By Jimoh Babatunde
For the first time since the onset of the Boko Haram crisis, hunger has considerably declined in northeastern Nigeria. In the three states ravaged by the violence, the number of people facing acute hunger has halved since June-August – from 5.2 million to 2.6 million people – according to the latest Cadre Harmonisé food security analysis.
This is a major step forward thanks to an overall improved security situation, and the scaling-up of humanitarian and longer-term livelihoods assistance by the government and its partners.
The report warns, however, that without sustained and timely assistance, all good work could quickly be undone; more than 3.5 million people could battle again with acute hunger, including a risk of famine, by next August.
FAO provided cowpea, maize, millet, sorghum, vegetable seeds and fertilisers to 1 million people – internally displaced peoples (IDPs), returned refugees and host communities – to help them get through the last rainy season (June-September) when food stocks are low.
Now, as the harvest season is winding down and communities transition into the dry season and a new planting phase, FAO is aiming to further boost local production through distributions of vegetable seeds, farming kits, fertilisers and irrigation equipment to some 780,000 people across the three states.
In Yobe, one of the three states affected by violence, the villages are still a bustling field of yellow as farmers cut the last millet and sorghum and pile them in neat bundles. The smell of freshly cut crops lingers in the air.
Everyone takes part in the harvest – the children cut the head of the millet, the women thresh it, the men bundled it and carry it home. For many, this is the first time they have enough food to eat.
“This will bring enough food for the family, and with the money from my knitting business, I will plan for my children’s education,” said 37-year-old Aisha Ibrahim who was forced to flee her village three years ago and has been displaced ever since.
“Families in my village help about five to six displaced people each. They depend on our assistance. Good harvest brings joy to all of us. It reduces the pressure and makes us stronger,” said Malam Mohammed, a local farmer from Ngalda village who supports IDPs.
By supporting host communities to plant during the rainy season, FAO has also brought relief to displaced, landless populations who could work in the fields and earn an income.
“The local communities have helped me; I could work on their farms and got paid,” said 40-year-old Hajanuwe Sulieman, a widowed mother of eight children who has been displaced by violence three years ago and is now taking refuge in an informal settlement of Mainok. This is a considerable support for Hajanuwe who, at times, has had to resort to begging to make ends meet.
Across northeastern Nigeria, violence aside, farmers have been through a lot these past few months; some have had to deal with a dry spell, others with flooding. Others still with pest infections that ate their crops.
But now the fields are dry and farmers like Malam and Hajanuwe are getting ready to plant again.
Sustained support – from rainy to dry season – builds vulnerable communities’ resilience, strengthens their capacity to grow both staple and cash crops, and reduces the need for food assistance.