Boko Haram Conflict Erodes Nigeria's Wheat Crop as Farmers Flee

20.04.2017

Wheat growers in Nigeria’s northeast have abandoned their farms under the onslaught of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, a setback for the country’s efforts to cut imports by boosting local production, a research agency said.

“Wheat production in the zone has declined to just 20 percent of what it used to be due to insurgency,” Oluwashina Olabanji, executive director of the Lake Chad Research Institute, said in an interview in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. Borno, which used to account for about a quarter of Nigeria’s production, currently grows no wheat, he said.

Nigeria produced an average of 80,000 metric tons of wheat a year for decades until the introduction of a new variety in the 2012-13 season that tripled the average yield to as much as 6 tons per hectare, increasing output to 400,000 tons in 2015-16 as more areas were cultivated, according to the institute. This compares with the output of 3.3 million tons during the same period by Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest producer.

This new variety hasn’t been introduced to Borno with most of the wheat-growing areas under occupation or within reach of the Islamist militants, Olabanji said. Production is expected to be little changed in the current season with many farmers still displaced, according to the agency.

Nigeria’s is expected to import 4.1 million tons of wheat in the 2016-17 season, compared with the 4.3 million tons imported in 2015-2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The country’s rain-fed wheat, typically planted in October and harvested in April, is grown in 13 states in the northeast and other highland areas.

Displaced Farmers

Borno faces an elevated risk of famine, with the number of people affected forecast to roughly double to 115,000 in 2017, because of disrupted livelihoods and the resultant inability of farmers to grow crops, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“The majority of the farmers who should’ve been trying out the new varieties are now at internally displaced camps depending solely on what is being provided for them,” Abubakar Gamandi, chairman the Farmers Association in the region, said in a April 18 phone interview from Maiduguri.

Fannami Modu, who had a three-hectare (seven-acre) wheat farm in the town of Marte, said his farm was burned when Boko Haram fighters raided the place in 2012.

“I used to earn a lot from wheat,” he said. “It was devastating when they destroyed our crops.”


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