“famine is already here”

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Videos show residents of the Comorian island of Anjouan trying to grab sacks of rice from the back of trucks, while a major shortage of this cereal has hit the African archipelago for several weeks. On the spot, the inhabitants must adapt, and the risk of a famine is real assures our Observer.

Since the beginning of July, the Comoros have experienced a shortage of rice, one of the most consumed foodstuffs in the archipelago. The island of Anjouan, the most densely populated and closest to Mayotte, was the first affected, before the situation affected the whole country.

Comorian rice stocks depend on the Office National d’Importation et de Commercialization du Riz (ONICOR), which holds a monopoly granted by the State on the import and marketing of so-called “ordinary” rice.

An amateur video, published on September 8, shows a scene of crowds around a truck, some individuals trying to grab sacks of rice posted on top of the vehicle.

On the evening of September 7, residents of Mirontsy surrounded one of the trucks in which there were bags of ONICOR rice. © Ibrahim Artadji

To try to stem the shortage of rice in the archipelago, ONICOR has repeatedly announced the order of emergency stocks. The cargo ship Falk Njema, which left Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, arrived in Anjouan on the night of September 6 to 7, with a first cargo of 780 tonnes.

Purchased by the Comorian State at the beginning of summer 2022, the cargo ship Falk Njema arrived at the port of Mutsamudu, protected by soldiers positioned on the quay.
Purchased by the Comorian State at the beginning of summer 2022, the cargo ship Falk Njema arrived at the port of Mutsamudu, protected by soldiers positioned on the quay. © AHHA Medias

The situation escalated on the morning of September 7, when the unloading of the cargo began at the port of Mutsamudu, the island’s capital. A convoy carrying sacks of rice to remote communes was blocked by young residents of Mirontsy, a neighboring commune of Mutsamudu.

Demonstrators try to tear the tarpaulin of a truck in an attempt to seize bags of rice, on September 7 in Mirontsy, on the island of Anjouan.

Comorian soldiers, responsible for protecting the convoy, then fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Tensions again erupted sporadically in the city throughout the day of September 8.

Residents looted a store by stealing bags of rice, despite the tear gas fired by the police to disperse the crowd.
Residents looted a store by stealing bags of rice, despite the tear gas fired by the police to disperse the crowd. © Comores-infos

On the evening of September 8, demonstrators crossed Mirontsy to demand the release of the young people arrested the day before, setting tires on fire in their path.

Nine young people were arrested by the police during these two days of tension.

Elsewhere on the island, jostling and tension marred rice distributions. In Ouani, a town in the north of the island of Anjouan, the soldiers used tear gas to disperse the distribution, which was standing in front of the enclosure of the local gendarmerie.

Posted on September 8, 2022, this video shows hundreds of Ouani residents waiting for rice to arrive in their town.
Posted on September 8, 2022, this video shows hundreds of Ouani residents waiting for rice to arrive in their town. © Baangwe the Comoros

“The situation is still the same”

The shortage of rice is hitting the population hard, struggling to replace this essential commodity, as explained by our Observer Mahmoud Ali, a humanitarian on the neighboring island of Moheli.

Rice is almost irreplaceable since it is the most requested food. With a kilo of rice, you can feed a whole family. Currently, locals buy what can be prepared to feed the family, despite the price hike. Some families get vermicelli, agricultural products so that the family does not starve.

Recently a speedboat loaded with children from Anjoua landed in Moheli to drop them off at the beach, and they were taken by the mayor of the M’Lédjélé region, since their parents could no longer feed them.

Faced with the shortage and stocks that are slow to arrive, relatives living outside the Comoros are called upon, continues our Observer Mahmoud Ali.

In Moheli, the population turns to the boats leaving from Dar es Salaam [en Tanzanie, NDLR] and sometimes bring sacks of rice. We turn to our families who live there or in Mayotte. They buy the rice and they ship it to the three islands.

A new cargo ship, coming from Tanzania, arrived on September 14 at the port of Mutsamudu with 54 containers, representing 1458 tons of rice on board according to ONICOR.
A new cargo ship, coming from Tanzania, arrived on September 14 at the port of Mutsamudu with 54 containers, representing 1458 tons of rice on board according to ONICOR. © Comoros Magazine

After the unloading (of these containers), we will be quiet but not for long. Rice remains the material most consumed by the Comorians, and the quantity ordered is still insufficient compared to the population of the Comoros, which has more than one million inhabitants. The situation is still the same despite the little rice sent to Anjouan. And the other islands suffer the same situation as Anjouan.

ONICOR at the heart of criticism

In recent months, ONICOR has increased prices by more than 30%, officially due to the war in Ukraine and rising fuel prices, and has seen its stocks shrink. Arguments challenged by our Observer on site.

The war in Ukraine is a pretext for soaring prices, the company is bankrupt and we are told of 7 to 9 billion francs [entre 14,5 et 18,5 millions d’euros environ] volatilized. The current situation is serious. The famine is already here. Even if you have money, you will hardly find anything to buy. Prices have soared, multiplied by three.

John Baloz, musician and correspondent for the Comores infos media on the island of Anjouan, agrees: “It’s a political society, close to the regime. They took advantage of the war in Ukraine to raise prices, but it is their mismanagement that is to blame”.

According to the Comorian media Al-watwan, ONICOR would have lost more than 8 billion Comorian francs [environ 16,3 millions d’euros] since April 2018.

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