Burkina Faso's food woes deepen as extremists expand reach

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In this Wednesday, May 13, 2020, photo, a child sits on the ground selling onions at a market stall in Tougan, Burkina Faso. Violence linked to Islamic extremists has spread to Burkina Faso's breadbasket region, pushing thousands of people toward hunger and threatening to cut off food aid for millions more. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

TOUGAN – Islamic extremists chased Adama Drabo and his family from their land in western Burkina Faso, forcing them to abandon a year's worth of crops.

Now that food is rotting in storage in the village, too dangerous for him to retrieve, even as the family is forced to survive on meager government rations. Drabo already has lost his 20-year-old son, who was killed by a roadside bomb.

“Security is getting worse, and this year we won’t be able to cultivate and it will be a big problem,” he said. His future looks bleak if he and his family cannot return to their land.

Violence linked to jihadists has spread from Burkina Faso’s north to its western breadbasket in the Boucle du Mouhoun region, pushing thousands like Drabo to hunger and threatening to cut off food for millions more in the country on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The fertile land produces large amounts of rice and maize, according to the government.

Humanitarian groups are concerned that the coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate an already dire situation in Burkina Faso, one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

“If production goes down in this area and if movement restrictions due to the coronavirus drive up food prices in the markets, it could push numbers of severely vulnerable people to double or triple,” said Julia Wanjiru, communications coordinator for the Sahel and West Africa Club, an intergovernmental economic group.

Food insecurity already affects 2 million people in Burkina Faso, according to the latest report from its government and aid groups. Coronavirus is also spreading, with 884 reported cases and 53 deaths as of Monday.

While the government has lifted restrictions on movement between cities, its borders with Mali, Niger and Ivory Coast remain closed, making the importation of food more expensive.