‘Violence, soaring prices: I can see hunger staring us in the face ‘


File: Gov Ayo Fayose buying tomatoes and
pepper at a market in Ekiti.

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File: Gov Ayo Fayose buying tomatoes and
pepper at a market in Ekiti.

Anyebe Peter has only recently returned to his
farm in central Nigeria, nearly three months after
attacks by Fulani herdsmen killed seven villagers,
destroyed 250 homes and forced survivors to flee.

“Nothing is left for us either on our farm or in our
village after the attack,” he told AFP in Adagbo, a
stone’s throw from the Benue river that forms the
border between Benue and Nasarawa states.

“The attackers destroyed all our farms and the
yields. We have nothing to sell or eat now.”
More than 20 villages populated by mainly Agatu
farmers were attacked by the marauding
cattlemen, according to community leaders.
Unconfirmed reports say up to 500 people were
killed. Homes, churches, mosques, grain stores
and land were ransacked or destroyed.

But beyond the cost to lives and property, the
violence along the river and in other central states
has exacerbated rising food prices that are
increasingly having an impact across the country.

“After harvesting we normally take our rice to
processing mills in Abakaliki (southeast) and
Kaduna (north) before we sell in Lagos and
southern states,” said one youth leader in
Adagbo.

“But we have nothing to eat now let alone to sell.
We’re famished and don’t have any money. Our
only source of income has been hampered by the
killings.”

Fears of fresh attacks have forced many Agatu
farmers to stay away and with no one to plant
crops, the fields will go fallow. With less produce
to sell, already high prices are climbing further.

– Rising inflation –

Clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers
have been a regular feature of life in Nigeria’s
“Middle Belt” — Benue, Taraba, Plateau,
Nasarawa and Kogi states — largely over grazing
rights.

In states such as Plateau, the often tit-for-tat
violence goes beyond the fight for resources, with
ethnic and religious undertones.

All five states produce many of the food staples
consumed in the south: pepper, yams, tomatoes,
onions, carrots, rice, wheat, potatoes, millet and
pumpkin.

Nearly seven years of violence by Boko Haram
insurgents in the agrarian northeast has also cut
production and caused food shortages for the
more than 2.0 million internally displaced.

A shortfall in supply because of missed harvests,
compounded by rising transportation costs and
restrictions on imports because of a lack of
foreign exchange, has sent prices spiralling.

Overall, Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy — is
in bad shape. The slump in global crude prices
has drastically cut government revenue from oil
exports, weakening the naira currency.
Inflation climbed for the sixth successive month
in April to 13.7 percent, up from 12.8 percent in
March, the National Bureau of Statistics said last
week.

Food inflation in April rose 1.3 percentage points
to 13.2 percent, with the highest increases in fish
— a staple in the northeast — fruits and
vegetables, bread and cereals.

“Inflation was driven by increases in prices of
imported as well as domestically produced foods
due to supply constraints,” the NBS stated.

– ‘I can see hunger’ –

The World Bank has since 2008 provided funding
to the Nigerian government to support ‘fadama’
farms — a Hausa-language term for low-lying
irrigable land near major rivers.

The $450 million (400-million-euro) scheme
supports production and trade of rice, tomato
and yams, as well as fishing, forestry and water
for livestock.

Nigeria’s government wants to boost agriculture
to diversify the economy away from a dependency
on oil.

But when AFP visited ‘fadama’ land in Obagaji it
was almost completely deserted. Only a few
fishermen were seen around the river bed.

Analysts SBM Intelligence said in a report “Terror
in the Food Basket” published last October that
some farmers in the “Middle Belt” had not
planted crops or harvested since 2006.

The huge Mile 12 market is one of the biggest in
Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos, some 11 hours
or more by road from Benue.

“Only a quarter of the number of trucks from the
north that daily discharged products in Lagos and
the southwest are currently doing so,” said
market representative Jubril Magaji.

“This is the main cause of the scarcity and sharp
price increases,” he added.

For wholesalers and ordinary shoppers, the hikes
are compounding rising costs for fuel and
electricity, both of which are in short supply.

“I bought four tomatoes for 200 naira ($0.99, 87
euros) instead of the usual 50 naira,” said caterer
Peju Adegoke out shopping in Mile 12.

“A tuber of yam which sold for 250 naira a few
months back now sells for 600 naira. I can see
hunger staring us in the face. It’s lamentable.”

sammiejozie

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