From five grams of toothpaste to 10 milliliters of cooking oil, many Nigerians struggling with skyrocketing prices are now buying essentials in small quantities packed in tiny plastic bags that can be consumed the same day.
The consumer brands behind this “sacification of the economy” see it as a creative innovation that enables food for all Nigerians, most of whom live on less than $2 a day.
But critics see the development as an economic and environmental aberration, even as Africa’s largest economy grapples with the inflationary effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
On the streets of Lagos, the bustling economic capital of Africa’s most populous country, the little bags are now part of the decor: they color the streets, packing the wood and tin shops that line most street corners.
Sitting on a stool, Ibrahim Atahire has been running his small grocery store for 30 years in the busy Abalende district, a popular area of the metropolis.
“You can buy a little bit of everything from me,” says the 55-year-old trader with a gray beard.
At the stand, everything is sold in bags: coffee or powdered milk for just one cup, a few grams of porridge, toothpaste for one brushing, razors packaged and sold individually, washing powder and conditioners for one wash.
Even mosquito bite relief cream is sold in a package smaller than the palm of your hand.
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For lunch, oil is purchased in sachets, as well as spices, tomato sauce, minced garlic and ginger powder. One bag for each ingredient and for each meal.
“I’ve been selling sachets for a few years, but lately people can’t afford to buy the usual quantities anymore, so that’s all I’m selling now,” Atahire said.
On a parallel street, Sunny Aicha searched the stalls for the cheapest packet of oil. The mother of two children admits that she “can’t do it anymore”.
“I used to take oil in canisters, and everything is so expensive for two years.”
95 million poor
Nigeria has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed up consumer prices by 17% in 2021 and pushed six million more Nigerians into poverty.
Now she is suffering from the consequences of the war in Ukraine.
In 2022, the World Bank predicts inflation of 15.5% and an increase in the poor by one million, and the national poverty line is $1.93 at the 2011 level per person per day.
In June, inflation was 18%. By the end of this year, the number of poor people in Nigeria is expected to reach 95.1 million — almost half the population — the agency said.
“Many people who used to belong to the middle class are now falling into poverty… People who used to consume these products in larger quantities but can no longer afford them,” said Tunde Leye, an economist at SBM Risk Analytics. Intelligence.
“The big brands were losing the market because people couldn’t buy in bulk, so they started packing to reach that part of the market.”
Sashes really took off in the Nigerian market in the early 2010s, when brands offered products to consumers in reduced quantities to encourage them to try new products, says a former marketing manager for a major European brand in Nigeria.
But in 2016, when the country fell into recession after falling oil prices, “everyone was buying bags. So, we started selling each product in bags,” said the manager.
Since then, the economic situation has not improved much, so demand for small packaging has exploded, said one director of a plastics factory in the country.
“Inflation is so high. Now sanitary napkins are sold individually,” said the entrepreneur, who wished to remain anonymous.
The sun is setting in Obalende, and Aisha roams the streets in search of the most competitive price.
“Shopping in bags almost every day costs me more at the end of the month,” said the peanut seller.
Oil is 20% more expensive on average, she says.
That’s how the poorest end up “spending more” than others, SBM economist Leje said. All the more so in times of high inflation, when bags become more expensive almost every day.
Packaging also creates a major environmental problem, creating “more and more plastic,” said Nigerian environmental activist Oluwasei Majo.
The bags not only paint the stalls of Lagos, but are also found on the ground: scattered on potholed pavements or in the plastic magma that clogs its sewers and overflows every rainy season.
About a quarter of the waste generated in Lagos is dumped into canals and lagoons, identified as a major cause of the city’s flooding and the spread of water-borne diseases, according to a 2017 study.
The poorest sections of the population, living in fragile housing and areas prone to flooding, were the first to suffer. Moejoh is calling for more “government control” and for big brands to be “responsible” for plastic pollution.
“The poor always pay more,” Mojo said.
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