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Looming famine and food insecurity, by Abdullahi D. Mohammed




In its latest report, the  Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO and the World Food Program stated that, millions of people most of whom are presently living in extreme hunger are on the brink of famine. Countries listed are; Burkina Faso, Northern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.

Citing different causal perspective that includes Covid-19 aftereffect, displacements as a result of conflicts, flooding and other natural hazards. These had greatly impacted on livelihoods and distorted regular farming activities.

More so, the risk of famine in the face of an already ravaged economy due to the pandemic spell doom for these countries which had their peculiarities and domest issues to contend with.

Talking about domestic challenges, Nigeria, whom had been listed alongside these countries continues to grapple with humongous challenges — insecurity, social turmoil #EndSARS and the attendant palpable disconnect between the governed and the authorities. The aftermath of #EndSARS and the looting, destruction of both government and private properties, and, carting away of food and non-food items had clearly charted a path within which the country would follow.

The report, if left unchecked could have a ripple effect which will adversely affect, like never before, the fortunes of the country.

It’s quite disheartening seeing Nigeria lumped alongside these countries, in the report. One cannot wrap his head around that fact. Nigeria is richly blessed with abundant human and material resources, vast and fertile land for massive agriculture both for domestic and external consumption; infact, we should have attained food sufficiency, food security and zero hunger.

Bizarrely, the agric-zone of the country were captured in the report as those on the precipice.9.8 million people from 16 northern states including FCT are food insecure, and at the brink of famine.

Eight of the states which include; Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Benue, Gombe, Taraba, Taraba, Jigawa and Katsina are facing hunger and on the brink of a full scale famine.

The other half are Bauchi, Plateau, Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto and FCT, which are lacking nutritional food.These are traditionally agrarian states or societies which for decades had been feeding the nation, if not the entire West African subregion. Amongst such states are Benue, which prides itself as the Food Basket of the Nation, and Kebbi which is the undisputed champion in the Rice Revolution in the country. The fundamental question is, what went wrong, When and How?

Experts had been sounding warnings of a likely and much bigger catastrophe, if insecurity in the region is allowed to grow unchecked. A major repercussion is the distortion of agricultural activities which is the economic mainstay in the region.

In the Northeast, Boko Haram insurgency had already taken its toll on farming as most residents are either in IDP camps or migrated, leaving behind their ancestral homes for fear of attacks. Fishing activities in the Lake Chad, and the surrounding areas of Bama had been taken over by the deadly terrorist. In the Northwest armed bandits had displaced millions and sacked farming communities who for decades had been engaged in commercial farming. Infact, Zamfara has its slogan as “Farming is Our Pride”.

Unfortunately, they’ve been stripped of  the Pride as a result of insecurity. The North-central has lush vegetation and fertile land for farming and grazing. Livelihood and relations had long been strained by constant clashes between farmers and grazers.

What then can be done to mitigate the impending danger? Advocates of good governance had pointed out in clear terms that transparency and just leadership can guarantee equitable distribution of wealth among citizens.

However, distrust is rife between authorities and the governed. Government must be seen to do more in order to restore confidence within the context of governance. Also, tackle insecurity headlong, put in place early warning signs to prevent flooding and the attendant destruction like ravaging farm produce and farming communities across the region, and country in general.

Resettling and providing displaced persons lifeline like, training, provision of farming implements and fertilizer, so that, even while living in displaced area,they  could engage in small scale farming activities.

The most profound effect of the Covid-19 pandemic is the distortion of economies around the globe, as unemployment soared, governments provided palliatives in different forms to cushion its effect. In Nigeria however, as seen recently, palliatives meant for the most vulnerable were hoarded by state Governors  for some opaque reasons. In the face of hunger, these food would have sustained many families. Little wonder, the looting spree in major warehouses was unprecedented.

Food insecurity, when allowed to fester for long has some ripple effects, one of which is — Famine. And, famine is usually accompanied by starvation, widespread malnutrition, epidemic, and increased mortality. Therefore, the connection between Human insecurity and food insecurity has now been firmly established.

For years, policy scholars warned of grave danger of allowing insecurity thrive, the manifestation, or, reality is staring us right in the face.Any effort(s) by government to intervene, or attain food security and self-sufficiency will be counterproductive so long as security of lives and properties are left unattended, or  politicised as seen in Nigeria.

A new wave or flurry of attacks is constantly on the rise in the Agric-zone of the country — the North! Many farmers had abandoned their farmlands as they get ambushed and kidnapped daily on their way to and from the fields. These had become the new realities in some farming, and urban centers in Zaria, Birnin Gwari, Funtua, etc. Unfortunately, these are states that fall within the circle of the report of the likely famine.

When governors of the 19 northern states met in Kaduna few days ago, the expectation was, at the meeting, topical issues like; Insecurity, Education, Almajiri system and street begging,  Economic development and Empowerment, Farming and Food Security would dominate the discourse,  and form the basis of the meeting. But, sadly, an uninspiring communique at the end of the meeting showed what their area of interest was — Regulate Social Media, Declare support to the President and emphasize on creating state police!

This outcome has indicated yet again, bad governance and insensitivity, and God-forbid will continue to be the defining lines of our own brand of politics and democracy.Of the multitude of challenges the region is faced with, 19 able-bodied, educated adults would lock themselves  for hours, only to emerge with the most delusional, insensitive and annoying communique. That showed the path we had chosen as a region, and by extension a country.

Seemingly, we have bad leadership and, bad followership, especially in the region. The #EndSARS protests had clearly proven or affirmed such assertions. People are kidnapped and in some cases killed daily, but the leadership failed to intervene, the followership looked on with a confused countenance, who then would intercede? The C-in-C,  Senate President, all security heads, and Ministers of Defence and Agriculture belong to the most insecure region in the country, what an irony!

The region is on the brink of famine, probably in the next 6 months or less; nothing has been heard from the Agriculture Minister whose regions is about to be ripped apart by hunger and famine. No proactiveness, no action, just business as usual, traversing between Kano-Abuja in siren-blaring SUVs and armed security men. That has become the norm which defines leadership and good governance in the region.

We cannot, as it were, stomach two-headed catastrophy simultaneously — Human insecurity and Food Insecurity in the region and elsewhere!The stakes are way too high, no one would survive the impact. School enrollment and attendance will significantly drop. The little gains recorded as a result of the Home-grown School Feeding Program that saw an increase in school enrollment will be eroded.

In a region battling with literacy and other social scourge, adding famine is a death sentence. The bandits, terrorists, kidnappers and other criminals would have a field day because the brunt of the famine will be borne by the helpless, defenceless and vulnerable people.

Since governments, especially in the affected regions has hearing problem (pun intended); the time to bring out the drums so the sounds can resonate afar is now!

Facing a great famine is no joke. Famine in the Horn of Africa, Congo DR, and East Africa is still fresh in our minds. The gory and pitiful images still haunt any sane mind. As such, relevant stakeholders, communities and religious leaders must help sound off these warnings so government can be proactive, at least for once.

In most cases, government sometimes does not heed such warnings, thereby dismissing it as baseless and unfounded. Spokesperson of those in position of power seldom diminish the significance of such postulation or projections, which oftentimes their principal agree with them. Here, we must clearly state, unequivocally that, the signs of the impending famine has since manifested, but on a different note.

It’s not rocket science to note these dangers, especially with the rising cost of food items, unemployment occasioned by Covid-19 pandemic —  flooding in major farming communities and displaced persons who forms the bulk of such categories. There of course is the unavailability and high cost of perishable and other forms of vegetables.

The major and most significant indicator to these looming famine, food insecurity and acute hunger is the disproportionate distribution of resources. Looting of warehouses clearly signalled there is indeed hunger in the land, and as the saying goes a hungry man,is an angry man. If reports from these agencies are not urgently heeded, Food Insecurity shall be included in the near-filled, and unsavory menu the nation is grappling with.

Abdullahi D Mohammed is with the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the Ahmadu Bello University-Zaria. He writes from Kano.[email protected]m