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Christmas Dinner in Nigeria This Year Misses One Key Ingredient

Anthony Osae-Brown and Tope Alake

(Bloomberg) -- Nigerians may have to do without their favorite 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 neighboring Benin and Niger earlier this year in a bid to curtail smuggling. Domestically produced grain prices are up 70%.

“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 southwest Nigera 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 neighboring 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 percent of households reported being unable to eat nutritious and healthy preferred food because of lack of money, while 41% ate only a few kind 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% more for the family pot of Jollof today than they did three years ago,” SBM said in its October report.

Those prices mean Bosede will feed her family locally produced vegetables for Christmas. And they’ll forego chicken, which is 50% more expensive now than in August.

“We will rather eat pounded yam, cassava or dried plantain porridge,” she said. “I don’t know how I will go about the protein supplement. I just know we will survive.”

--With assistance from Ruth Olurounbi and Prinesha Naidoo.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anthony Osae-Brown in Lagos at aosaebrown2@bloomberg.net;Tope Alake in Lagos at talake@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John McCorry at jmccorry@bloomberg.net, Paul Richardson, Liezel Hill

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