Farm produce on display, at Ajebo Market, Ogun State PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

The handwriting of imminent food shortage in Nigeria had been on the wall for many years, long before concerned global organizations sounded the warning. The combined effects of armed conflicts, COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have been ascertained as factors that would inevitably drag down agricultural output. It is therefore not surprising that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Representative in Nigeria, Fred Kafeero formally raised the alarm the other day, pointing out that an estimated 9.2 million Nigerians from 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory face food insecurity.

The Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) had earlier expressed the same grim picture of food security situation in Nigeria that needs to be addressed to avert looming hunger and starvation in the country. Concern on deficient food production is mounting particularly against the backdrop of worsening insecurity in virtually all the states of the federation. COVID-19 pandemic is only an additional causative factor on food security.

Kafeero spoke during a webinar organised by the Federal Government and United Nations for journalists on ‘Nigeria national food systems dialogue’ in Abuja. Part of the aim of the forum was to lay the foundation for series of dialogues across the country to chart pathways towards ensuring resilient, inclusive and sustainable food systems in Nigeria by 2030.

Kafeero had emphasised the need for government, food producers and processors, traders, donors and other partners to work together in evaluating current food system and making it improved and sustainable. And no doubt, there is need to enhance the food value chain and prevent wastage during harvest. But the greater task to ensure availability of food all year round in the country vests squarely on the federal government which duty is it to guarantee a peaceful environment conducive to accelerated agricultural output. So far the government has failed woefully in this service, thus presenting a picture of imminent disaster in the country.

Lending its voice to the alarming development is The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises, jointly released by GNAFC and Food Security Information Network (FSIN), which emphasized that Nigeria is set to experience lean food supply crisis as more than seven million people would suffer acute hunger. The very high cost of food items is already indicative of the dire situation. A World Food Programme (WFP) report had also disclosed that 15 countries are currently with “very high levels of hunger,” advising world leaders to be proactive, as conflicts and economic crises could escalate the situation. Without an iota of doubt, Nigeria is enmeshed in this food crisis.

The virtual war situation across the nation is at the root of the rising food scarcity: Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnappings/abductions and raping of women in farms have together dealt a massive blow to food production. Following the killings and destruction of dwellings in many parts of the country by Boko Haram members as well as Fulani herdsmen who allow their herds to trample freely on farms, farmers have abandoned their farms. Even in parts of the south, villagers are being rendered into refugees, seeking safety and protection in smaller neighbouring countries. Farmers have turned to beggars in refugee camps

The development is double jeopardy for the weary folks, majority of who now depend on food handouts in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. This, alone, creates more despair among the populace as the attacks persist and succour is not in sight. It is such a desperate situation.

Last November, about 76 peasant farmers were gruesomely massacred by Boko Haram in Borno State. The terror group said the attacks were carried out in retribution for farmers cooperating with the Nigerian military. Even at that, the presidency, in an absurd manner, blamed the farmers for not getting clearance from the military before going to their farms, as if such clearance had previously been a precondition for going to farms.

Reports say no fewer than 78,000 farmers in Borno, Katsina, Taraba, Plateau and other states in the north have abandoned their farmland as a result of attacks by Boko Haram terrorists, bandits and herdsmen. About 56,000 Internally Displaced Household (IDH) farmers from 28 communities in Borno State, who reportedly cultivated about 95,000 metric tonnes of crops yearly, have lost no less than 504,000 metric tonnes of food since 2015. No fewer than 56,000 farmers in Borno State alone had been displaced, while about 1.5 million people are currently taking refuge at 24 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.

What is happening in Borno and other northern states is gradually but steadily being replicated in the southern states, as farmers are being abducted, killed or driven away from their farms in Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Edo states, among others. Women are reportedly raped while some are killed. The affected farmers are helplessly bemoaning their misfortune.

There is, no doubt, that the tide of insecurity is dealing a big blow on food production in the country. Both the federal executive, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the National Assembly have a onerous duty to amend the constitution to enable a change in the country’s security system. The present set-up is grossly deficient and would sooner than later only preside over an unpleasant disintegration of the country. States must be allowed to take charge of the security of their domain, as a precursor to achieving a seamless farming output.

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