Nigeria food banks cut back on handouts as prices soar

By Thomson Reuters Mar 25, 2024 | 3:02 AM

By Ope Adetayo

LAGOS (Reuters) – At a warehouse in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, dozens of women patiently wait their turn to receive food handouts. Among them is 68-year-old widow Damilola Salami, who received an invitation to the facility just as she had almost run out of food.

The Lagos Food Bank is a crucial lifeline to residents like Salami, but has seen supplies from private and other donors fall as inflation soars in Africa’s biggest economy.

Nigeria is grappling with the worst cost of living crisis in decades, which has deepened since President Bola Tinubu rolled out bold but unpopular economic reforms after assuming office last May.

“There is nothing for us to eat, we are hungry,” said Salami as she waited for her share of food and cooking oil. “Our children are out of school because of the increase in fees. Now, the children are at home and there is no food.”

Mabel Wade, an 80-year-old charcoal seller, said sustenance was scarce and she often relied on neighbours before she was told of the food bank.

“Sometimes there is no food to eat at all… Sometimes, it is biscuit and water,” she said, after registering for food stamps.

Last month a stampede broke out and killed seven people at a food distribution centre in Lagos.

World Bank data shows that 46% of Nigeria’s population was deemed poor in 2023. Twenty million of them live in urban areas.

In the past, the imposing warehouse of Lagos Food Bank would be fully stocked with bags of Nigerian staples like rice, beans and vegetable oil. Not anymore.

Founder Michael Sunbola said the facility’s major donor had cut supplies by 93%, citing the high cost of food.

The food bank has now dialled back on quantities, providing families with enough supplies for a few days at a time when once their parcels would have lasted two weeks. The facility is also having to “narrow down the number of people we want to reach out to”, said Sunbola of the people invited to use the service.

“Now, we do only women from the age of 50,” he told Reuters.

No Hunger Initiatives, a food bank serving mostly internally displaced people in the capital Abuja, faces similar problems.

The number of people seeking food handouts has tripled since May 2023 but the facility is unable to keep up because donors have cut back supplies by half due to rising inflation, said Kumdet Yilkon, a senior official.

(Editing by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Lucy Marks)