Food blockade of losses, pain

By Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye (Lagos), Oluseye Ojo (Ibadan), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), Obinna Odogwu (Awka), Paul Osuyi (Asaba), Tony Osauzo, Ighomuaye Lucky (Benin), Priscilla Ediare (Ado-Ekiti), Rose Ejembi (Makurdi), Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki), Gyang Bere (Jos), Layi Olanrewaju (Ilorin), George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Noah Ebije (Kaduna), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu), and Judex Okoro (Calabar), Femi Folaranmi (Yenagoa)

Though the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN) has suspended the strike it embarked on to protest the alleged killing and ill-treatment of its members in the southern parts of the country tagged food blockade, the effect of the protest, is still being felt in the markets, leaving women who shop for staple food items having a hard time finding reasonable prices for them.

For some stakeholders, the blockade is a veritable wake-up call for the southern states to start strategizing on how to revive and enhance food crops cultivation.

Untitled 10 3More importantly, it has fired up the quest for effective neutralisation of the menace posed by marauding armed herdsmen and bandits, who have been destroying farms in the southern part, thereby preventing farming in Benue, Niger and some other food basket states. 

An entrepreneurship development consultant and former Vice President, Network of Entrepreneurial Women, an organ of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Mrs Fayo William, expressed concern over the negative impact of the blockade and the potential threat it posed to attainment of two vital aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals, which are low poverty and zero hunger, in the country.

William wondered at the wisdom of the blockade, given the inter-dependent relationship between the producers and the consumers, especially as farm produce are mainly perishable goods.

She opined that Nigeria is at a point where the SDGs are being threatened. “Goal number one is low poverty and goal number two is zero hunger. So, if you have a situation whereby there is a blockage; people cannot sell their products, they cannot make income, you can see that we are going to be working against low poverty (SDG 1) and by the time there is so much inflation of what is left in the South and people cannot purchase anymore, there is hunger in the land and there is hunger too with the suppliers who refuse to sell, we are not really doing well when it comes to zero hunger. The overall consideration should be food security.”

Williams wants state governments in the South to double their efforts in repositioning agriculture in the zone even as she lauded the Lagos State government, which has some encouraging agricultural initiatives in place.

Agreeing with the summation of Williams, Monetary and Development Economist, Dr Tayo Bello, stressed that the southern states need to redouble efforts to reposition agriculture.

“Who does the farming in the North? It is the ordinary people. The majority of their top people in the zone are also into commercial farming; it is not their government. But in the South, our people are not interested in farming. Southern states have not gone into farming like the northerners. The government can encourage only individuals to go into farming through making land available and accessible to them.”

LAGOS

Following the suspension of the blockade, a visit to the Mile-12 Market, the biggest foodstuff distribution hub in Lagos, showed that an abundant fresh supply of ripe tomatoes, pepper, onion and other foodstuff had arrived at the market.

It was not the case last week as there was dearth of the vital commodities. Sunday Sun learnt from a trader, Mohammed, that a basket of onion sold for N25,000 as against last week’s price of N35,000; while a basket of tomato was bought at N30,000 during the blockade, the price fell to N16,000 at the weekend.

However, it has emerged that the Lagos State Chapter of the Amalgamated Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria opposed the blockade.

The Chairman of Mile 12 market, Alhaji Shehu Usman Jibril, explained to Sunday Sun, the reason it backed out of the strike:

“We cannot remove ourselves from the national body, but on this particular strike, I told them that I am the Lagos coordinator of this particular section. I told them bluntly that I will not be part of this particular strike and my reasons are as follows. I expected them (AUFCDN) to call a meeting of stakeholders, but he didn’t do that.  He just gave an ultimatum of just two days; goods will not be brought to the South. We have good understanding with the Lagos State government and the people of Lagos State. Why should a localised misunderstanding affect everybody, including farmers who are ready to harvest his tomatoes now that we have harmattan in the North and every item is ripe now just for them to take to the market and sell. You are asking them not to sell.  There’s no provision for compensation, that this is what they were about to lose; nobody does that. It means you are telling the farmers, ‘Go and die.’”

He also debunked the rumour that perishable foodstuff trapped by the blockade had been diverted to Niger Republic and Cameroun for sale.

“That is not true. Their tomatoes are far better than Nigerian tomatoes. Their tomatoes could last for five to six days and nothing happens to it. That is not the case with our tomatoes. It will be difficult to take Nigeria’s tomatoes to those areas,” Usman Jubril said.

OYO

Trading activities have picked up at the various major markets in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, after two major recent incidents – closure of Shasha Market and food blockade imposed by AUFCDN affected trading, leading to scarcity of some food items and livestock such as cattle, goats, rams and sheep in the city.

A visit to the Ibadan Central Abattoir at Amosun Village in Akinyele Local Government Area of the state during the strike revealed that there was a sharp drop in the number of cows being slaughtered on daily basis in the abattoir from 500 to 150 cows. The price of one cattle previously sold at N150,000 jumped to N300,000 while the one sold for N250,000 rose to between N500,000 and N600,000.

Sunday Sun gathered that the selling price of a cow increased by 100 per cent. A cow that was being sold for N150,000 before the strike, went for about N300,000, while the one being sold for N250,000 earlier also went for between N500,000 and N600,000.

Commenting on the blockade, a Yoruba butcher, Sikiru Adeolu, said: “This is what we have been saying. The Yoruba too should begin to invest massively into cattle rearing. We don’t know how long this will take, but there is wisdom in it for the southerners. We should go back to farming.”

The popular Bodija Market, which was affected by the foodstuff blockade has returned to its boisterous nature following the lifting of the ban.

ABIA

Incensed by the blockade, a market union leader has warned that the Southeast should wean itself from dependence on foodstuff from the North.

The recent incident recalled the experience of the Igbo during the civil war. Most traders, who spoke with Sunday Sun, opined that what happened should be a lesson to the Igbo not to depend on the North for food.

Sam Egu, a leader of one of the unions in Goodmorning Food and Vegetable Market in Aba, Abia State said: “It is not good for one to hope on his enemy for food. I am not saying the northerners are our enemies, but there is no how someone will behave against you and the action will not pass as that of an enemy. In Igbo land, it is an abomination for one not to give his neighbour food, no matter the level of provocation.”

He advised the Igbo to go back to the land saying, “in the early ‘70s, tomatoes were not brought from the North, we were growing them here, including cucumber and garden egg. The Igbo should emulate Israel. In 1948 when Israel went back to their land, they had no food and they depended on their neighbours like Lebanon, Syria, Iran and even Iraq. But their scientists reasoned it was wrong for their enemies to be giving them food, they did research and started producing their own food. Today, Israel is self-sufficient in food production.”

Another trader, Eke said that what happened was a blessing in disguise, as it would propel the Igbo to return to the land.

ANAMBRA

In Anambra, traders dealing in foodstuff said that they were confident that farmers in the Southeast geopolitical zone could take care of the food needs of the people if the state governments in the zone support their farming activities.

One of them, Ifeoma, who sells rice in Eke Awka Market, said that she buys her rice from farmers in the state.

She said that the foodstuff blockage would not in any way affect her business considering where she buys her commodities.

She said: “The beautiful thing here is that in the Southeast, we have two states which are especially good in rice cultivation; Anambra and Ebonyi. These two states can take care of the rice needs of our people. We don’t need rice from the North.”

She said that it was the northern farmers that would suffer economic loss because their major market is southern Nigeria.

DELTA, EDO

Like their counterparts in the other parts of southern Nigeria, residents of Asaba, Delta State capital, faced severe foodstuff shortages caused by the blockade, which expectedly shot up prices of the various items.

However, the blockade was seen as an eye-opener, and led to suggest that southern state governments should permanently restrain herdsmen from entering the region to ensure food sufficiency and security.

A social commentator in Asaba, Barry Okpogadie, said that the food restriction should be a wake-up call to southerners on the need to return to the farm.

He said: “Let me tell you, the South can survive without the North. Rice is being produced in large quantity in Ebonyi, Anambra, Ogun and Edo states. Go to communities like Igbodo and others along the Ika axis here in Delta North Senatorial District, local farmers are producing pepper, vegetables and yam in large quantities.

“The only problem is the insecurity in some of our bushes. If we can address the issue of insecurity, more people can go into farming, and the South can have food sufficiency.”

In Benin, the Edo State capital, a trader at Oregbeni Market, Ikpoba Hill, Mrs Helen Aghahowa, said that she was disturbed by the outrageous increase in prices of foodstuff during the blockade. 

BENUE, EBONYI

Ordinarily, Benue is supposed to be one of the food basket states in the country. But it was equally affected by the blockade imposed by AUFCDN against the South, causing foodstuff prices to skyrocket in the state.

The situation would have been different in the state, but for the sacking of many villages by suspected Fulani herdsmen, resulting in hundreds of thousands of the farming population to be confined to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps for the past several years now.

Sunday Sun learnt that many IDPs who attempted to return to their ancestral homes to farm were prevented by the presence of the marauding armed herdsmen who had chased them away from their communities and were still in control of the land

This has grossly affected food production and caused prices of foodstuff to increase with every passing day.

A trader, Adakole Prince, urged the Federal Government to do everything in its power to ensure the safe return of Benue farmers to their ancestral homes as quickly as possible, warning that if that is not done, Benue might soon lose its food basket status.

“The reality on ground now is that Benue people are beginning to experience lack in the midst of plenty. We have a very fertile expanse of land, but we can’t go there to farm anymore. Our farming population is wasting away in IDP camps.

“Government must act fast to save the situation. Else, we will soon lose our status as the food basket of the nation. The truth now is that many people who should ordinarily conveniently feed themselves and their families are seriously starving these days and we have to do something fast,” Adakole said.

In Ebonyi, the temporary break in supply of some essential food items from the northern part of the country to the southern part of the country did not cause food scarcity in the state. However, it still affected the prices of some of the commodities.

PLATEAU

In Plateau State, perishable goods were affected by the blockade. Most of the agricultural produce, which were billed for transportation to the South got spoilt during the period, leaving farmers bearing the pain of acute losses.

A visit to Farin-Gada market in Jos North Local Government Area revealed a crash in the price of tomatoes. A basket which used to be sold at N2,000 was sold at a giveaway price of N700.

It was also gathered that onions, which was seen as scarce commodity also crashed in price. A basket that was sold at N25,000 in the last two months was given away at N8,000. Vegetables were badly hit by the ban on the transportation. The price of a bucket of pepper dropped from N1,000 to N250.

Alhaji Sani Ibrahim who spoke to Sunday Sun said that the prices crashed because the products were about to be conveyed to the South when the blockade started.

KADUNA

In Kaduna, a farmer, Alhaji Mohammed Maikudi, put a spin on the blockade, saying, “Northern traders did not refuse to sell food stuff to southerners, but they merely protested against attacks on them by hoodlums from the South. They need protection to sell their goods in that part of the country. How can they refuse to take food to the South when they are not taking it there free of charge?

“I disagree with those who are saying that there is surplus of food that is why traders decided to change their minds and return to trading in the South. This is not correct. Even in time of scarcity, they still transport their foodstuffs to the South to sell. They are not at war with anybody. The thing is that they need protection, so the protest was to draw the attention of relevant authorities to guarantee the safety of their lives and protection of their goods. After all, southerners too bring goods to the North. We must learn to be our brother’s keepers. We must live in peace because there is no alternative to peace.”

ENUGU, BAYELSA, Cross River

As was the case in several other states, traders and residents in Enugu, Bayelsa and Cross River states lamented over the scarcity of meat and other staple foodstuff usually brought in from the northern parts of the country.

Sunday Sun reporters in these states who went round confirmed the abject scarcity of tomatoes, Irish potato, yam, beans and other grains at major markets at Marian, Watt and Eight Miles within Calabar metropolis, Cross River State.

Commenting on the challenges, the Vice Chairman, National Association of Butchers, Marian Market Chapter, Mr Patrick Paulinus, said that the blockade which prevented cattle from coming in from the northern part of the country affected their income.

The situation of Bayelsa State is quite peculiar as 90 per cent of the foods consumed in the state are sourced from outside the state.

All the major markets in Yenagoa, the state capital, namely Swali, Opolo, Kpansia and Tombia experienced a biting effect of the food blockade.

In Yenagoa, the price of cattle rose by 100 per cent from N100,000 to N200,000. At the Swali abattoir where about five to 10 animals were normally slaughtered in a day, three cattle were slaughtered for sale. This expectedly made beef scarce and drove up the price.

At the Pepper and Tomato market, the price of a plastic bowl of red pepper that used to cost N500 went up to between N1,500 and N2,000.

Mrs Rebecca Harrison, who spoke with Sunday Sun, decried the exorbitant prices of onion and tomato. On the way forward, she said: “We must now start to grow pepper and tomatoes and onion in our land so that we would not find ourselves in this kind of problem again.” 

In Enugu, the Coal City was no less spared the vagaries and shortages of vital foodstuff supplied from the northern parts of the country, which made prices of food items to skyrocket.

At the Akwatta food market located within the popular Ogbete Main Market and Artisan Market, trading activities were at very low ebb as the open space in the market that used to be a beehive of sales was very empty as the traders were still waiting for the arrival of goods following information that the blockade had been lifted.

One of the traders, Obinna Ugwu, who deals in fresh tomatoes, pepper and the like told Sunday Sun at Akwatta market that the blockade dealt with them in the East and their business partners in the North.

Both the traders from the North and those in the Southeast lost a lot of money as no sales were made. 

He, however, said that the farmers and traders in the North were the worst losers in the ill-fated decision to impose a foodstuff blockade on the South. His reason: “Their produce spoilt; of course, they couldn’t consume all that they produced.”

Corroborating what Obinna said, a lady trader who pleaded for anonymity added: “It was really a bad time for all, ourselves, our customers and those who supply us goods. Look around, if you are used to this place you will know that something has happened. Before this problem, a bag of carrot used be sold at N6,000, but with the problem it went up to N14,000. However, we thank God that it is normalizing because this one I am arranging now, I bought it at the normal price. I heard that five big trucks brought onions today. So, by next week everything will normalise.”