FAO in emergencies app

Download now!

Connect with us

World Humanitarian Day 2016: Staff profiles

Staff profiles: Mohamed - Nigeria

This year, significant territory previously controlled by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria has been rendered accessible to humanitarian assistance. People in these areas face alarming levels of food insecurity. After three consecutive lost seasons, resuming agricultural livelihoods is a priority.

Mohamed SYLLA is Guinean and has been working for FAO since March 2015 as a Food Security Expert seconded by NRC/NORCAP within the FAO Subregional Resilience Team for West Africa/Sahel based in Dakar, Senegal. Here, he talks to us about his work in northeast Nigeria.

What motivated you to work in the humanitarian field?
My motivation started very early, and I engaged when in secondary school in many activities, including in voluntary activities with the Red Cross and the Scouting movement. Then in 1998, and as fighting and violence reached extreme levels in Sierra Leone during the civil war, I read in the newspapers that the first group of refugees had arrived in Conakry. I was very shocked and decided to go to the Sierra Leone Embassy to see how I could assist. The situation of these refugees was worse than I thought, and I decided to take at least three unaccompanied children to my home. I shared this thought with my brother who was our head of family and who agreed, but realized that we couldn’t accommodate three people in our house. He said “but if you want to share your room with one person, it is ok”. And I did! The boy stayed five years with us until he finished high school and was resettled by UNHCR in Norway. He is now a nurse in Oslo and studied medicine at the university to become a Doctor! We are now family.

In 1999, while I was finishing my masters degree, I went to Gueckedou, a Guinean border town with Liberia and Sierra Leone, where refugees camps were established. I saw a job ad of Care International to work in refugee camps, and found that it matched my ideals and was a very good first job opportunity. I applied and succeeded in all tests and interviews. I then became ‘officially’ a humanitarian worker, as Food Distributor from January to December 2000. Since then, I’ve always worked in the humanitarian field, and after 16 years, I am still in!

Can you give an overview of the scope of the current emergency in northeast Nigeria and what you’ve seen on your recent field mission?
Insecurity and deadly attacks have led more than 2 million people to flee their homes in northeast Nigeria. Most have been displaced several times and have been relying on the scarce resources of host communities for two to three years. They say that they are in desperate need of assistance, and indeed when you go there, you can see they really don’t have much to cope with. They try to earn some money by selling wood, or by begging along main roads. Young people have nothing to do. In Borno and Yobe States, you can see several abandoned villages with destroyed houses, some of them have been burnt. At the same time in the most secured areas, some places are being rebuilt. Communities that remain in conflict-affected areas face huge difficulties to meet their needs, including for food. Areas where insecurity still prevents us to go are of major concern.

And what does that mean for the livelihoods of those that depend on agriculture?
Lootings and fear of attacks in crisis-hit areas have prevented many farmers from working in their fields in the past years. Those living in areas where security has improved are now left with no resources to re-engage in farming activities. Their purchasing power is extremely reduced. For displaced people as I said, most have left behind all their belongings and start from zero. A positive point is that hosting communities give them access to farmland where security allows. But most of them lack seeds. Livestock losses have left herders helpless.

How is FAO responding to the emergency?
FAO is supporting both displaced people and host communities by providing them much needed agricultural inputs. The objective is to rapidly restore food production and to improve food security. Beyond immediate interventions, FAO is also preparing a resilience programme that aims to strengthen the resilience of the population in northeast Nigeria.

FAO is focusing on mitigating the impact of the conflict on livelihoods. In recent weeks, FAO distributed cereal and pulse seeds to enable displaced farmers and host communities, to plant during the current rainy season.

FAO also actively takes part in assessing the needs of the affected populations. A joint rapid assessment in the Adamawa, Borno and Yobe northeastern states has just been conducted together with the Government and other partners. The ‘regular’ Cadre Harmonisé analysis is also ongoing. Coordination with authorities and partners from the food security sector is also at the heart of FAO’s response.

Crisis-hit farmers are in dire need of food crop seeds. For those who couldn’t plant in the course of the current rainy season, the priority is to farm during the upcoming irrigated dry season. Herders need support and veterinary interventions are required for cattle and small ruminants.

What is your current role with FAO and what does it involve?
I work within FAO’s Subregional Resilience Team for West Africa/Sahel (REOWA) based in Dakar, Senegal with regular support missions across countries in the regionMy role is to support affected countries of the West Africa and Sahel region in analysing the food and nutrition situation. I regularly take part in joint missions on the ground organized together with other partners to assess the agricultural campaign, the food security situation, and food prices in markets. I have already been on mission 15 times since I started work here, including to Mauritania, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, Niger, Cameroon and Benin.

In the framework of the northeast Nigeria crisis, I supported the introduction in 2015 of the ‘Cadre Harmonisé’, the analysis tool used in the subregion to identifying risk areas and populations vulnerable to food insecurity. In July 2015, I was a coach for the trainings on the CH analysis tools and how to carry out CH analyses. More than 90 participants of the 8 northern States – including Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, as well as Federal stakeholders participated in October 2015. Analyses on the ground were conducted in October 2015 and I also went in the field on this occasion.

Since then I have participated in CH analyses implemented in northwest and northeast Nigeria. I am just back from Nigeria where I participated as one of the coaches in the training workshop held in Kaduna from 8 to 12 August for the 16 northern states. I also participated as one of coaches in the special workshop for review of CH analysis of the 3 States held in Abuja prior to the rapid assessment in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa that took place in the past days.

These decentralized analyses are used to determine the scope of the impact of the crisis on food security, and to share recommendations to decision makers.

What motivates you to work in the agriculture and food security sector?
Before joining FAO, I had more than 14 years of humanitarian experience in Guinea, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Indonesia, Niger, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Chad, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Mali and Mauritania. These previous experiences were related to food security in emergency settings with a focus on immediate response and rapid recovery strategies.

My motivation to work with FAO is linked to the Organization’s in-depth and integrated approach to food security, covering all aspects pertaining to food security, from early warning to resilience. I really think that FAO has a sustainable approach, also through its strong commitment to support capacity building of countries’ stakeholders.

Can you share your most inspiring moment in humanitarian work?
Given the scale of the crisis and the remaining needs of the affected populations, I am super proud to work as a Coach for the Cadre Harmonisé implementation in North Nigeria.

What is it like working in an emergency environment?
Stressful! Security is a challenge. You need to be cautious at all times and adapt to all kind of situations. You really need to be flexible, including in the way you work, as it’s an evolving environment where things rapidly change. But it’s also rewarding as you witness how humanitarian interventions can make a change in people’s life.

What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you cope?
I regularly undertake support mission and travel a lot, so the biggest challenge is to see my children more often!

What are the biggest challenges facing FAO in northeast Nigeria?
Access to insecure areas is the biggest challenge for FAO and its partners in the Sahel, and especially in northeast Nigeria. Heavy rains, especially at this time of the year, can also damage roads and limit access to communities in need.