Food for War and Peace

Nigeria’s mounting food crisis lurks behind rising security challenges and structural vulnerabilities. Even as climate change also impact on the environment and farming communities, the effects of violence and conflict have been dire. The farmers-herders clash is usually identified as one of the significant causes of food insecurity in the country. Now, targeted attacks on farmers and farming communities by Boko Haram insurgents and armed bandits may have increased the tempo of threats on Nigeria’s food insecurity. While the food crisis in the terror-troubled Northeast is increasing humanitarian emergencies in the region, attacks on farmers leave less to be desired. In the Northeast, farmers risk their throats being slit by terrorists; in the Northwest, they pay levies before they can access their farmlands. In other parts of the country, there are episodes of violent struggles between farmers and pastoralists.

Undeniably, Nigeria’s food insecurity is tied to human security, climate impact and government’s responses. Attacks on farmers have made farming unsafe while destruction of farmlands has contributed to the problem. Predominantly farming communities faced by the insurgency in the Northeast cannot have access to sufficient humanitarian aid; 10.6 million people need urgent assistance, but only about 7.8 million can be accessed. Also, to be self-reliant means risking death and moving to attack-prone farmlands. About 4.3 million people are already predicted to be facing acute hunger in the Northeast. Therefore, while government is eager to stabilise volatile areas, support victims, return and resettle the displaced, it must also make efforts to nip the looming food crisis in the bud.

Food is a weapon for peace, according to a Nextier SPD publication. It remains a crucial component of post-conflict reconstruction. For instance, food insecurity can exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast. It can also trigger new vistas of violence across the country. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nigeria had about 50 per cent of West Africa’s food insecure population in 2019. The pandemic and the recession are already worsening living conditions in Nigeria. Adding food insecurity to the list will not only affect the vulnerable population, but it will also create more vulnerabilities for government and society. Government must mobilise a stakeholder-wide consultation to address Nigeria’s food problem. Combative efforts should be improved in farming communities that have become prone to violent attacks. In this regard, security agencies must liaise with community actors to map out modalities for farming activities to ensure the safety of farmers and protection of farmlands.

Many farming communities are caught in the triangle of conflict, climate change and ineffectual policies. Government and development partners must increase intervention efforts geared towards food security. As agricultural production has become tied to safety, such intervention efforts must have a security component to promote safe farming for community members. Nigeria’s food crisis may be lurking at a distance. But without an urgent and comprehensive series of actions, the entire nation will be enveloped by the consequences of full-blown food insecurity. Government must act now, and act fast.