The Rising Cost Of Food Items and The Realities OF The Malthusian Theory. ( A Nigerian Perspective)

Mum and dad had just gone on vacation and I was left at home with my elder brother to occupy the house in their unavoidable absence. Our soup- pot had just gone dry the day before and was begging for the succor of another. In a nutshell, there needed to be a pot of soup for the house at least to serve for dinner.

The next day, my elder brother had hurriedly left for work and left behind a paltry 2,000 naira on the TV stand. Seeing this sum, I needn’t a prophet to tell me it was meant for the food items for the soup much later in the day neither did I had to take the trouble to call him and be sure, because that obviously would have been a waste of resources on my part. After having my breakfast, I took my bath and got dressed in the typical market attire and set out for the Ojuoelegba market in the town. Meanwhile, before I set out I had listed out all the needed food items for the soup and even though it was in excess of 800 naira, I taught I could be able to maneuver my way through the list and at least get something for the house by the end of the day.

On reaching the ever bustling and busy market saddled with a conglomeration of human activities, to my greatest quagmire  I couldn’t buy 3 out of the 9 items on my list which included beef, stockfish, dry fish, ogbono seed, crayfish, pumpkin leaf and of course my transport fare among others. At the end of the day it all translated into no dinner for the night and the reason being: yes, you were right I couldn’t make ends meet back there in the market due to the alarming rate of the prices of food items and which ironically informs the crux of this piece.

Few years ago, during my secondary school days, while my economics teacher, one Mr. Mshelia the man whom I preferred to call Adams Smith back then because of his penchant and vastness in the study of economics taught us the theory of a renowned economic pessimist in the person of sir, Robert Malthus an English economist and demographer who is best known for his theory or assertion back then in 1798 that “population growth will always tend to outrun the food supply and that betterment of humankind is impossible without stern limits in reproduction” a thinking which was later known as Malthusianism. Ironically, during those days I never got attracted to his theory, I was in love with some other theories like the law of diminishing returns, the law of diminishing marginal utility, and a host of others but not the Malthusian theory. What more! I only wanted getting at least a b+ in my final economics exam and that would be the end of economics for me since I wasn’t planning furtherance in the field of economics, it has been LAW right from my mother’s womb but unknown to me, the study of economics was far from getting started. All I needed do back then in my secondary school days was make the demand while mummy and daddy were to take the trouble of supply.

An Igbo adage says “ADIGHI AGWA ONYE CHIRI NTI N’AGHA ESUULA” to the effect that a deaf man need not be told that there is an outbreak of war. In likewise manner, I have grown into a young man and the realities and the visionary acumen of one sir Robert Malthus some 214 years ago now stares at me in the face I couldn’t help but refer to him as a genius and may his soul continue to rest in peace.

The alarming rate at which population growth has increased as against food production continues to be one big log on our “road” and which we are all ill in the knowing of how to tackle the menace. Even more disheartening and mind swallowing is the great mans submission that when this problem gets to its climax, famine and drought will become almost inevitable and the symptoms are even more glaring. Our land and soil, however arable and fertile geographers has estimated it to be, is suffering from excessive human/ farming activities that has robbed it of its fertility. Our cassava no longer thrives the way it used to some decades ago so it is with other major food crops. It is only but customary that when demand outweighs supply, the shift on the supply curve could be devastating and so it is with the relationship between the demand for food as a result of increasing population and the excessive farming activities which tells on the fertility of the soil. What am I trying to say? The present skyrocketed nature of our population directly means too much dependence or pressure on the soil for food production in order to have food on our table for survival. The soil is being cultivated almost round the year without any window period to fallow and regain its fertility and the consequences is that it has lost its natural fertility that usually means enough food on our table after harvest all things being equal. But on the contrary, that natural fertility has been betrayed due to excessive farming/human activities that has affected farm produce negatively and by extension the prices of food crops.

As a result of this sordid development, farmers have resorted to artificial method of soil fertility which involves the use of fertilizers as a savior in these trying times. The exorbitant prices of the various brands of fertilizer and seedlings has culminated or transcended into what economists refer to as cost-push inflation. Due to the excessive cost of production of farm produce, there seem to be no escape from food items after harvest to be skyrocketed in prices.

The effect now affects every member of the society, from the low class to the middle class if at all it exists in contemporary society to the elite class either directly or indirectly. As for me, it was too high a price I had to pay back there in the market since I couldn’t salvage a pot of soup from 2,000 naira in this period of economic brouhaha. Sure! You can use that smile now.

And yet, even more troubling is how the scenario would look like in the next two decade. Sadly enough, we don’t have another sir Robert Malthus to peer into the future and give an inkling of how things would look like. It is said don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will take care of itself, but should we fold our hands and allow our future suffer when the symptoms are just so glaring because we don’t want to worry about tomorrow? You may keep the answer to yourself. Before my soup scenario, the week before, I had gone to the abattoir to buy a kilo of meat. After the mallam did the mastery with his knives, he handed me something in black leather. Before furnishing the consideration of 1,000 naira I couldn’t help but ask the ageing mallam: are you sure the poor man would be able to afford beef meat in the next five years to come? He looked at me and burst into laughter.

It sounds very funny, yes I know but then it is a great deficit on our part. The rate of population growth has affected every other sector of the economy. Yes it is true we have the resources but we are not helping ourselves either. You cannot because you have a fire extinguisher in your house set your house on fire. It is only in Africa that you find a poor man having decades of children with little or no money to cater for them. It is only in Africa that you find a rich man, marry fleet of wives and litter the household with children. Am not saying married couples shouldn’t seek for the fruit of the womb but then there is need for birth control especially in this century of economic malaise. It is only in Africa that you find a woman carrying more than five children on a motorcycle. It is something very pathetic I must say. What does it profit a man if he litters his household with children which he hasn’t the wherewithal to cater for them?

There is a need to put a check on the population growth if we still hope to be having food on our table at least at a rational rate in this age of economic depression and the ever fearful future .If not for anything, to defeat the work of the pessimist economist, Sir Robert Malthus. General Murtala Mohamed once said “Africa indeed has come of age, she is no longer under the orbit of any external powers and she should be able to rise up to the stage of making her own decisions…………” If the words of this one time military czar be true, then we must rise up to the challenge of matching words with actions. It is true that sir, Robert Malthus’s’ theory at this point is almost inevitable but the impending difficulties and consequences can be reduced to the barest minimum.

Yungsilky is a student of the faculty of law in one of Nigeria’s federal universities. He blogs for informationnigeria, runs his personal blog and also the editor of the campus ambassador magazine. Follow him on twitter @yung_silky /08068271477