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Malnutrition scare as price of eggs rises beyond average households

By Femi Ibirogba and Abigail Ikhagu
01 June 2022   |   4:15 am
Frequent increase in prices has made eggs, supposedly the cheapest source of protein in Nigeria, luxurious items. The prices have continued to rise beyond the reach of average households.

• ‘Situation could compound malnutrition, infant mortality’
• Low production of maize, soybean is big factor

Frequent increase in prices has made eggs, supposedly the cheapest source of protein in Nigeria, luxurious items. The prices have continued to rise beyond the reach of average households.

A survey conducted by The Guardian revealed that the price of a branded crate of eggs in most supermarkets is between N2,400 and N2,800, while an unbranded crate of 30 eggs is sold at between N2,200 and N2,500, depending on sizes.

At the retail level on the streets of Lagos, a small-sized crate of eggs also sells between N2,000 and N2,300 while a medium-sized or small egg is sold at between N80 and N100.

Experts have, thus, raised the alarm that the unaffordability of one of the commonest sources of protein poses dangers to efforts to minimise malnutrition and hunger, especially in the insurgency-infested zones.

Other sources of animal-based protein –beef, pork, chicken and fish – have also become unaffordable to millions of Nigerians as herder/farmer clashes and inaccessible forex for fish importation and the resort to the parallel market by importers drive prices up drastically.

Also, plant-based sources of protein, such as beans and soybeans, are equally out of the reach of most Nigerians, forcing millions to live on unbalanced diets, mainly carbohydrate-based foods.

A 2021 UNICEF report says that 2.5 million Nigerian children are malnourished, 30 per cent are underweight while 90,000 are near starvation. About six million under five are stunted while 2.5 million Nigerian children under the age of five suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) every year.

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life is a period to prevent undernutrition, malnutrition and their consequences, experts have advised. But unaffordable sources of protein in Nigeria may lead to widespread malnutrition, they have said.

According to Harvest-Plus Nigeria, millions of children are already suffering from hidden hunger, characterized by deficiencies in vitamins, minerals and other essential micro-nutrients.

Again, a Statista’s report ranks Nigeria 13th with an index of 28.3, according to the hunger and malnutrition global hunger index 2021.

This is expected to get worse this year as rising energy cost escalates price crisis. According to the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) cost of animal feeds following inadequate production of basic feed ingredients such as maize and soybeans, and the high cost of minerals and vitamins used in poultry production are accountable for the high prices of eggs and chicken.

Other challenges are expensive day-old chicks, insecurity of farmers and a disabling operating environment characterised by abnormal taxes, transportation difficulties and unscrupulous activities of middle-men.

President of PAN, Mr. Ibrahim Ezekiel Mam, had explained that poultry farmers were becoming helpless in the face of too many challenges, hence, they resort to price adjustments as the cost of production goes up.

The Provost, Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology (FCAH&PT), Moor Plantation, Ibadan, Dr. Olatunde Owosibo, said egg is an important part of human diet because it contains essential amino acids in the right proportion, “and it is still the cheapest source of protein considering the nutritional profile”.

However, he added, an increase in the price of eggs called for concern as it might also go out of reach for the common man.
“The reasons for the increase in the cost of eggs are not far-fetched. The astronomic increase in prices of basic ingredients (of animal feeds) is responsible. The cost of maize, soya meal, groundnut cake and other feed ingredients are much responsible. Farmers are seriously lamenting and suffering because they cannot pass the huge cost of production to consumers,” Dr. Owosibo said.

He added that at the moment, there is high competition between man and his livestock over basic ingredients such as maize, soybean and groundnut, saying intensive research had been ongoing over the years to see viable alternatives to these crops.

He disclosed that some success had been recorded, but most substitutes are not available in commercial quantity, but could only sustain backyard poultry.

Other factors responsible for the high cost of feeds, according to him, include banditry and kidnapping, which, he said, had caused low production and an increase in prices of maize and soya beans.

Also, Head of Department, Agribusiness Management, FCAP&PT, Dr. Ibrahim Abdul-Ganiyu, said the high cost of feeds, labour, cost of fueling to pump water, expensive drugs and vaccines are some of the factors, apart from the heat stress which reduces the production rate.

He added that the price of day-old birds to replace the old stock is on the high side. The prices of point-of-lay birds have increased tremendously and purchasing power of the naira is weak, forcing many farmers out of the business.

“The solution,” he said, “revolves mainly around the high cost of feeds because the cost of feeds alone takes 60 to 65 per cent of production cost.”

The challenges could cripple the sub-sector and millions of Nigerians engaged in the associated value chains, including toll milling, could lose their means of livelihood if the obstacles are not removed.

This is as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, through the minister, Dr. Muhammed Abubakar, disclosed recently that “Nigeria is the largest yearly egg producer and has the second-largest chicken population in Africa, with about 180 million birds being raised.”

The ministry also said about 85 million Nigerians are involved in the poultry value chain businesses, especially in the intensive system producing eggs and poultry meat.

According to the 2021 production data, Nigeria recorded a marginal production increase of maize from 12.8 to 13.94 million metric tonnes.

But the Country Representative, International Livestock Research Institute, Dr. Tunde Amole, during a poultry show in Ogun State late 2021, tagged: ‘De-Risking the Nigerian Poultry Industry: Stabilising Critical Inputs and Market Prices for Sustainability,’ attributed expensive feeds to scarcity of feed inputs around the world, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and multiple usages of maize in particular as food grain and industrial raw material.

He had suggested the use of cassava peels as part of components in animal feeds to reduce the use of maize. During the show, the chairman of the occasion, Mr. Olalekan Odunsi, said difficulties faced by farmers were shrinking the poultry sub-sector and lamented that insecurity, high cost of feeds and unstable exchange rate had forced some farmers out of egg and chicken production businesses.

Experts at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), however, have reiterated that the country can close the yearly maize deficit of about 4.0 to 5.0 million metric tonnes by embracing high-yielding hybrid maize varieties, using yield-enhancing inputs such as fertiliser, insecticides and weed-control measures. About 10 per cent of Nigerian farmers are said to be planting hybrid varieties, while experts said the percentage should increase to a minimum of 50 per cent to close the gap.

On soybeans, a June 25 Global Agricultural Information Network report by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts Nigerian soybean production in the marketing year 2021-2022, which begins July 1, 2021, to reach 1.25 million tonnes.

Soybean yields have been increasing in recent years, and USDA attributes this to “private sector investors putting money and resources into increasing crop output to meet the growing needs of local feed millers and poultry farmers,” but consumption in the 2021-22 forecast is to reach 1.275 million metric tonnes, up 38 per cent compared to the 2020-2021 estimate.

Imports of soybeans are projected to reach 100,000 metric tonnes in the period under review, up nearly 100 per cent.