Nicholas Long/IRIN

CAR farmers struggle to recover from devastation

13/03/2014

With the year’s main planting season just weeks away, many in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been left desperately ill-equipped by months of conflict. In the charred village of Bessan, to the west of the country, the concerns are typical: a dire lack of seeds, tools and manpower.

Photogallery

Here many houses are roofless with fire-blackened walls; even intact homes lack furniture, food or tools. “The Seleka stole our machetes, hoes, rakes and watering cans and even our beds and other belongings,” one of the villagers, Veronique Nabata, told IRIN, referring to the alliance of mainly Muslim rebel groups that swept to power in a coup in March 2013 and for the next few months committed atrocities in many parts of the country.

“They also took our stocks of groundnuts, maize, beans and pistachio, and the Peuls [a semi-nomadic people] grazed their herds on our fields of manioc.” Males aged 15-45 are scarce in the village; there were hardly any among the 20 or so people who listened as Nabata and other community leaders explained the difficulties they are facing.

A village elder, Isidore Ngaldi, said the young men were needed to help prepare the fields, but added that they had all fled to the bush. The last two seasons in Bessan and in many other CAR villages were severely disrupted by marauding Seleka gangs and their local allies. A third unsuccessful season will result in “a full scale food and nutrition crisis”, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned, “requiring a long and costly food assistance operation”.

Threatened on all sides

Until recently, villagers said, they had all been living in the bush. A villager offered to show one of the places where they had been sheltering. This was a clearing, about 5km from the village, where a few women and children and one man were sitting outside half a dozen circular mud brick huts.    

The huts were close to several families’ fields and were built to provide shelter during busy periods of the farming year. The man, Eric Zouta, said 12 people were living there, including his wife and children, and the other villagers had similar huts scattered around the village. “The moment the Seleka came they started killing people,” he said. “I brought my children to sleep here. There are no beds or mosquito nets, but it’s for their protection.”

“I don’t sleep here myself,” he added. “I go further into the bush and sleep on some straw.” He said if he had slept with his children they would likely have been in greater danger. “They don’t show any mercy,” he said, “and I know they want to kill me.”