Food price changes in Nigeria: 2017 - 2021
This article uses heatmap visualisations to present the trends in price of selected food items across Nigeria.
The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) publish some data on selected food prices across different states in the country starting from January 2017. You can find the data in the elibrary under Selected Food Prices Watch ([Month, Year]). Anecdotal evidence from social media posts contain emotional messages that signal that the people's purchasing power has significantly declined. Some are reporting that the price of staple foods like beans has tripled in the span of a month.
This article uses heatmap visualisations to explore the trends in the price of selected food items tracked by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics between January 2017 and August 2021 across Nigeria.
Notes about the data
It is unclear exactly how the data is captured and for each state, how many samples are taken to derive the value that is openly shared by the NBS.
The data published (and specifically the dataset used in this article) is published for the preceding month. Hence there is a delay in what people are momentarily feeling and expressing across social media and the story the dataset might tell.
Understandably, it is not possible to capture the price of all food items. I trust that the NBS has good reason for selecting the foods they publish data on.
Some of the entries in the dataset contained outliers which where immediately evident when visualising the data. Specifically the entries for Kwara state, January 2018 for Catfish (dried) was ₦13,465, Imo state, October 2018 for Catfish (dried) was ₦24,780.5, Kano state March 2019 for Frozen chicken was ₦11,400. All three entries were ten time larger than entries for the preceding and succeeding months. For the visualisations in this article, these entries were rendered as a tenth of their reported values.
The precise quantity or weight of some of the food items is unclear. For example a tuber of yam come in different sizes as does beef with bone in.
For the purposes of this article, the January 2000 entry in Benue state dataset was relabelled as December 2019 based on it's position in the sheet.
Regional Differences in trends
When there is a lot of data, it is generally a good idea to look for trends. I'm a fan of Shneiderman's visualisation mantra: Overview first, zoom and filter, then details on demand. This article presents the 'overview' part of the exploration. Filtering and details are left for the curious reader to explore in the interactive notebook that accompanies the article.
South-South and South-East zones have seen the largest changes in the price of onions. According to the data, the spike started around November 2020. Conversely, Northern zones (except Abuja) generally saw some stability in the price of onions. The cost of onions reduced in 2021 in many North-Central and North-Eastern states.
In general, the North-Eastern and North-Central zones (except Abuja) have seen a drop in the price of fresh Tilapia and Yam since 2017. There is a similar trend for the price of catfish which you can explore in more detail in the accompanying observable notebook.
The data also shows that in many states, in 2017 and 2018, yam is more expensive in the middle of the year than it is towards the end of the year. The reported cost of yam is also less in North-Eastern and North-Central Nigeria than it is in other parts.
Things got better then worse
A close look at foods like white and yellow gari show that there were similar levels of reported prices for these food groups between 2017 and 2018. Things got cheaper around 2019 with some variations across states. There are some exceptions for states like Kebbi, Kogi and Bayelsa, which saw more expensive prices when compared to states in the same regions. The prices then got higher again in 2020.
The dip in the cost of foods like gari in 2019 and the consequent increase in cost might contribute to how people are feeling about the affordability of basic food items. The data shows that some parts of Nigeria, experienced higher prices in 2017 than in 2021.
According to the data recorded by the NBS, the South-South and South-East have seen the sharpest increase in price for most of the selected foods. Due to the delayed nature of the data reported by the NBS and the unknown nature of how the data is actually collected, these pictures are merely a visualisation of the data available and do not attempt to say anything about reality. Indeed based on a few checks with personal contacts in Lagos, the prices reported in the real world were higher than what the NBS data reported. Perhaps there is opportunity to crowdsource this information (in addition to the work the NBS is doing open sourcing access to the dataset).
If you enjoyed the visualisations in this article, there is an accompanying observable notebook where you can view the heatmap for all the selected foods across all the different states. There is also a histogram showing the price distribution for the selected food. Check it out here.
Data used in the visualisations shown in this article is provided by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics and was downloaded on October 9, 2021. The preview image used in this article is by Dennis Irorere on Unsplash.
Here is the list of selected foods tracked by the NBS:
Agric eggs medium size
Agric eggs(medium size price of one)
Beans brown,sold loose
Beans:white black eye. sold loose
Beef Bone in
Bread sliced 500g
Bread unsliced 500g
Broken Rice (Ofada)
Catfish (obokun) fresh
Dried Fish Sardine
Evaporated tinned milk carnation 170g
Evaporated tinned milk(peak), 170g
Gari white,sold loose
Gari yellow,sold loose
Groundnut oil: 1 bottle, specify bottle
Mackerel : frozen
Maize grain white sold loose
Maize grain yellow sold loose
Mudfish (aro) fresh
Mudfish : dried
Palm oil: 1 bottle,specify bottle
Rice agric sold loose
Rice local sold loose
Rice Medium Grained
Rice,imported high quality sold loose
Tilapia fish (epiya) fresh
Vegetable oil:1 bottle,specify bottle
Wheat flour: prepacked (golden penny 2kg)