Sitting on a mat in a muddy courtyard away from a littered street, a small group of children devour their daily meal: a small piece of fried bread dipped into small glasses of sweetened green tea. The light is still low and blue-gray shortly after dawn, but the family patriarch, Youssouf Ibrahim Abderaman, must leave soon to find work as a day laborer.
Abderaman, who is having breakfast with the younger members of his extended family, has nine children and several more grandchildren, exactly how many, he struggles to list. Yet all around him, distended bellies and desperation over such meager portions indicate that everyone is hungry.
“If you make a living day by day, you eat what you get,” Abderaman explains. “Sometimes you don’t get anything to eat for a day. Sometimes you can buy food for the whole day, sometimes for half a day. That’s how it works.”
A fight for survival
In his home of baked bricks, he describes his family’s daily struggle to survive in this small town of 50,000 people on the southern edge of the Sahara desert in central Chad. Abderaman is dressed in a long white robe and painfully thin, an emblem of food shortages that have become increasingly acute in this landlocked nation, one of the poorest in Africa. A complex mix of climate change, regional conflicts and rising prices for basic commodities, including wheat, has led to shortages, exacerbated this year by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine many thousands of miles away.
“When there’s enough food, they eat together. Otherwise, you just give it to them,” says Abderaman, describing the difficult decision he increasingly makes when he can’t find paid work in the nearby fields, prioritizing the stomachs of his children on his own.
Several blocks away, at the city’s only bakery, sunrise is marked by trays of baguettes pulled from the oven, a culinary reminder of the country’s French colonial history. Several young men tie white sacks of light yellow bread to small motorcycles, or stack them in a van that pulls up in the yard. Balancing several bags on the back of his own bike is Mahamat Tahir, the bakery’s distribution manager, who says far fewer customers can afford daily bread now. “Sales have fallen tremendously,” he says. The price of fuel to run the ovens has skyrocketed, as has the other key component of bread, flour. “We’re still running just to avoid shutdown,” he adds, before revving his engine to set off on his delivery round. “The company is not making any profit.”
In the dusty town market later that afternoon, several stalls are open, displaying small bowls of grains, nuts, and a few vegetables, but there are too few customers to buy those items still on sale. For Alhadj Adoum Berkedaï, president of the local chamber of commerce and one of the largest wholesale importers in Moussoro, the conflict in Ukraine and the consequences of it represent a great threat to his business. “In the past, prices increased after the rainy season,” he says, referring to the annual period, known as the “lean season,” when food supplies dwindle in the broader sub-Saharan region called the Sahel. During that time, crops have been grown in soils moistened by heavy rains, and residents must wait months to harvest them. Meanwhile, hunger often haunts many Sahelian communities.
Walking around his warehouse and pointing to warehouses that are now completely empty, Berkedaï says that prices for pasta, flour, rice and millet have skyrocketed more than ever due to rising diesel costs for truckers hauling goods through the desert for several days. . “In recent months, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has made everything more expensive,” concludes the trader. “We’ve managed to import some, but what good is it if people can’t buy it? We’ll end up with unsold stocks and go out of business.”
Prices have doubled
The UN World Food Program found that prices for sorghum, a common local crop, had risen 40 percent this spring compared to the same period last year, while beans, another common staple in the Chadian diet , had almost doubled in some parts of the country. in the price.
“A little scare can actually cause incredible distress to populations,” says Enrico Pausilli, deputy country manager for the UN agency’s efforts in Chad, “either economically or in terms of food security and malnutrition.” And that impact is felt especially in small rural settlements like the village of Chabaka, a half-hour drive southwest of Moussoro, where hundreds of families recently gathered to receive food from one of the World Food Program’s local partners.
Representatives of approximately 500 families sat for hours outside a small fence until an organizer with a megaphone and a registration list called out their names. In groups of four, each was allowed onto a large grassy plot on the outskirts of the village, where they were given two months’ worth of food, equivalent to just over 20 pounds of grain per week.
Mothers with young babies had them checked for signs of malnutrition, the circumferences of tiny arms measured and recorded in paper notebooks. UN data released this year indicates that 1.3 million children in Chad lack adequate food, and approximately 40% of the total population aged 5 and under are stunted due to poor nutrition.
For Sadick Mahamat Rozi, who oversees food distribution in Chabaka, the reliability of food supplies in this part of Chad has been deteriorating since 2010. But a severe drought in the region last year meant that local food stocks were low. even lower, even earlier than usual this year. lean season, and that was exacerbated by the Kremlin’s blockades of the Black Sea.
“The number of malnourished children is increasing,” he says, gesturing around urgently as families load their supplies onto wooden donkey carts. “But now, with the situation in Ukraine, it is getting even worse. With each harvest, the crisis increases.”
Willem Marx is a London-based journalist.