Food insecurity: Blockade by North forces South to rethink agriculture
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Difficulties experienced in the southern part of Nigeria as a result of food blockade by northern traders have forced investors, governments and socio-political groups in the South to consider adopting agricultural practices that will ensure self-sufficiency in food production in their areas, checks by The ICIR have revealed.
During the blockade embarked on by northern traders under the aegis of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN), staple food items such as beef and vegetables, including tomatoes and onions, became scarce in the South, leading to an astronomical rise in the cost of foodstuffs.
Tomatoes, which are usually supplied from the North, became scarce and very expensive in the South during the blockade.
The blockade was eventually lifted on March 3, 2021, but checks by The ICIR show that governments and opinion leaders in the South are responding to the development by looking at ways of boosting food production in their areas.
Government officials and representatives of socio-political groups in the southern part of the country, who spoke with The ICIR, noted that the South should not be depending on the North for staple food items.
Southerners rely mostly on the North for beef, but the product became scarce and expensive in the southern part of when northern traders stopped moving food supplies to the South
- Ohanaeze Ndigbo to work with South-East Governors Forum to boost food production in South-East
Alex Ogbonnia, spokesman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-political organisation of the Igbo, told The ICIR that the group would meet governors of the South-East states over the need to prioritise food production in the zone.
Ogbonnia told The ICIR that the food blockade “would make the people in the South to sit up because there is hardly any foodstuff that is produced in the North that cannot be produced in the South, including cows, goats, tomatoes and others.”
He said that the food products could be produced in the South, stressing that “this is a reminder to the South that they should begin to look inwards.”
Phone calls, text messages and Whatsapp messages sent to the spokesman of the South-East Governors Forum, Mike Uda, were not answered nor were they replied, but Ogbonnia informed The ICIR that Ohanaeze Ndigbo would partner the state governors to improve food production in the zone.
He said the people of the South-East were getting ready for intensive cultivation of food crops in the coming planting season.
“Very soon, it will be rainy season in the South-East and there will be large-scale cultivation of these food items that were usually brought from the North. We in Ohanaeze will liaise with the governors to look at ways of supporting the farmers to improve food production in the South-East,” the Ohanaeze spokesman said.
- South-West commissioners, special advisers for agriculture meet over food security
Already, moves towards ensuring improved food production have commenced in the South-West as the regional development agency, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, on March 2, 2021, facilitated an interactive session for commissioners and special advisers on agriculture in the zone. The meeting was convened because of the food blockade.
Following enquiries concerning the response of the South-West governments to the food blockade, Seye Oyeleye, director general of DAWN Commission, issued a communique at the end of the meeting and made it available to The ICIR’s correspondent.
The communique stated that the states of the South-West “are fully aware of their responsibilities in ensuring that their people have access to food in abundance and will continue to provide the enabling environment for such to be available in abundance.”
The communique noted that the South-West states had agreed to work together in order to simplify access to land in the region for would-be investors in agriculture. It was also agreed that the South-West states should put some critical dams into active use in order to move farming in the region from rain-dependent to water-dependent. Some states in the zone made commitments to take action on the resolution within three weeks from the interactive meeting.
In the same vein, according to the communique, DAWN Commission was to work with other stakeholders to ensure increased production of agricultural products on which the region had comparative advantage, while the state governments agreed to share ideas on how to attract more youths into agriculture.
Governments of the South-West states also resolved to strengthen the regional security outfit – Amotekun Corps – to effectively deal with threats posed by armed herdsmen, which was identified as one of the major challenges facing agriculture in the region.
- Self-sufficiency in food production is a project of the South-South states
The ICIR also sought the response of the South-South Governors Forum to the blockade. Olisa Ifejika, chief press secretary to Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who is also chairman of the South-South Governors Forum, told The ICIR that the South-South states were working towards self-sufficiency in food production.
“It is a long-term project at the broad level of the South-South, but for now, it is a project that is being taken up at state levels. We are looking at what states can do,” Ifejika said, adding that the Delta State government “is training youths in agriculture so as to produce enough food for the people.”
- Afenifere, PANDEF insist South can produce the food it needs
Leaders of other major socio-political groups in the South, including Afenifere, the umbrella body of the Yoruba, and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), also insisted that the southern part of Nigeria had the capacity to become self-sufficient in food production.
Spaaking with The ICIR, spokesman of Afenifere Yinka Odumakin said, “The South is not lazy, the people of the South have what it takes to produce all the food they need. But it is also the herdsmen from the North that are making it difficult for farmers in the South to produce enough food.”
Spokesman of PANDEF Ken Robinson agreed.
“We have a lot of agrarian land in southern Nigeria and we can grow our food if we focus on it,” he told The ICIR.
- Northern traders say North has advantage over South in food production
But, in an interview with The ICIR, Awwal Aliyu, spokesman for the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria and leader of the Northern Consensus Movement, stressed that the South would not be able to become self-sufficient in food production because its land would not grow some of the staple food items produced in the North.
Grains such as beans, maize, rice and millet are mostly produced in northern Nigeria
Aliyu said, “The land in the South is not as fertile as the land in the North. I wish the South well but there are so many things you cannot plant in the South and even if you plant them they will not do well.”
- Northern traders will lose market in the South
Pogu Bitrus, leader of the Middle Belt Forum, who distanced the people of the Middle Belt from the blockade, told The ICIR that another consequence of the development was that the northern traders would lose market in the South.
Bitrus said, “This (blockade) will serve to improve trade between the Middle Belt and the South. From now, you will begin to see improved trade between the Middle Belt and the South because people in the Middle Belt who were relying on northern middle men will now begin to trade directly with the South. Whether the North likes it or not that is what is going to happen. The blockade has been lifted at the moment, but supposing it has not been lifted there are several other routes through which foodstuff can be taken to the South from the Middle Belt. Everybody knows the dangers of blocking the movement of goods and services.”
- Northern traders say they are selling to other West African countries and not worried about losing market in southern Nigeria
But, reacting to suggestions that, as a result of the blockade, northern foodstuff and livestock traders would lose market in the South, Aliyu said there was no cause for concern.
Speaking with The ICIR, he said, “As for us losing market, our people have started exploiting new business opportunities. Because they do not want to lose their perishable products, they have discovered a route that goes through Sokoto to Burkina Faso to Chad, to Niger Republic and other parts of West Africa. As I speak to you, a lot of lorries are exporting goods to those places so we are losing nothing. So, even if the South-East, South-West and South-South do produce what they can eat, we are not losing market. In fact, it is more profitable for us to export to other countries in West Africa than taking them to southern Nigeria. Our people make more money from other West African countries than taking their goods the South-East, South-West or South-South. However, it is a win-win situation for us.”
- Northern traders recorded losses during blockade
Further checks by The ICIR revealed that just as people in the southern part of the country experienced scarcity of foodstuffs and increase in the cost of staple food items, northern traders dealing in perishable food items also recorded losses in income during the blockade.
Ahmed Alaramma, general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria, told The ICIR that perishable food items that could not be sold got spoilt while the blockade lasted.
He said, “Our members that deal in perishable items incurred losses because those products are perishable. Some of their products got spoilt during the blockade. We recorded shortages due to spoilt goods.
“However, our members who deal in goods like cows and other livestock did not record serious losses because those goods are not perishable. The only shortages they recorded was in terms of daily business activities that could not take place during that period.”
Alaramma said the northern traders agreed to take the losses to protest their grievances over the alleged killings, humiliation, harassment, illegal taxation and extortion suffered by northerners in the South, over which they embarked on the protest.
“It is better that we did not take our goods to the South and have some shortage due to spoilt goods than keep quiet and continue suffering,” he further said.
Alaramma assured that the price of food items would return to pre-blockade levels in the South.
“Prices will come down. The prices of foodstuff have already come down to normal, which was obtainable before the blockade. Tomato, onions, meat and other items are all available now,” he told The ICIR.
- Impact of blockade would worsen inflation… Economist
Muda Yusuf, an economist and director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told The ICIR that the impact of the food blockade would worsen the already high inflation rate in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s inflation rate rose to 16.47 percent in January 2021, the highest in three years, according to the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The CPI also showed that food inflation had risen to the highest level since July 2008.
Yusuf said, “The blockade will have some inflationary effects. Food inflation is already above 20 percent and we are likely to see a much higher rate of inflation because the food supply chain has been severely disrupted. It will take some time for these things to normalise.”
But another economist, Ayo Teriba, chief executive officer of Economics Associates, observed that the blockade would not have much impact on inflation in the country.
“Three days blockade cannot have any inflationary effect. Inflation is a persistent, sustained increase in prices and has nothing to do with incidents,” Teriba told The ICIR.
*Why northern traders stopped moving food to the South
Aliyu, spokesman of the northern traders and leader of the Northern Consensus Movement, told The ICIR that the blockade was a protest against alleged killing of northerners in the South during the #EndSARS protests and later during clashes between the Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani at Sasha in Ibadan. Aliyu claimed that nearly 300 northerners were killed in both incidents. He also claimed that goods and valuables belonging to northerners, including vehicles, were destroyed.
Aliyu said videos of the killings were available on the social media. But when reminded by The ICIR correspondent that some of the videos making the rounds in the social media were fake, Aliyu said the union had records of all the northerners killed during the incidents.
The northern traders also said the blockade was a protest against the extortion of their members in the southern states.
The blockade was lifted on March 3, 2021, after the federal government agreed to pay the 4.7 billion naira compensation demanded by the northern traders for loss of lives and property they allegedly recorded in the South.