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FAO Provides Critical Assistance in Northeast Nigeria

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By Sonia Nguyen* | IDN-InDepthNews Feature


CHIBOK (IDN) - Repeated attacks on civilians from Boko Haram have led to massive displacements and negatively impacted livelihoods in North Eastern Nigeria. Displaced people rely on the limited resources of their host communities, placing the most vulnerable households under extreme pressure.

In order to prevent further degradation of the food security situation, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and its partners have provided food assistance to settled internally displaced persons (IDPs), host families and home returnees in the three most affected Northeast States (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe) during the 2015 lean season.

The assistance was very critical as many farmers facing critical levels of insecurity, had left their villages just before the 2014 harvest.

Reverend Titus Pona, Head of the Good Way Mission, one of FAO's implementing partners in Borno State, adds on the context of the intervention in Chibok: “People have been suffering a lot here. In April 2014, the insurgents took away our girls and while 57 have managed to escape, we still have  no news from the others. I personally know relatives of these 219 missing girls and it’s very, very difficult.”

Despite this context and reduced access to the  remote area, the Good Way Mission met the challenge of reaching the crisis-hit communities.

Rev. Pona tells the story of one of the aid convoys’ journey from Maiduguri to Chibok: “On the first day, we saw nobody along the road, nothing apart from empty shelves of bullets. The area has been deserted, nobody lives there anymore. The trip was sometimes stressful and we could feel the danger, as the road is very close to the Sambisa forest.”

The convoy, which included three trucks of food under military escort, continued on its way on dirt and sandy road the following day. “The trucks got stuck in the mud several times. In the end we had to leave them and find pick-ups, and it took us three more days and about 200 trips to carry the food from where the trucks had to stop to Chibok with these smaller cars, can you imagine?”

After a five-day trip to achieve a distance of 133 km, much needed food products were finally delivered in Chibok. It was with great relief that women heads of household, lactating women, mothers with young children, disabled and elderly IDPs collected their food baskets, each of them containing bags of rice, maize, oil, sugar, among other items. A total of 1000 households, including the families of the abducted girls, have benefited from this assistance seized to meet their food needs through monthly food basket distributions during the lean season.

The FAO Representative in Nigeria, Ms Louise Setshwaelo said “even with security and logistical challenges we faced, it is heartwarming to know that with this support, we have been able to provide some relief to families facing a very difficult food security situation”.

Reverend Pona also expresses his satisfaction after overcoming such difficulties: “I am really happy that we made it, and it’s moving to see these people getting enough to eat! This assistance directly alleviates the people’s suffering. We need to continue to help communities in remote areas like Chibok as far as access remains possible, because the needs remain huge.”

Indeed even if about 70 percent of IDPs have returned to Chibok, most of them have settled in the city as the fear of repeated attacks and lootings is still preventing them to return to their fields.

A large number of IDPs have found refuge in several towns and villages of the Adamawa State.

In Yola South, one of Adamawa Local Government Area (LGA), Joda Saliou is a resident and a farmer who cultivates a small plot of land to feed her family. She raises her nine children with her husband, a bricklayer that has worked for many years in the area. The family used to make a decent living, until the Boko Haram insurgency suddenly disrupted their life.

By the end of 2014, Joda received a call from her relatives living in Michika and Mubi as they were fleeing their hometown under insurgency. It is with open arms that she welcomed them a few days later: “They had nowhere to go and I was happy to offer the comfort of our home, even if it rapidly seemed too small! I also had to buy much more food on the market to prepare meals for everybody. At least they were safe here with us, hoping for better days to come soon.”

But the following weeks and months have brought their share of bad news. The security situation remained extremely volatile, and following the downturn on local construction, her husband lost his income. The family rapidly ran down its money and savings and could not buy food. At one point, they were forced to borrow money to cover their growing food and medical expenses.

It is in this context that Joda and her family benefited from FAO’s agricultural and food assistance. At the peak of the lean season, from June to September 2015, her relatives received food baskets that enabled them to cover their food needs for three months. Joda recalls: “This food came right in time, as I could only cook once or twice a day back then. Some days we even had to join our neighbour to eat.”

Joda, who was lacking the inputs to cultivate her plot this year, received also cowpeas and maize seeds from FAO, sufficient to cultivate one hectare of land. At the beginning of the growing season, she was concerned as irregular rains threatened her crops. Standing in her field, she expressed much satisfaction at the time of harvest: “Look at this corn! I am so happy. I can now pick it and use it to feed the whole family for the next two to three months.”

As she explains that this assistance was a breath of fresh air, her smile soon vanishes. “I am still so worried for my children. I want to give them better options, I don’t want them to live like this, I feel powerless.” She looks the other way and adds, “I have received a letter for the school fees yesterday. I can’t pay them.”

FAO has recently completed food distributions in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States to 6,475 households. FAO also distributed seeds to 7,568 households in Adamawa and Bauchi States to support vulnerable farmers during the 2015 agricultural season.

In parallel to responding to immediate food security needs, restoring productive assets and livelihoods in Northeast Nigeria is crucial to enable crisis-hit communities produce their own food, resume other livelihoods activities and take advantage of local opportunities.

FAO is providing humanitarian assistance in the three most affected States, including food assistance in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States to 6 475 households thanks to the support of the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

FAO’s response also includes provision of agricultural inputs to support production as well as livelihood-based interventions to allow for a transition from emergency support to relief and development. Coordination of the food security sector and food security analysis are also at the core of FAO’s interventions.

FAO has recently completed food distributions in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States to 6 475 households. FAO also distributed seeds to 7 568 households in Adamawa and Bauchi States to support vulnerable farmers during the 2015 agricultural season.

In parallel to responding to immediate food security needs, restoring productive assets and livelihoods in Northeast Nigeria is crucial to enable crisis-hit communities produce their own food, resume other livelihoods activities and take advantage of local opportunities.

*This article combined two news features written by Sonia Nguyen of FAO Senegal, with the support of Regional Office for Africa Resilience team. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 December 2015]

Photo credit: ©FAO/Nigeria. Copyright FAO

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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