SATURDAY, AUG. 27, 2016 FILE PHOTO FILE-In this file photo taken Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, women displaced by Islamist extremists wait for food to be handed out to them at the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Local lawmakers in northeast Nigeria are investigating fresh allegations that officials have diverted food aid intended for Boko Haram refugees. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)

Flood, banditry, inflation menace Nigerians with starvation

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Sopuruchi Onwuka

The prediction of hunger which has formed a consistent warning since the occupation of the farming communities of the country has been amplified by the prevailing spate of flood incidents that submerged vast farmland and wiped hopes of rewarding harvest.

Banking sources told The Oracle Today that some large scale farming enterprises in the country, including those that operate rice farms, have served debt default notices to their lenders on the grounds of flood disaster.

Our source said consulting firms that provide economic outlook and fiscal advisory services to banks have strongly indicated inflationary jumps from the last quarter of 2022 into the first half of 2023 when there will be a regime change.

Internally displaced people (IDP)

Some of the predictions include adverse economic indicators that will rule the remaining part of the present Buhari led federal government; including fiscal tightness, acute illiquidity, foreign exchange crunch, weakening Naira and consequent inflationary jumps.

All these, according to our sources, project the prospects of worsening hunger in the country which has consistently ranked as the world poverty capital with high unemployment rate, poor fiscal and regulatory environment for business start-ups, and high dependency rate.  

Our field survey shows that prices of staple food items including grains, vegetables and fruits grown in the northern parts of the country have continued to grow extremely strong following supply concerns as fewer farmers and low volume of produce arrive the markets. Supply of similar food items has also become very irregular.

In the Daleko market of Lagos State, prices of rice, beans, maize, sorghum and other grains that arrive from the northern parts of the country have more than doubled in the past one year. And dealers point at sharp rise in the past three months when farms come under devastating impact of extreme weather.

At the Ketu and Alaba Aragu food markets in Lagos, other staple food items including yam, cocoyam, cassava and their flour derivatives like garri and elubo are milder in prices. Dealers explain that root crops are more resilient to adverse and extreme weather than grains.

A bag of rice which is the most popular commodity in the market jumped from N28,000 per bag in April to N42,000 in the middle of October, and traders forecast that prices would grow stronger as rising demand in the Christmas festive season puts pressure on declining supplies.

Across the country, communities, farms and crops of sorghum, maize, rice and vegetables are under water, with farmers and aid workers warning of inevitable food crisis.

Most rice farmers from the north to the south of the country have notified their offakers that they are not expecting much harvest after floodwater submerged their fields and those of so many other farmers this season.

Normal rice farm
Submerged rice farm

President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, told media representatives that the scale of loss to the flooding in the year has been monumental so far, adding that the situation has left many people crying.

 “Flooding is still ongoing but we can safely say that between 60 to 75 percent of the yield we expected is going to be lost,” he explained.

All Farmers Association of Nigeria which hosts some 20 million farmers insists that with the worsening flooding in the country, “there will be more hardship towards the end of the year and beginning of next year.”

Business journal, Quartz, reported Olam Nigeria as saying that 10,000 acres of its farmland have been flooded, adding that the resulting food shortages could cause prices to further rise.

Minster of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, confirmed that the flood destroyed some 115,000 hectares of farmland, warning that food supply has taken a hit from the disaster.

Flooded rice field

Other official figures from her ministry on the impact of flooding in the year include death of 600 people, injury on 2,400 people, destruction of 200,000 homes and damage to 332,000 hectares of roads and infrastructure in the country.

Updates from the ministry at the weekend showed that some two million people have also been affected by flooding.

The World Food Program of the United Nations declared in a new situation report that extreme rainfall and devastating flooding have affected some five million people this year in 19 countries across West and Central Africa, especially in Nigeria.

Spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program in Nigeria, Chi Lael, also stated her concerns about the “worrying harvest season ahead.”

Harvest is uncertain

Experts fear that the damaged farmlands will further increase food prices at a time when inflation rates are already at record 20.7% in Nigeria.

Eleven international organizations declared in a press release by OXFAM International that prevailing food crisis in West Africa has left more than 27 million people hungry in the first quarter of the year, and further spread to 38 million by last June.

The organizations are Oxfam, Action Against Hunger, Save the Children, CARE International, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA), Tearfund, World Vision (WV), Handicap International – Humanité & Inclusion and Mercy Corps.

Even before the floods came the World Food Programme and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had listed Nigeria among six countries facing a high risk of catastrophic levels of hunger.

The FAO representative in Nigeria, Fred Kafeero, said he was “deeply concerned” as food supplies were expected to be low “due to anticipated reduction in household production”.

Whereas most attention in the flood catastrophe has centered on grain fields and crop farms across the country, massive losses inflicted on fish farms, poultry, and sundry livestock have remained underreported and under-hyped.

Fred Kafeero said the floods have also impacted livestock formers, inflicted heavy losses and posted bleak harvest.

Resident Representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Nigeria, Assalama Dawalack Sidi, stated that the prevailing flood and impact on farms across the country have dashed hopes that inflation would abate in the harvest season.

But the flood catastrophe is recent and remains secondary factor in the looming hunger in the country. Food production has been on the slope with the advent political events that saw the influx on heavily armed and politically protected militants into the country since 2014.

Before then, all agricultural ventures including fishing around Lake Chad in the Northeastern part of the country had fizzled out since 2012 when the Islamic militants popularly called Boko Haram seized the area and persistently pushed down to north central Nigeria, sacking farming communities and disrupting flow of produce.  

The spread of armed herders that clash with farming communities across the country has also created dread in agricultural zones of the country. The herders who are supported by the federal government and protected by the security forces seek settlements across the country and have since turned to licensed killers; laying siege on communities and scaring them away from their farms.

Bandits, herdsmen, Boko Haram

And following the paths created by the deadly herdsmen are bandits that run kidnapping and terror syndicates. They abduct local people and drain communities of available cash through ransom demands.

Thus, the flood actually worsened the situation of rampant insecurity in which gunmen repeatedly attack rural communities and force many farmers to abandon their fields. Official figures show that armed violence in Nigeria has already displaced over 3 million farmers, and the floods have only added to this number.

Oxfam International noted in its latest notes that drought, floods, conflict, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 have forced millions of people off their land, pushing them to the brink.

The acute decline in the volume of food produced in the country coupled with the policy of the present administration of the federal government to restrict import of food items has led to severe food shortages.

President Buhari had in 2015 imposed restriction on import of rice to conserve huge domestic patronage for local farmers and offer them the commercial incentive to increase local production and self-sufficiency.

In response to the prevailing food crisis, the president approved the release of 12,000 metric tons of assorted grains from the national strategic reserve stock. But farmers contend that huge supply gaps still remain, making importation a critical supply option.

Ibrahim whose group is beneficiary to the import restriction pointed out in a media report that importation would become inevitable if the food situation becomes dire.

And with the prevailing domestic fiscal policies that have translated to piling debts, foreign exchange crunch and regulatory hostility, inflation is galloping away with the value of the Naira. So, relying on importation to fill the nation’s food gap will come with price jumps.

According to the IMF, food inflation in the country year-on-year was already at 23.3 percent last month, in part because of ripple effects on import-dependence from the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Outlook appears grimmer with acute forex crunch in the country as the Christmas and New Year celebrations trigger demand surge while shipping sources hint that Nigerian importers struggle with stranded cargoes across the globe.

Imports at high exchange rate entail high prices

Our sources said many importers are currently struggling with rising cost of food across the globe, shrinking capital and difficulty in obtaining dollars to clear their cargoes from customs on time.

Worries about supplies ahead of Christmas, traders say, are centered on forex access. And the situation is worsened by alleged mop-up of available dollars by politicians who are expected to use the yuletide holidays to trade interests.

Opportunities for petroleum exporting countries to utilize the high oil prices to flood their domestic markets with food have eluded Nigeria where stealing controversies have wiped hopes of significant forex income from the petroleum industry.

Thus, dwindling foreign-currency reserves, high exchange rate, reduced access to dollars and slow release of dollars by banks have left food importers scrambling to fund their transactions. The situation entails difficulty in meeting Nigeria’s food supply gaps through importation. And where imports are successful; the price of the commodity is very exorbitant.

In a country where poverty is pervasive, income level is extremely low, local production is stalled and demand is high, the shadow of hunger has been cast. And the outlook is grim as the political class continues to mop up available cash for ongoing campaigns. With acute supply deficits and runaway inflation in the domestic economy, starvation looms.

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