West Africa faces food shortages

2011-06-29 09:22

Abuja - West Africa faces serious food shortages due to repeated floods caused mainly by climate change, experts warned in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The other consequences such as population displacement, conflicts over land and water resources as well as soil infertility can only worsen the situation, they said.

Meteorologists, hydrologists and disaster risk managers from 18 countries gathered in Abuja last week to brainstorm.

West Africa has seen increasing floods in recent years mainly due to climate change, with 2.2 million people affected in 2010 alone and more than 500 killed, according to the African Centre for Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD).

"Severe flooding due to disruption of rain patterns caused by climate change is greatly threatening agriculture and crop yield, which increasingly put West Africa's food security at risk," Youcef Ait Chellouche, a specialist with the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, told AFP.

Nigeria is already bracing for impending shortages with the country's emergency agency NEMA warning that 12 million people in the north, or just under a 10th of the country's population, might not have enough food.

Increasing climate variability

A large number of those affected by the 2010 floods in the region are still grappling with food scarcity created by inundations the previous year.

"Poor households still suffering from the persistent effects of last year's food crisis and this year's flooding in northern Nigeria, northwestern and eastern Chad, northeastern Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin, face a threat of food insecurity," Famine Early Warning Systems Network said in its 2010 report.

Floods in the sub-region are increasing "in frequency and occurrence ...leading to widespread human, material and environmental losses" said Andrea Diop of the Economic Community for West African States, a regional bloc.

In recent years, the region has witnessed increasing climate variability. Traditionally dry areas are getting intense rains and the usually wet areas receive scanty rainfall, distorting farming activities and substantially affecting crop yields, Lazreg Benaichat, ACMAD specialist on climate change in Africa told AFP.

The displacement of people results in changes in population distribution and "creates conflicts over land and water sources between displaced communities and host communities", said Benaichat.

"This affects the volume of crop production and upsets herding activities."

Violent clashes between farmers and nomads over grazing land and watering holes are common in West Africa and such clashes disturb agricultural activities, said Chellouche.

According to the World Bank, 96% of Africa's cultivated land is rain fed.

"This makes flooding a serious threat to food availability in the sub-region and creates new situations that generate conflicts which in turn worsens the food situation," Chellouche said.

Infertile soils

Nigeria's chief emergency officer, Sani Sidi, said crop output has fallen in the region due to infertile soils brought about by flood waters washing away nutrients.

NEMA has warned of "unprecedented rainfall and severe flooding" particularly in the northern Nigeria.

Disruptions in farming in northern Nigeria would create a ripple effect on food supplies in the region, said Sabo Nanono, head of Nigerian commercial farmers union in Kano city.

"Nigeria is the bread basket of West Africa," he said.

Dawanau grains market in the northern city of Kano, the largest such market in the sub-region feeds at least five countries - Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Mali and Central African Republic with cereals during off-season, officials at the market said.

"If Nigeria's yield goes down these countries also feel the pinch," said Aminu Mohammed, secretary of the Dawanau grains merchants union.