FAO planting seeds of hope to avert famine in Northeastern Nigeria

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LAst week, Director of the Food & Agricultural Organisation, FAO, Emergency and Rehabilitation Division (based in Rome), Mr. Dominique Burgeon, visited Northeastern Nigeria to assess the state of agricultural needs of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, returnees and host communities. In this chat with Sola Ogundipe, he  warns about the threat of famine while highlighting FAO’s assistance thus far. Excerpts:

Famine in N/Eastern Nigeria

At the end of last year, the Integrated FoodSecurity Phase Classification (IPC) issued a special alert on the situation in Borno State that confirmed the FEWS NET finding that a famine had likely occurred between April and August in some IDP areas and in nearby inaccessible areas of Borno States.

Elevated likelihood of famine: It also concurred that there is an elevated likelihood that famine is ongoing and will persist in inaccessible areas assuming conditions remain the same. Finally, it concluded that humanitarian assistance has improved food security and may be preventing Famine in various IDPs concentrations but sustained humanitarian access is critical in many areas.

Occurrence of a famine

The most affected populations are those without humanitarian assistance in inaccessible areas and IDPs. However, the lack of information in some areas means that we cannot absolutely confirm the occurrence of a famine according to IPC guidelines. Some 5.1 million people are facing IPC Phases 3-5 levels of food insecurity in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe during the 2017 lean season.

Dominique Burgeon

Borno alone, the population in Phases 3 to 5 increased from 2 million in August 2016 to 3.3 million in October-December 2016 and are expected to reach 3.6 million in August 2017, representing nearly Borno State is projected to be home to 96 per cent of the population (115,700 people) expected to face famine conditions (IPC Catastrophe), during the next lean season – with the remaining located in Yobe (5,600 people).

Food insecurity: The main factor contributing to the widespread food insecurity is the persistence of conflict, which has resulted in mass displacements. Severe food insecurity has also been driven by below-average crop production, disrupted livelihoods, and the financial crisis linked to the local currency depreciation. In 65 percent of the state’s population.

Stopping the situation getting worse: With more than 80 per cent of northeastern Nigeria’s rural population depending on crop or livestock farming, investing in agriculture now is critical to tackle the deeply concerning food insecurity. 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. Rainy season begins in May-June. Farmers need to have seeds, fertilizers 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.

Pastoralists have almost been forgotten in the response to the crisis and urgently require support to protect and rebuild their herds. They need support to protect and rebuild their herds. Fisheries and vegetable production will be critical to enable displaced and returning populations to increase their food consumption and improve their nutrition.

What  FAO is doing: In 2017, FAO is asking for $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 May 2017.

Funds must be received by mid-March to enable FAO to get inputs to farmers in time for the season. Missing this season will mean increased food insecurity and, therefore, humanitarian costs will continue rising into 2018.

With the funding received in 2016, FAO enabled 146,000 people to produce their own cereals, vegetable and pulses during the rainy season. A further 174,400 people are currently being reached for the dry season with vegetable seed and, irrigation support.

Challenges: Our biggest challenge is funding. We know we can do more but we don’t have the resources to do it. The agriculture sector has been often overlooked during the Nigeria crisis – For example, this year we have identified 238,000 households to be provided with assistance during the rainy season. So far, FAO we have just enough funding to reach about 47,000 households; less than one-fifth of those targeted. Insufficient support during 2017 would likely mean rising hunger and greater dependence on expensive and logistically complex food assistance well into 2018.

Access of IDPs to land to farm: Given that most of the IDPs were practising agriculture as their major source of livelihood prior to displacement, the issue of access to land is pre-eminent in this context. An assessment carried out by FAO in November 2016 indicates that – through agreements facilitated by traditional authorities – IDPs communities are welcomed by host communities and are often given an area and a plot of land to cultivate.

Self-consumption and markets

A lease may or may not be paid (in money or in kind). Hence, most IDPs in host communities have access to land and return to farming becomes top priority.

Safety: As some areas previously held by Boko Haram become more accessible, hundreds of thousands of people previously inaccessible are now within reach of the Government and humanitarian partners. Furthermore, IDPs are increasingly returning to their place of usual residence, before the insurgency began.

It will be the first real opportunity in years for farmers in the three states to be able to plant during the next rainy season and restart agricultural production for self-consumption and markets.

Working with government and local people: Strong links are already established with National State partners i.e. Borno State Agriculture Development Programme, Special Programme on Food Security (SPFS), FADAMA project (World Bank) and CBARDP (IFAD) and faith based organizations.

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