The maize is cut short in Cameroon’s far north. So is the millet and sorghum. The government has decreed that these crops cannot exceed one metre in height, because they might offer cover to armed Boko Haram militants, who, since 2014, have made murderous incursions into the country from across the Nigerian border. Fertilizer, which might be repurposed as an explosive, is also banned.
The timing for these measures, necessary as they may be, could not be more abysmal. Crisis piles upon crisis in this wedge of land, blighted by drought, chronic poverty and erratic harvests, into which a stream of displaced people has poured.
According to the Red Cross, the region is suffering from alarming food shortages, with many people in the extreme north of the country getting by on one meal a day — a reality which Chris de Bode bears witness to in this series of photographs.
A meal of ground red maize, white rice and crushed mango leaves, to be shared between Ramata Modou, 58, and her six children, aged between five and 16. This will be their sole sustenance for the day. Modou is the leader of a camp for internally displaced women and children in the village of Mémé, which she fled to after her hometown was attacked by Boko Haram.A battered spoon belonging to Amira, 20, mother of Aichadou and Ibrahim. Like many of the other displaced people in the region, she fled her home in fear for her life. Her few remaining possessions are treasured.Siblings Aichadou, aged six, and Ibrahim, four, found this old sardine tin on a rubbish dump, and treasure it as part of their make-believe kitchen.A bowl of ground peanuts.A small bag of niebe beans, hidden by Ache, an 80-year-old grandmother, in a crack in the wall at her temporary home in Maroua. She lives there with her four daughters and their children, having fled from their village after an attack in which all the men in the family were either taken or killed.Cracked bowl of food, containing a few grains of rice and some beans — the last few morsels of lunch in the extreme north of Cameroon.A bag of tanne leaves, used to flavour the bland boiled maize that is the most readily available foodstuff. This bag, bought in a local market, cost CFA Fr50 (about 7p).Tomatoes have become a luxury, and there is now only one stall in Mémé that sells them.Small, brittle, dried fish such as this are used as a food seasoning; a bag of seven costs around CFA Fr200 (27p).With so little to eat, even these maize husks are saved.Palta Ali, 30, will share this plate of ground red maize and mango-leaf sauce with her two youngest children, who are 10 and four. Her two older children, who are 12 and 15, will have to go to the village to beg. “Before this, I would have been able to prepare three meals a day,” she told the Red Cross. “Now, I just try to manage. My priority is today and tomorrow.”A plate of okraA piece of foraged firewood, to be used for cooking or sold to buy food.
“One Meal a Day: the Lake Chad Crisis in Pictures” is at the outside courtyard, St Martin-in-the-Fields, from May 22 to June 2017. redcross.org.uk/lakechad
This article was amended to show the correct currency conversion for a bag of tanne leaves.
Photographs: Chris de Bode/Panos Pictures for the British Red Cross