While climate change could result in armed conflict and food insecurity, conflict particularly affects food security and food justice. Historically as a country becomes more industrialised, personal and community resources  improve, and the eating patterns tend to shift from traditional agricultural-based low-fat, high-fibre diets, to diets high in animal foods, and processed and refined foods, which are low in fibre and high in fats and sugar, and which are sometimes referred to as Western diet. Source 

Active conflicts and not just industrialization has however forced a shift in eating patterns in affected areas. Food insecurity in conflict zones has resulted in diets change for conflict affected populace which is dictated based on the available food supplies. Studies have shown that over half of the 815 million undernourished people in the world live in countries struggling with conflict, violence and fragility. The impact of conflict on food security includes the destruction of agricultural production systems, loss of income, encumbrance on the supply-chain processes, malnutrition, loss of lives, and unreliable access to enough quantity of affordable, and nutritious food which then becomes a mere wish. Conflict actions has triggered unfathomable food insecurities in affected areas resulting in large disruptions to social cohesion, the economy and social capital. The effects have been felt majorly at the household level, as households have lost access to farmlands, affordable food, and family members due to the violence. The overall impact of the conflict on agriculture is estimated at USD 3.7 billion (World Bank and Buhari Plan, 2016). 

Conflict, Dietary Change and Food Insecurities in North East Nigeria.

In North East Nigeria, based on lived experience of supporting sustainable livelihoods intervention projects organised by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and the United Nations World Food Programme, the area is threatened by adverse effect of food insecurity owing to the Boko- Haram conflict which has affected households including internally displaced Persons (IDPs) and returnees. The demand for food is more than availability, majority of the households lack the purchasing power, as their source of income has been destroyed. There is heavy military presence, and restricted access to farmlands. Over 1.6 million returnees, who are eager to resume their livelihood activities are faced with agricultural production challenges. Many have been killed in their farms by the insurgent groups while cultivating what they would eat. Several women and girls have been raped, adopted or attacked in an attempt to collect firewood due to lack of safe access to fuel and energy.

Displaced family in attacks by Boko Haram insurgents trying to prepare meal.

Unfortunately, some households may have food but lack the facilities necessary for cooking the food for the family consumption. Few traders who despite the risk and heavy military restrictions manage to transport food from other states into the conflict zone are left with no option but to increase the prices of commodities. In one of the market surveys carried out, one trader explained that they had to bribe the security operatives who mounts roadblocks on the highway before their heavy-duty trucks conveying food items would be allowed to gain access to Maiduguri the Borno State capital. They mentioned that such monies can only be recouped through the hike in the prices of the commodities.  Most households in this area no longer have the liberty to choose their source of protein, many rely heavily on the readily available sun-dried beef for preparing meals. Locally referred to as ‘Kilishi’. All these intricacies cause dietary patterns to shift forcing a transition from local staple foods to readily available processed food.

While humanitarian efforts have to a large extent supported internally displaced persons in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC) with ease, there is also the supply-chain challenge that is often faced by cooperating partners in transporting agricultural inputs like fertilisers, and food commodities to hard-to reach locations like Monguno, Jere, Gwoza and Dikwa, Gamboru Ngala, Pulka in Borno State. Sometimes, the food miles, harsh weather condition and deplorable nature of the road cause a significant percentage of the food to either lose some nutrient or is wasted in the pipeline. There is the perceived notion that the non-state actors use these fertilisers to produce bombs and as such the military will sometimes place restriction on farming which negates food justice. Most often security permits from the theatre command is required before these commodities can move from Maiduguri the state capital to other Local Government Areas (LGAs). According to the FAO September 2019 report  “Due to farming restrictions in Monguno, Borno state, FAO was unable to distribute fertiliser to 3,800 households, who had previously received seeds”.  

Conflict, Dietary Change and Food Insecurities in North Central, Nigeria.

In the North Central region, the crux of the conflict that has exacerbated high level of human and food insecurity is the longstanding disputes between herdsmen and farmers. Compounding these problems is the severe climate variability that is affecting production systems, resulting in reduced crop yields and livestock productivity. Due to the reduction in available rangeland, herders and farmers have had repeated clash over land and water sources, and these clashes has heightened the level of violence in these areas. The major cause of these violence in North Central communities has been desertification, and increasing violence in the far North, which has caused nomadic herdsmen to venture southwards in search of grazing land for their cattle. This has however destroyed the livelihoods of farmers, their crops have been destroyed and eaten up by cattle, an attempt to speak up would trigger confrontations and reprisal attacks which most often claims lives. Posing a risk on both human and food security.  According to the International Crisis Group, “Rising conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria is already six times deadlier in 2018 than Boko Haram’s insurgency”. This conflict has poised a major risk to the availability, access, utilisation and stability of food in this area.

Herdsmen Conflict in North Central Nigeria.

Conflict, Dietary Change and Food Insecurities in South-South Nigeria.

In the South-South, continuous environmental degradation has brought about substantial decline in local food production. In this case food insecurity sparks up conflict, the people have cried out concerning threats to their food security, marginalisation, dispossession and lack of access to resources that are pertinent for their well-being. Their staple foods, particularly cassava, which is indigenous to the region no longer have good yield when harvested.  This spurred agitations and violence in the Niger Delta region with some people resorting to violence due to threats posed to their human/food security. This includes kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, violent protest etc. This also influences consumption patterns and quality of food consumed which leaves some people with little or no concern whether they get the right nutrient from the meal they eat or not. Most people just eat to stay satisfied. Reducing meals or portion size has also become the most important coping strategy.

When the desirable is not available, the available becomes the desirable!

In the Niger Delta region, oil spill has blackened trees and left the ground covered in a dark sludge. Several species of fish are no longer available, the little ones that are seen has been seriously depleted. Some households have resulted in supplementing an edible beetle that is found in the raffia palm as their protein for meals. In situation as this, the palm weevil larvae popularly referred to as ‘Bayelsa Suya’ (grilled beef on a long thin stick) which is a good source of iron, zinc, essential amino acid and fat would be your best bet due to the scarcity of fish. Sadly, even the insects are going extinct because the consumption rate has risen tremendously. It is pathetic to note the forms of food insecurity that people in conflict zone experience. A person who has adequate access to quality food today is still considered food insecure if he has periodic inadequate access to the food, he/she requires which may cause his/her nutritional level to deteriorate.

Rhynchophorus Ferrugineus commonly referred to as ‘Bayelsa Suya’ by low income households.

Conflict, Dietary Change and Food Insecurities in Yemen.

In Yemen, according to the United Nations World Foogramme, the conflict has led to an alarming deterioration in the food security and nutrition situation leaving 60% of the population in food crisis or emergency. One in three Yemeni households have poor food consumption reflecting a diet of extremely poor quality and quantity – mainly consisting of bread, sugar and oil. In response, 62 percent of households adapt coping mechanisms by reducing food portions.  About 17 million Yemenis are food insecure and 6.8 million require emergency food assistance, this has manifested in the nutrition status of Yemeni children between 6 to 59 months old. From estimates 2 million children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished and are facing an increased risk of morbidity and death.

Overall, there is need to rethink the global approach for combating food insecurity. All hands must be on deck to identify and tackle the root causes of conflicts in communities. Through the design and mainstreaming of conflict resolution framework that is extremely sensitive to the causes of the conflict leveraging local institutions in food security interventions. Government officials, local actors and development organisations need to collaborate more to strengthen the social networks which people turn to in time of tension.