Abimbola Akosile

Buoyed by the prospect of restarting life through agricultural livelihoods, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North-east Nigeria are returning to farms supported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Under the ongoing Restoring Agricultural Livelihoods of IDPs, Returnees and Vulnerable Host Families in North-east Nigeria project, FAO is reaching 174,400 people with vegetable seeds and irrigation support for the dry season.

Ahead of the upcoming rainy season, FAO, according to a release issued in Abuja, is planning to considerably scale up its interventions in the region to ensure that those who return to farms receive the support they need to plant in time and produce food to sustain themselves and their families.

With more than 80 per cent of north-eastern Nigeria’s rural population depending on crop or livestock farming, investing in agriculture now is critical to tackling food insecurity, the release noted.

“We are approaching a critical period in the agricultural calendar. This is our main opportunity to tackle these truly staggering levels of food insecurity by helping at-risk families to produce their own food. The rainy season begins in May-June. Farmers need to have seeds, fertilisers and tools in their hands by then so they can plant. If they miss this season, humanitarian costs are just going to keep rising and rising into 2018. Nutrition outcomes will worsen and this will affect today’s children for the rest of their lives,” Director of Emergency and Rehabilitation at FAO, Dominique Burgeon, said during a high-level donor visit to a FAO project site Fariya recently.

The delegates were visiting Borno State to see the impact of conflict and violence on civilian populations and the response by national and local authorities and international organizations.

FAO is supporting 2,000 farmers in Fariya, a village in Jere Local government, just a few kilometres outside of Maiduguri town. With funding from the Governments of Belgium, Ireland and Japan, the intervention aims to enhance the self-sufficiency of returnees and vulnerable host families, women and youths through training and critical inputs including seedlings, water pumps and fertiliser for vegetable production.

Minister Counsellor/Head of Politics, Information and Communication Section at the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Pauline Torehall, stated: “I think that this [agricultural intervention] is exactly what is needed in this part of Nigeria where so many people have lost their sources of livelihood because of the crisis. Women and youths are very vulnerable here and they absolutely need a new livelihood.”
Torehall observed that the IDPs in Fariya were warmly welcomed into the community, highlighting how that gave them a chance to restart their lives again.

“I think it looks like a very good programme and a good alternative. It is not complicated to do. There are lots of lands here and there is water. With seeds and tools, it is possible to again start livelihood,” she said.
First Secretary (Economic/ Development Cooperation), Embassy of Japan in Nigeria, Gaku Sato, said: “I feel very honoured to be here because this project is partly funded by the Japanese government. The Japanese people will be very happy to see how their intervention has made a difference for local people and local community and also IDPs people.”

“Our biggest challenge is funding. We know we can do more but we don’t have the resources to do it. Failure to intervene now with agricultural livelihoods support will have a broad negative impact – lack of economic and employment opportunities, and possible harmful consequences including increased rural to urban migration and youth radicalisation and enrolment in armed groups, resulting in continued civil unrest”, said Burgeon.

“This is my second visit in just a couple of months and I can see not just the tremendous potential for agricultural production in this areas, but also the resilience and strength of local populations who are determined to take this opportunity to build more prosperous, food secure futures,” he added.
In 2017, FAO is asking for a total of $62 million under the Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria. Of this, $20 million is urgently required to reach 1.9 million people during the upcoming main planting season starting in June 2017. Missing planting opportunities during the next agricultural season will result in a degradation of food insecurity and, therefore, humanitarian costs will continue rising into 2018.