The ongoing Boko Haram crisis in the North-east has hampered livelihoods and is significantly affecting the availability and access to food, However, Oxfam and the European Union have embarked on building resilience of vulnerable households through PRO-ACT programme, Adedayo Akinwale writes
It is not uncommon for Nigeria to be a signatory to international conventions, treaties and declarations. Ironically, it is also not uncommon for the federal government not to implement those conventions and declarations.
This act has become a recurring decimal and makes one question the rationale behind Nigeria being a signatory to several international conventions and ratifications, if the political will to implement them is lacking.
Among several of these conventions is the Maputo Declaration on agriculture and food security, which was endorsed in July 2003 by African Heads of State and Government. The Declaration contained several important decisions regarding agriculture, but prominent among them was the commitment to the allocation of at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years.
Sadly, since this declaration, Nigeria has not been able to meet up with its demand. In fact, the annual budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector has continued to dwindle ever since.
However, recent research conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on food and nutrition insecurity in Nigeria has revealed that Boko Haram insurgency continues to drive massive displacement in North-east and in the Lake Chad Basin region, leading to a dire humanitarian situation, and a risk of famine in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
The report said despite humanitarian assistance in the three Northern states, the food security situation remains bleak, with about 4.7 million people food insecure, of which 3.2 million people are in crisis, 1.4 million people in emergency, and 44,000 people in famine. In addition, 450,000 children are at risk of Severe Acute Malnutrition, of which over 314,500 will receive treatment in 2017.
Nevertheless, the number of people facing crisis, emergency and famine conditions in North-east is expected to reach 5.2 million, including more than 50,000 people in famine.
To salvage the situation therefore, Oxfam Nigeria and the European Union have embarked on Pro Resilience Action (PROACT) to support food security and resilience of most vulnerable people in Kebbi and Adamawa States for the next four years.
The project is being implemented by Development Exchange Centre (DEC) in Kebbi State, while the Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN) is the implementing partner in Adamawa.
The project, which started in 2016 is presently being implemented in three local governments of Kebbi State which include Birnin Kebbi, Jega and Danko/Wasagu; while the same programme is also being implemented in four local governments of Adamawa state namely Mubi south, Fufore, Song, and Guyuk.
It is estimated that at the end of the project, about 35,000 people of which 50 per cent will be women would have benefited through building the capacity of 700 farmer groups.
The project also seeks to establish 70 farm field schools to transfer farming techniques to farmers; plant 500,000 trees to combat desertification and climate change; establish 1,400 village savings and loan groups to facilitate access to flexible financing services, as well as establish 700 cereal banks to promote community-based food reserves.
The Project Manager, Oxfam/EU, Mr. William Mafwalal said the main objective of the project is to ensure that food is available to vulnerable households and to also ensure resilience in the lives of those households.
He noted Oxfam is working with EU to entire that vulnerable households can withstand the shock that comes as a result of natural disaster like flood and also man-made crisis like the Boko Haram crisis.
He explained that the reason for choosing Adamawa and Kebbi States was as a result of the research conducted which revealed that the States were among the poorest, and also because donor organisations funding the project had been doing other programmes in the two States, stressing that the PROACT project was coming to complement the programmes.
Mafwalal added that, “after the four years of the programme, we want to see a farmer that can walk into any organisation that has something to do with him to do business. We want to see a farmer that can address some of his challenges by being able to access inputs wherever they are. We want to see a farmer that will be able to feed his family.”
He noted that the challenge being faced in the implementation of the project is the understanding of the farmers, saying that there was need to bring farmers up to speed about what the programme seeks to achieve.
“Some of them have very limited understanding of what this project wants to provide for them. So, they look at it as a programme which has come to provide them with inputs.
“It is a challenge because it will skew them away from looking at the other aspect of the project that may make much difference than just inputs that they are able to access because from the reports we are getting. Some of them that were not able to access the inputs in the first year were so discouraged and we’re making comments that are not constructive.”
Oxfam State Coordinator in Adamawa State, Mr. Patrick Igbana, said at the initial stage, partnerships were forged with policy makers, local government officials, and the traditional leaders to ensure smooth take-off of the programme.
He said the communities involved in the programme were mobilised through the formation of Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups, adding that the members of the groups are also farmers that Oxfam is working with.
According to him, “the VSLA groups become our platform for intervention in the communities where we are working. We train them on leadership so that we encourage them to develop their leadership skills. We train them also on how to save their resources.
“We make them understand that they have their own resources instead of looking out for resources. Within themselves they can put together their resources and help themselves and that’s what village savings in all about. From there they can borrow to start up small scale businesses.”
Igbana explained that the groups also serve as platform for interventions through which major programme activities are implemented.
He noted, “We use them as a platform to train. The lead farmers, the Chairman and Secretary, all of them altogether form the community farmers field Training school committee and so this where they have been training. The lead farmers also go back to their respective groups to train their members and form their farmers groups at community level.
“When we train them we also support them with inputs like we started with dry season farming by distributing fertilisers. To those who could access the fertiliser cash, we gave them cash, to those that were not able to access complete cash we gave them part credit, while others among them who would need the fertiliser but do not have money, we gave them on total credit and the good thing is that many of them have paid off their credit.
”We are also using the platform as a format for linkages. We are working to link our farmers to organised market where they can sell their inputs. When a farmer’s productivity increases, the next thing is where does he sell, the middlemen are there ready to hijack profits of the farmers. We are working with Guinness, we are working with Afex. By next year we should formalise that relationship, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to off-take rice.”
Beyond this, he said Oxfam is also intervening in communities where poverty is said to be very high. “For example we have done what we call Households Economic Analysis (HEA) where we identified vulnerability groups. We classified our households into poor, very poor and well-to-do.
“The intention is that the very poor we have a different intervention for them like unconditional cash transfer. We have pasted the list; the communities have approved the lists. So some people in the community who are very vulnerable will be supported with cash, some will be supported with food transfer. “
He however commended the State government through its agency Adamawa Agricultural Development Programme (AADP) which provided extension workers who are training and are supporting the farmers’ field training school, stressing that it would have been difficult to employ extension officers in all the forty training schools in forty communities.
Corroborating the story of the Oxfam officials, the Village Head of Banjiram, Amna Dungo, who is also a farmer, said for the first time his community has come in contact with the EU and the PRO-ACT. He stated that first thing the village benefited from the programme was during dry season farming last year when fertilisers were given to assist farmers in their rice production.
“I remember I was given four bags of NPK and six bags of Urea. This is one aspect that the farmers want and like. Timely delivery is as good as you are getting almost 100 per cent of your harvest. This intervention was to us a very wonderful thing. I think with this kind of timely intervention has given us very big hope and I’m sure this raining season crop harvest by the grace of God will be fantastic. Their intervention has actually moved us from the minimum to maximum.”
He said the major crops being cultivated by farmers in his village include; Guinea corn, rice, Maize, Beniseed, Soyabeans, Cotton and Beans, adding that Oxfam intervention has created a platform for bringing women to equal status with men.
”We are saying thank you for what has been happening till date. I have a list of about 90 people to be assisted and then another list of about 104 whom would be encouraged to ‘work for pay’. Ever since this village came up to be we have never had anything like that, so it’s giving us good feeling that progress is coming on,” the village head said.
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of Farmers Training Field School and the leader, Frama VSLA group in Banjiram village, Ms. Abisha Thomas said the programme has changed their lives and their capacity to produce more food have been increased because of their ability to access timely agricultural inputs through the VSLA.
“The group is made up of 25 members initially but one person left. One of the guidelines that allow us to form the group is orderliness. We sit down quietly and amicably and proceed with the meeting. When you come late to the meeting you pay a certain amount agreed to by all the members.
“Before Oxfam came in, we cannot farm to a large extent, mostly not up to a hectare. But the coming of Oxfam has enabled us to have access to input like fertiliser. So, with that we are able to boost our production and cultivate more land.”
Despite being a woman leading a group that comprises of both men and women, Thomas stressed that, “one thing that is saving me is the constitution. Sometimes when the men try to show some power I refer them back to the constitution. The constitution has helped me to lead the group appropriately.”
Also, a member of the group, Mr. Emmauel Ayuba said he has been able to purchase a water pump for dry season farming and he was also able to access farm inputs like fertiliser.
“I happened to be one of the persons that have been trained as village agent. So, in the process of trying to form some other groups, I found out that many people are willing to join the new groups that are about to be formed just because they saw what is happening in the existing groups,” he noted.
Similarly, the Director, AADP, Mr. Andrew Shallang commended Oxfam for choosing the State for the programme. He said the feedback he has been getting from the Director, Extension services and the field staff are positive.
He noted that AADP was being sponsored by World Bank in those days, but the agency has been dormant for over twenty years after the programme stopped. He said the capacity building of the staff members has not been possible since the programme stooped until the intervention of Oxfam.
According to him, “I have been opportuned to go for workshop for about three times now with some of my staff. Once the capacities of the staff members are improved it would be transferred to the farmers and it will improve food security in this country.”
Baring his mind on the sustainability of the programme after four years, he said, “continuity is our problem in this nation, it is our hope; we will try as much as we can to convince the government so that such will continue to exist. That is why I was even saying that, if possible, let’s extend it to other local governments because the more local government we have that are participating, the more convincing it will become.”