“Writing this from a secure and walled-in accommodation in Abuja, here I am, drenched in sweat, trying to convey what this mission is all about.
Harvests have failed in the Sahel countries and those who can have sold their last family heirlooms for food. WFP is carrying out impressive food assistance operations throughout the region, mobilising the largest number of trucks, trains and aircraft possible.
I am here as the Nigeria Project Coordinator, along with three WFP logistics colleagues, preparing to move 30,000 metric tonnes of sorghum from Nigeria to Chad and Niger, which are badly affected by drought. WFP purchased this grain from the Nigeria Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), who has procured this from smallholder Nigerian farmers. Under normal circumstances, grain from the national reserve could not be exported outside the country, but a special authorisation was given by the President – considering that this would not jeopardise Nigeria’s own food security, and that WFP would purchase stocks that were set to expire soon, allowing the country to replenish their grain levels anew, further boosting their economy.
From Nigeria, grain is only four days away from Niger and seven from Chad. This is a significant improvement considering the time it takes for food to arrive from international ports. Due to insecurity, finding importers who are willing to drive into Nigeria is slim – as sometimes entire trucks can disappear without a trace.
The first trucks crossed into Niger with roughly 2,700 metric tonnes of grain. Approximately 8,850 metric tonnes of sorghum grain are now loaded for Ndjamena, Chad. The grain is stored in three NFRA silos across the country - in Makurdi (Benue state), Ogoja (Cross River state) and Minna (Niger state).
This involved setting up four WFP offices, and staffing them with one WFP logistician per silo (plus me in Abuja) to supervise operations. Setting up an office in a silo requires some resourcefulness! I was able to do this quite economically, purchasing plastic chairs for office furniture, inexpensive equipment, and pre-paid internet and phone cards. It took two weeks to set up the four offices, with one in Abuja where I stay.
Then the operational problems started: old equipment, inability to plan ahead of time, etc. Most problems have been solved, one by one. But plenty more are just round the corner...
I salute the dedication and courage of my colleagues, not only in Nigeria, but in other Sahel countries as well. Showing great dedication and working alone, they do so at least 12 hour days, 6 days a week. At the end of each day, by order of UN security rules, they remain inside their fortified accommodation, which does not promote relaxation!
But our colleagues still manage their job admiringly, and I believe this is the kind of temper and spirit that makes WFP great.”