The insurgents attacks in some villages of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, in Northeastern Nigeria not only have destroyed homes and livelihoods, but have also hampered the return of populations in that region.
Boko Haram has displaced people of the area into border countries like Chad, Cameroon and Niger with the majority living in camps across the three countries. The crisis has left northern Nigeria and its neighbors with more than two million IDPS and 20,000 are dead according to the UNCHR.
People fleeing the escalating violence have abandoned their farmlands, left their productive assets behind, and are continually compromising their livelihoods and consequently disrupting agricultural production.
As farming activities remain disrupted in those communities, commercial activities that sustain local and regional economies are increasingly limited in that zone.
The World Food Program’s (WFP) recent assessment said there are 4 million people who are moderately or severely food insecure in the Northeastern region of the country, as well as in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.
“This was an increase compared to the previous analysis because there are 148,000 persons in Diffa (Niger), 116,000 persons in affected regions of Chad and 1.4 million persons in the worst-affected areas of far North Cameroon who are considered moderately or severely food insecure,” according to the agency.
The crisis has exacerbated the food insecurity of populations in countries which are already extremely vulnerable to shocks and all four affected countries are ranked among the last 20 percent of the recently published Human Development Report (2015).
Due to displacement, IDPs are unable to fully participate in their normal livelihood activities such as farming, petty trading and casual labor work, to earn an income and access food.
The inability of the people affected, who were mostly peasant farmers, in rural communities, to farm, has led to the food crisis witnessed in the region.
Recently Doctors Without Borders disclosed that about 24,000 internally displaced persons faced starvation in camps, particularly Bama camp.
Similarly, UNICEF also issued a statement saying it identified over 400 children’s graves close to the Bama Camp in the northeast. The agency also stated that if no action is taken many children will die of malnutrition in the camp.
Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima in a statement denied the news report about possible starvation in IDP camps as claimed by Doctors Without Borders and other agencies.
The governor insisted that those that suffered severe malnutrition in Bama and other camps were some hostages freed from insurgency, who spent over two years in captivity without enough food and access to health care delivery before they were taken to IDP camps.
“The decision to resume 100% feeding of IDPs by NEMA is to complement effort of the state government and other humanitarian agencies. With sustained effort by the military in liberating many communities, more IDPs are now willing to go back to their communities to continue their normal lives,” he said.
Hearing directly from the people
But the people directly affected in the crisis have contrary opinion on the food crisis with that of the governor.
60-year-old farmer Malam Umara Ibrahim abandoned his farm at Delwa village in Kunduga Local Government Area of Borno State in 2014 due to constant attacks from Boko Haram insurgents in the area.
“It’s not safe to work on our farmlands because they [Boko Haram] killed our people who they saw farming in the fields. I couldn’t farm in 2015 and as you can see now I’m not going to farm this year,” he said.
Umara who was a well known farmer in his village grows millet and Guinea corn in large quantity but now depends on relatives to feed his family in the Maiduguri capital of Borno state after he fled his hometown.
Planting season is already in progress in virtually all the 19 states in Northern Nigeria excluding some parts of Yobe, Maiduguri and Adamawa states hit by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Many people attributed the food crisis witnessed now to shortage of food production in the region as farmers no longer visit their farmlands in the northeast.
“Since we can’t farm this year it means there will be hunger which is what we are witnessing now,” Umara said.
Another Maize farmer in Maiduguri, Gwani Umar said:
“I used to produce 60-70 bags of sesamum, maize, Guinea corn in my farm located at outskirts of Maiduguri city but because of insecurity that has drop to 10-11 bags.”
According to Famine Early Warning System Network’s 2016 food security projected outlook.
“The worst households in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in an attempt to meet food needs will still experience food consumption gaps in line with crisis acute food insecurity through March 2016,”
“Households less affected by the conflict in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states have higher levels of crop production and income opportunities,” the agency said.
Kaduna State Agricultural Development Program, Deputy Director Extension, Yau Kasimu expressed worry over the food situation in the region.
“We expected the food crisis in the northeast because of the insecurity situation this year. We used to import rice through northeast but it’s impossible because of insecurity,” Kasimu said.
He continued: “There is growing fear that the food shortage will affect other parts of the northern region because presently the majority of Internally Displaced Persons IDPs are peasant farmers, they grow crops for their local consumption and there are also fishermen who no longer go fishing. People from Northwest and North Central are already panicking as they cannot transport crops produced to states like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa”.
“In Northwest we have state that already suffered from droughts i.e Jigawa, Katsina and part of Kebbi states. Drought has affected their crops and so we need governments to buy food surplus to fill the gaps,” he said.
Kaduna State Chairman of Cassava farmers, Daniel Jamu said there maybe shortage of food this year but it will not cause starvation in the north.
“Let United Nations and Nigerian government joined hands to assist us farmers to produce more food to cover the gaps this season,” he said.
So for now, National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Northeast zonal office in Maiduguri, has since taken over the daily feeding of about 1.6 million IDPs, at various resettlement camps and other satellite centers across Borno State with a view to addressing malnutrition and other related humanitarian issues.
This was based on President Buhari’s directives for the agency to intervene by providing food assistance to millions of the IDPs in camps across the region.
But the food crisis mostly affected the northeast region which was badly hit by the Boko Haram insurgency, people from other parts of the country or region are yet to feel such a crisis.