Accra, Ghana – On most Saturday mornings, the shed of Yakubu Akteniba, an onion vendor at Adjen Kotoku market, a 33km drive from Accra, is swamped by prospects haggling over contemporary produce.
However since early August, issues have quietened as enterprise has taken a nosedive as a consequence of disruption within the meals provide chain throughout West Africa.
“We used to obtain a minimum of 20 truckloads of onions day by day right here,” Akteniba, who speaks for the market’s 200-member onion sellers’ affiliation, informed Al Jazeera. “The variety of vans coming right here has now dropped to between two and 5 day by day … If issues don’t change, most of us can be out of enterprise,” he mentioned.
The supply of the disaster is Niger, 4 nations away from Ghana, but additionally a member of the 15-member Financial Group of West African States (ECOWAS).
On July 26, members of the Nigerien presidential guard overthrew Mohamed Bazoum, the nation’s democratically elected chief since 2021. In response, ECOWAS imposed a variety of sanctions together with the closure of borders surrounding Niger – and minimize off commerce with it.
That call has stoked a brewing meals disaster throughout West Africa.
Niger is the important thing exporter of dry onions within the area, chargeable for nearly two-thirds of complete exports in 2021, in response to market intelligence platform, Indexbox.
Figures from the Observatory of Financial Complexity (OEC) present that in 2021, Niger exported onions value $23.4m, making it the world’s thirty first largest exporter of onions.
In the identical 12 months, onions have been the sixth-most exported product for Niger. The principle locations of onion exports from Niger have been Ghana ($21.7m), Ivory Coast ($1.15m), Benin ($451,000), Togo ($84,500) and Nigeria ($35,100). All 5 nations have backed ECOWAS sanctions in Niger.
However the sanctions have triggered a scarcity of onions and different meals commodities like beans and millet – and pushed up the price in locations the place provide remains to be accessible.
“They [ECOWAS] have blocked the automobiles from coming,” Akteniba informed Al Jazeera.
In accordance with Akteniba, earlier than the navy takeover, a 100kg sack of onions was promoting at $61 however the worth has now nearly doubled to $105. A 25kg sack of onions now prices $27 in contrast with $17 earlier than the borders have been closed.
A beloved vegetable
The bulb-shaped vegetable is revered in West Africa, the place many, together with Ghanaians, use it as a staple of their cuisines. Onions are boiled, fried, caramelised and even served uncooked to garnish many meals.
However the price of onions has turn into exorbitant because the nation’s financial troubles stew; a couple of quarter of Ghana’s 32 million folks dwell on lower than $1 a day, in response to the Ghana Statistical Service.
“I like onions however for a while now I’m chopping down on the amount in making ready meals as a result of it’s turning into too costly,” Deborah Biney, a 40-year-old mom of two, informed Al Jazeera. “Earlier than the political scenario in Niger, I used to be shopping for three massive items of onions for $0.17 in my neighbourhood, however now I exploit the identical quantity to purchase only a piece.”
Onions even have a number of well being advantages, together with improved blood sugar regulation and growing bone density, consultants say.
Endurance Naa Adjeley Adjei, a nutritionist and a house economics instructor, informed Al Jazeera that the dietary worth of onions couldn’t be underestimated, saying it could be “disturbing” if households stopped utilizing the greens because of the hovering costs.
“Onions have a definite flavour that provides to dishes and stimulate urge for food … they’re low in energy and fats however wealthy in nutritional vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” Adjei said. “They comprise fibre, vitamin C and numerous useful compounds that will have well being advantages, together with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.”
Nigeria accounts for 20 % of the onions bought in Ghana, whereas Burkina Faso exports about 5 % of the onions consumed there. Ghana solely produces 5 % of the onions it consumes domestically.
However 70 % of onions, valued at about $2m weekly, have been imported from Niger, in response to Meals and Agriculture Minister Bryan Acheampong.
“I deem this a humiliation and a useless drain on our scarce international trade,” he mentioned not too long ago, on the launch of a authorities programme to spice up Ghanaian meals sufficiency.
He added that Nana Akufo-Addo’s administration is finalising an “aggressive five-year plan” to construct meals safety and resilience by guaranteeing year-round manufacturing to halt the importation of important commodities like tomatoes and onions.
Niger’s navy authorities has refused to launch Bazoum and has served discover it needs to stay in energy for a minimum of three years earlier than transitioning again to civilian management, even within the face of a doable navy intervention by ECOWAS.
Consultants have warned that if the deadlock persists, it may lead to dire humanitarian penalties and a meals safety disaster within the area.
A research undertaken by the United Nations Meals and Agriculture Group (FAO) this April confirmed that acute meals insecurity is on observe to achieve a 10-year excessive in West and Central Africa this 12 months as humanitarian help is severely hindered by insecurity in conflict-affected areas of Burkina Faso and Mali.
The unfold of actions by armed teams within the Sahel can be hindering the meals provide chain within the area, the onion sellers’ affiliation mentioned.
“One main concern is assaults on our vans by terrorists, particularly within the Niger space. The coup itself will not be affecting the provision of onions and different meals like beans and millet that a lot, however the state of insecurity,” Peter Appiah Mensah, who owns vans that cart onions, beans and millets from Niger to Ghana, mentioned.
Talking to Al Jazeera, Ziad Hamoui, co-chair of the Meals Commerce Coalition for Africa, mentioned the financial sanctions by the regional bloc on the uranium-rich nation, particularly the border closure come at a price.
He known as on regional leaders to melt their stance.
“I feel it’s nonetheless vital to take care of the regional commerce flows,” mentioned Hamoui, who doubles as president of the Ghanaian chapter of Borderless Alliance, a regional commerce advocacy group. “To start with, you may’t actually cease commerce by blocking the borders. So, closing the borders on one hand, doesn’t clear up the difficulty.
“Then again, there should be insurance policies the place nations will be held accountable … we have to have mechanisms in place that permit nations to speak collectively in circumstances of complaints and challenges,” he added.
A few of the onion vans are additionally caught behind borders in Burkina Faso, additionally navy dominated and which has allied itself with Mali, to help Niger. In Ghana, vegetable merchants are anxious that the greens may rot and their worth depreciate by the point the borders are reopened.
“Perhaps, this can be a wake-up name for our authorities to take a position extra in rising our personal onions right here in Ghana,” Akteniba informed Al Jazeera. “The one downside is that our onions are very small because of the climate however these coming from Niger are larger. We have to discover a answer to this case.”