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The recent slowdown in Nigeria’s grain trade holds tremendous implications for food security in the Sahel. Nigeria supplies almost half of the region’s cereal and is the most important market for farmers, herders, and traders from surrounding areas.

The communities most at risk from the rise in food insecurity are located in southeastern and central Niger, northern Nigeria, and northern Benin. Chad is usually highly dependent on the grain supplies from Nigeria, but a very strong 2012 harvest has somewhat insulated the country from the current crisis.

In the hardest-hit areas, staple grains like maize and millet, are selling at prices even higher than those seen during the 2012 regional food crisis. For example, a 100kg bag of maize now sells for $9 more than at the same time last year.  This trend is particularly worrisome as prices are only expected to increase during Ramadan in the month of July.

The increase in food prices are devastating in a region where many of the poorest families will spend up to 80% of their household income on market food. Nigeria’s production is so critical to these markets that despite the fact most Sahelian countries saw an increase in maize and millet, the decrease in Nigerian supply offset three-quarters of the regional gain.

The factors behind the current grain shortage are complex, but three major facets can be distinguished. The first is last year’s widespread flooding. Many of the farmers have not been able to recover their fields and crops from the damage.

The second major factor is the popularity of cash crops. Many farmers are switching from staple crops to cash crops, not generally sold in the regional food markets. In fact, the production of millet, a major staple grain, has decreased by 13% from the five-year average.

In addition to the previous two factors, the rise of Boko Haram has greatly disrupted Nigerian agriculture. The violent extremist group has forced an estimated 65% of farmers in northeastern Nigeria to flee their homes and fields. The violence has also discouraged traders from engaging in traditional trade routes and markets.

Experts say aid to Nigeria must be increased to combat the growing food security crisis. Nigeria receives millions of dollars in aid every year, but the amounts are far less than what is received by its neighbors. Given Nigeria’s key position within the food market of the region, aid priorities should be reassessed to insure the current agricultural slowdown does not worsen to a widespread food crisis.

Lauren Brown

Sources: ISN, World Bank
Photo: Kansas Agricultural Network