This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: The Imminent Food Crisis

opinion

Anxiety mounts as the general insecurity in the Northern part of the country is forcing farmers in the region to flee their farms. Olaolu Olusina examines the impact of the insecurity on the food supply chain in the country as well as the fears being expressed in some quarters that a major food crisis may be looming.

This is not the best of times for Jelili Hassan (not real name), a livestock farmer in Kaduna State, as the recent bombings and general insecurity in the state are having a devastating effect on his business. With a bird mortality of over 70 in just one night because of a recent curfew and restriction on movement by the state government last week, Hassan's household also ran out of food as over 11,000 birds in his farm were dying fast with no medicine and food supply to his farm.

An earlier curfew had led his farm into a running battle with one of the banks for his inability to pay his debt as a result of disruptions to his business. And at a nearby farm in Barnawa, a farmer was found dead on his farm and other farmers in the area were left with no choice than to run for their lives. With most farmers fleeing their farms, fears are already being expressed that many households may face a hard time sourcing food items even as the annual Ramadan fasting period approaches.

North as Food Basket

There is no doubt that the Northern region of the country is a major source of food supply to other parts of the country, especially the South. According to statistics, close to 90 per cent of food items consumed in Lagos and other South-west states comes from the North.

The Bodija market in Ibadan, Kuto market in Abeokuta, Ketu Mile 12 and Oyingbo markets in Lagos all provide sufficient evidence as daily consignments of onions, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, yams and the like from the North await long turns to off-load. In fact, since

independence, 50 percent of food items in the South have always come from the North while 47 percent of livestock consumed in the South comes from the North. And before the Boko Haram insurgency, over 200 trucks of tomatoes, pepper and onions leave Kano and Kaduna for the South every day.

Skyrocketing Food Prices

But this is no longer the case as the general insecurity in the Northern part of Nigeria is adversely affecting farmers in the area.

Fewer trucks are also coming down South because of the crisis and this is having effects on prices. From Ilorin to Ibadan and from Abeokuta to Lagos, the effects of the crisis in the North is already being felt, not only by the consumers but the traders as well who depend on supplies from the North for their business. THISDAY gathered that an average-size live cow that used to be sold for less than N100, 000 now costs between N150, 000 and N200, 000 in Abeokuta while traders now pay more to farmers as the cost of foodstuffs such as yam, beans, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables has hit the roof because of the insecurity in the North. Housewives would now complain that N500 worth of pepper is no longer enough for a pot of soup for a family of four.

While transporters are afraid to go to the North because of insecurity, Northern farmers are groaning too, as traders from the South have not been going up North to buy the produce.

Farmers Flee for Safety

THISDAY gathered that most crop farmers and those dealing in livestock in the North are fleeing their land en masse and migrating to neighbouring Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroun as well as to the Southern parts of the country because of the crisis.

Plateau State, which used to be a food basket and noted for major food crops such as Irish potatoes and vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, green beans, carrots, tomatoes and peas, is now a killing field as the incessant attacks on farmers by itinerant herdsmen have forced many farmers to run for safety.

The incessant crises between the Berom and the Fulani cattle rearers in Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Jos South have greatly affected vegetables' cultivation. The situation is also the same in Bokkos, which is notable for the cultivation of Irish potatoes. "The constant killings have driven us out of our farms. We can no longer go to the farms because as you bend down to work, the next thing you will hear are gunshots behind you. Our wives and children have been killed on the way to farms," one of the farmers said.

Restriction on Movement

The Ciroman Ladduga in Southern Kaduna,who is also a livestock farmer, Mr. Bayero Ibrahim, said, "Everybody is fleeing the area. This crisis has forced some of us to flee to Niger, Chad and Cameroun. This development has greatly dealt a devastating blow to the North." Another farmer, Mohammed Maikudi, said movement had been hindered because of the crisis. "We are always afraid of moving from Kaduna to Maiduguri and Kaduna to Yola through Jos. The insecurity is hindering the movement of people. Movement is really restricted. Because of the crisis, we are unable to move our produce to other parts of the country for sale. This development has led to heavy loss of money.

Last year, I had substantial land where I cultivated tomatoes, cucumber and other perishable goods. When they were ripe for sale, there was violence and the produce got rotten." The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) confirmed the development, saying about 65 per cent of Northern farmers had migrated to the South because of the general insecurity in the North. Warning

that the country may experience famine by the end of the year as most farmers in the North were threatened by terrorist attacks, the agency said "The attacks on these farmers who produce beans, onions, pepper, maize, rice, livestock and catfish in the Lake Chad area for consumption by the Southern states, have forced them to migrate since the Boko Haram insurgency broke out in Borno State in July 2009. "

Exploitation on Major Highways

THISDAY also gathered that some mischievous government agents are also compounding the matter by frustrating food suppliers and dealers on major highways as they impose one levy or the other on the few suppliers who still surmount courage to go up North. Last month, the Federated Foodstuff Dealers Association of Nigeria (FFDAN) warned tha t it would stop distributing food items across the country if the Federal and state governments fail to intervene and stop the activities of their agents who allegedly impose incessant illegal levies on the suppliers and also harass them while acting as members of task forces on federal highways. National President of the Association, Chief Christian Afiaunwu, who expressed the frustration at a media briefing, lamented that the association had lost over 100 members to activities of these illegal task forces operating mostly at night.

"We have restrained ourselves from taking any action that will affect the masses but we have no other option than to try out the strike alternative. If this strike is allowed, we shall cut off the flow of food items throughout Nigeria and you know what that will mean; it will add to the hunger and starvation which is already biting hard. "We are dealers in all kinds of foodstuffs and farm produce. We are engaged in the procurement and transportation of these products from one location to places wh ere they are mostly needed; but we have been facing incessant harassment and intimidation on highways following the activities of miscreants who claim to be agent of government," he stated.

"At night, these agents consisting of miscreants who have built and constructed tents and huts by the roadside, mount road blocks with arms and rob our people and even when you run to the police nothing comes out of it," he added.

Notorious Areas

Listing the areas where the activities of these hoodlums are mostly experienced to include North-east, North-central, Taraba, Nasarawa, Benue, Kogi and Enugu states, Afiaunwu painted a graphic picture of the experience of members of his association in the hands of the government agents.

"Sometimes they will tell you that the cow or goat you are carrying is not fit for human consumption and in your presence they will slaughter and share the meat among them and you cannot do anything," he said as he called for urgent intervention in the matter.

Stakeholders Express Worry

Worried by the problem at hand, former presidential aspirant and professor at the Lagos Business School, Pat Utomi, said "The Boko Haram insurgency graphically highlights how everything is connected to everything. Now food security is threatened because farmers cannot cultivate the ground due to insecurity. It's rather becoming clear that we either change Nigeria and rebuild her on the foundation of justice or very soon there may be no Nigeria."

FG Confirms Fears

The Federal Government has also confirmed the fact that the growing insecurity being fuelled by the activities of the Boko Haram sect is a major threat to its efforts at developing the agricultural sector.

Special Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture on Communications, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, who confirmed the fears, said in spite of the efforts to revive agriculture, the general insecurity in the land has remained a major challenge to the sector. "Farmers will run from the farm if their lives are threatened by terrorists but it is beyond the ministry to provide security. It is the job of security agencies.

Farming cannot take place where there is insecurity," he said.

Timely Warning

The United Nations had two months ago raised the alarm that an estimated 18 million people in the Sahel urgently need food aid as drought, poor harvests, and rising food prices continue to ravage the region. The Sahel covers parts of Senegal, Southern Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Southern Algeria, Niger, Northern Nigeria, Chad, Northern Cameroun, the Republic of Sudan, including Darfur, Southern Sudan, and Eritrea. UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, who raised the alarm in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, while on a four-day visit to West Africa to assess the impact of the food crisis, said rapid response by the regional and humanitarian community was needed to avert a looming food and nutrition crisis in the drought-stricken region.

"Across the Sahel from Mauritania to Chad, more than 18 million people are affected. The upcoming lean season will make it even more difficult for families to know where their food is coming from and the situation is expected to remain critical until the main harvest this autumn," she said.

The United States Department for International Development (USAID) also warned in its food security outlook for May that "abnormal increases in food prices" are anticipated between July and September across Northern Nigeria.

According to the report, "Boko Haram-related insecurity, last year's production shortfalls, transport costs, and an outflow of grain into Niger, are among the causes; the impact will be even more on poor households struggling to meet their daily nutritional needs."

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