Report: Food Scarcity Looms as Nation’s Reserves Decline

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•Attacks on farmers, climate change, COVID-19 unleash devastating blow

Tobi Soniyi

A surge in attacks on Nigerian farmers is having a knock-on effect on the country’s food reserves, Bloomberg has reported.
Citing the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, the news agency said stocks had declined to less than 30,000 metric tons, a fraction of what the country of 200 million people requires. President of the association, Kabir Ibrahim, said growing insecurity had made it difficult to augment those supplies.

Food growers are being attacked at least on three fronts. The latest attack took place on November 27, when suspected Islamist insurgents killed dozens of subsistence rice farmers in the northeastern state of Borno, where an insurgency has raged for more than a decade.

United Nations last month warned that the violence had compounded production challenges stemming from factors, such as climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, that placed northeastern Nigeria at risk of famine.
Parts of the population in northeast Nigeria are already facing “critical hunger,” the report said.

In addition to the Islamist attacks, food production is being destabilised by a long-running conflict between crop growers and northern cattle herders, who are being forced by desertification to seek grazing pasture further south.
“This worrying trend poses food security risks to millions of Nigerians,” said Ibrahim, whose group represents most of the country’s 12 million farmers.

According to him, “It is now exceedingly difficult to get the farmers to readily go to their farms in several parts of the country.”
In grain-producing states like Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna, armed bandits extort so-called harvest fees from farmers before allowing them to reap their crops. Similar demands are being made on farmers in the states of Katsina and Kaduna, where they face being kidnapped if they failed to pay the ransoms that average about one million naira ($3,000) in cash or 40 per cent of their produce.

“There are even places where they take over the farm,” said Alhaji Nuhu Dansadau, a farmer in Zamfara. “For instance if you have produced 200 bags of corn, they will instruct you to go and sell 30 or 50 bags and bring the money to them.”
Bloomberg reported that the attacks were fueling food inflation.

Costs started increasing in 2019, when the government shut its borders to curb smuggling of rice and other products. Food prices rose 17.4 per cent in October from a year earlier, the biggest increase in three years.
“The continued increase in food and core inflation was attributed to the persistence of insecurity across the country,” the Central Bank Nigeria (CBN) Monetary Policy Committee said on November 24.

Consequently, President Muhammadu Buhari’s efforts to help Nigeria achieve food self-sufficiency are also being undermined.
Since 2015, Buhari has implemented measures to promote local production, including increasing taxes on imported grains, blocking food importers’ requests for foreign currency, and establishing a N200 billion ($511-million) intervention fund for rice growers.
Nigeria is the world’s second-largest importer of rice, after China, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has already listed Nigeria among the 45 countries that would need external assistance for foods. Other countries on the list are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Guinea, and Haiti. Also on the list are Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Niger, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Statistics from FAO showed that the rising cost of foods was not peculiar to Nigeria. Last Wednesday, the organisation stated that global food commodity prices rose sharply in November to their highest level in nearly six years, citing a benchmark released by the United Nations.
The FAO Food Price Index averaged 105.0 points during the month, up 3.9 per cent from October and 6.5 per cent higher than its value a year earlier.
The monthly increase was the sharpest since July 2012, putting the index at its highest level since December 2014, FAO said.
FAO’s Food Price Index tracks changes in the international prices of the most globally traded food commodities.