOMBERG