The United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) is trying to prevent a food crisis in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria.
A conflict between farmers and herders, who raise animals, has resulted in deaths, fires and a lack of food in recent years.
In the north-central Benue state, farmers once grew so much rice, yams, and soybeans that the area became known as “the food basket of Nigeria.”
Now, farmers like Ibrahim Mohammed are having trouble. He once produced 10 bags of rice from his land each year. But he only harvests three now. Attackers burned his land and home a few years ago.
Mohammed’s family includes his wife, Hannah, and three children, including an 18-month-old daughter. They do not know whether they will have enough to eat from day to day.
In the early afternoon recently, Hannah asked Mohammed if she could take her first rest from working so she could feed the baby.
Because he cannot produce enough rice to sell, Mohammed cannot buy small plants to grow new crops. He wants to grow yams, soybeans and sorghum.
“Sometimes we manage to eat once (per day),” he said. He thanked God for helping his family stay alive.
More than 1 million farmers like Mohammed have been pushed from their land because of fighting.
Samuel Ortom is the governor of Benue state. He said: “We are heading to a food crisis.”
The WFP said at least 13 million people in Nigeria are facing hunger after a season that produced less food than usual. Violence has slowed production and made it difficult to send food around the country. Rice production has dropped and prices have increased sharply.
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard for the U.N. to get food to the people who need it.
The conflict in Nigeria is between farming communities and cattle herders who are fighting over access to water and land. The farmers say the herders are illegally using their land. The herders, who mostly belong to the Fulani ethnic group, say the farmers are using their traditional land once used by their animals.
The Nigerian government is trying to solve the problem. But until a solution is reached, people are running away from the fighting and having trouble finding food.
About 3,000 people now live in a camp in the Guma government area. Mtonga Iliamgee worries each day if she will be able to feed her 10-person family. “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” she said while preparing the day’s only meal.
Felix Agune works to educate the children in the camp. He said sometimes children come to school and say they did not eat the first meal of the day.
Rex Elanu works with a program called One to One Healthcare Initiative. He said small organizations are trying to feed people. But the problem is spread across the Benue state.
Nigeria’s government said it is trying to help the herders change their way of life so they do not need as much land. The government is also trying to give the farmers fertilizer and seeds so they can produce more food and make farming more appealing to young people.
Theodore Ogaziechi works with Nigeria’s agriculture ministry. He said small farmers are important to the survival of the nation and they are trying to do their best to produce food.
But Ortom, the governor of Benue, said the farmers are afraid. Some who have tried to go back to their land have been killed.
Ortom said things must get better than they are now for farmers to get back to work.
“If there is security for these farmers, we’ll continue to retain our position as the food basket of the nation,” he said.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.
Words in This Story
herder –n. a person who keeps a herd of animals though usually not on a farm or in a set place
basket– n. a simple container usually made by weaving materials together
access –n. the ability to get something, enter a place or meet someone
fertilizer – n. material that is added to soil to help the growth of plants
retain –v. to keep