Boko Haram terror war: Food scarcity looms in Nigeria

A burnt police patrol pick-up truck remains abandoned on the side of a road in Damaturu, in the Yobe State, on November 7, 2011 after a Boko Haram attack. The militants are forcing farmers to flee, leading to a rise in food prices and lowered output. PHOTO | AFP  

In the wake of failed negotiations between the Nigerian government and the Boko Haram Islamist sect that has sustained a campaign of terror; Africa’s most populous country is beginning to flinch at the cost of a terror war that has reduced several cities to a ghost of their former selves.

In addition to human casualties, business closures and a rested tourism industry, agriculture appears to have taken a severe blow; so much so that abandoned farms have resulted in imminent food scarcity.

According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), famine in Nigeria is now a possibility following massive displacements of small and large-scale farmers from the north-east region of the country as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in the area.

A report just released by NEMA and tagged "2012 NEMA Report on Boko Haram Insurgency and Disasters in the North-East" warned that "Nigeria may face famine by the end of this year because most of the small-scale farmers and big-time farmers in the North are threatened by the Boko Haram attacks.

"More than 65 per cent of such farmers have already migrated to the southern parts of Nigeria, fearing that the insecurity to both lives and property, including their farmlands and livestock, continues to persist for nearly three years."

Farmers fled
The report further stated that the Boko Haram attacks on these farmers who produce staples like beans, onions, pepper, maize, rice, livestock and catfish in the Lake Chad area have forced the farmers to migrate since the insurgency broke out in July 2009.

The NEMA report also added that the Boko Haram attacks had caused "a wholesale shift to a terrorism-focused approach to disasters in the North-East states," comprising Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi and Taraba.

In Lagos, south-west of Nigeria, the effect of the Boko Haram war is already being seen in a rise in food prices. It is estimated that as many as 17,000 farmers have been displaced by the conflict in the north.

According to Inusa Daudu, a yam seller at the Mile 12 Market in Lagos; prices of foodstuffs like yam, beans and onions have witnessed increases as much as 70 per cent since suicide bombings started last year. The price of fish has gone up almost 100 per cent.

In addition to farmers deserting their farms, Daudu said: “Most of our traders are now afraid to go to the food markets up north; transporters see it as high risk going to such places as Maiduguri to carry farm produce.

Emergency state

"You remember that last month the popular Baga fish market was attacked one morning by Boko Haram gunmen. Food stores are locked and whatever are inside are perishing; so it is not only the farmers that are running away, the food sellers and transporters too.”

To counter terror attacks, a special military force called the Joint Task Force (JTF) was deployed to Borno, Yobe and other states in the north with Boko Haram presence. President Goodluck Jonathan in addition imposed a state of emergency in some municipal authorities.

The few brave farmers who chose to stay behind and had welcomed the coming of the military now say curfews imposed by the JTF are proving counter-productive to agriculture.

Last week farmers in Borno State sent appeals to military authorities to review curfew imposed in some parts of the state to enable them cultivate their crops.

The JTF on January 12 imposed a 7 pm to 6 am curfew in five of the 27 local government areas of the state to curtail the terrorist activities of the Boko Haram sect.

In the state capital, Maiduguri, and in Jere Local Government Area, farmers said the curfew had negatively impacted farming activities because they can no longer work long hours.

Because of the region’s hot temperature, most farmers in the north usually go to farm either early in the mornings or late evenings when the temperature is more friendly. With the curfew, hours spent on the farm is sharply reduced because the JTF must no find anyone outdoors beyond 7 pm.

It was gathered that vegetable and tomato farmers are worst hit by the curfew.

NEMA also disclosed that it has received an alert from the military on the need to prepare humanitarian contingency frame-work on the implications of the United Nations (UN) Peace-keeping troops withdrawals from Chad and Sudan, as well as the relative peace that might return to Central African Republic.

It is feared that the displaced and idle rebels from these countries may see Nigeria as a fertile ground to explore for unwholesome activities, especially in border-states in the north-east.

NEMA added that insurgents from neighbouring countries have attacked several villages in Kala-Balge Local Council of Borno State.

"The foreign invaders imposed various sum of levies and taxes on the villagers ranging from N1 million to N3 million, according to the sizes of the village," the report stated.

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