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FAO’s dry season programme is building household resilience in northeastern Nigeria

FAO’s dry season programme is building household resilience in northeastern Nigeria

06/06/2019

FAO’s 2018/19 dry season programme aims to boost income generation, and enhance food security and nutrition among crisis-affected households across northeastern Nigeria. The Organization has distributed a total of 247 tonnes of crop seeds (maize and rice) and 429 tonnes of nutritious vegetable seeds (amaranth, cabbage, carrot, okra, onion and tomato) to 78 000 households. For households that were capable of producing maize and rice with irrigated farming, FAO also distributed high yielding and locally adapted seed for those crops. In addition, a 25-kg bag of fertilizer was distributed to each household to boost yields for a total of 1 966 tonnes.

Distributions took place between November and December 2018, and farmers were able to harvest some of the crops as early as February 2019. Northeastern Nigeria has two main seasons, the rainy (June–August) and the dry (October–April). Most small-scale farmers in the region rely on rainfed cultivation and do not have access to adequate water sources to engage in large-scale dry season production, leading to local shortages of important crops and high market prices in the dry season. FAO selected areas with adequate water supply for its dry season intervention and farmers and their households are expected to benefit from favourable market prices in 2019.

Thanks to the inputs distributed, beneficiaries were able to produce an estimated 198 099 tonnes of vegetables, 825 tonnes of maize and 9 402 tonnes of rice. The European Union and the Governments of France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America supported FAO’s 2018/19 dry season activities.

Amina LawanAs women return, they rebuild

In rural areas of northeastern Nigeria, women play a critical role in agro-economic activities and are central to areas such as food processing. Already facing significant gender biases, which undermine their access to productive resources (land, seeds and water), the decade-long crisis has reinforced limitations on women’s productivity. The region’s main vegetable farmers and keepers of small ruminants, women have had their livelihoods shattered, in turn worsening their food security and nutrition conditions.

When the northeastern conflict arrived on her doorstep, Amina Lawan, 50, and the vast majority of women in Dusman community in Jere local government area (LGA) of Borno, abandoned their village and farms to seek refuge. In the melee, her husband was killed by insurgents on his way from the family’s farm. “Even though my husband is dead, I have to make sure my children go to school,” declared the mother of 12. A small statured and self-described ‘strong-willed’ woman, Amina believes the only way she can finance the dream of educating her children is through her only skill, farming. After a few years in makeshift camps in and around Maiduguri, she returned home to Dusman in 2018.

“When our village became peaceful, many of us decided to go back. But some women are now widows and have to cater for our households,” she asserted. Amina further shared that in their new roles as head of households, the responsibilities were overwhelming and the conditions horrific. To survive, Amina said she sourced and planted local varieties of vegetable crops such as okra. “I planted the okra seed we had in our market but the yield was poor. I lost a lot of my time and money, the profit was very low”.

In 2018, FAO provided Amina with improved seeds and fertilizer for dry season planting. She planted okra and amaranth. Amaranth was used for her home cooked meals, while Amina marketed the okra for cash. “I harvested over three times more than when I used the local variety,” she shared. In two months, Amina earned about NGN 20 000 (USD 53) with which she hopes to start a small business making local cakes to pay for at least two of her children’s schooling.

Kachalla IbrahimKachalla’s bumper harvest

If Kachalla Ibrahim, from Dala Kafanti, a village a few kilometers outside of Maiduguri, was lucky he would pick up casual labour jobs once or twice a week. “The work didn’t come too often; sometimes I would go weeks without being called for a single job”. Kachalla and thousands of other young men are paid a mere NGN 500–1 000 (USD 1.50–3) per day, while they risk their lives on dangerous work sites without insurance or other safety nets. However, in recent months, Kachalla, 35, was able to resume food production thanks to crop seeds and fertilizer he received under FAO’s dry season programme targeting internally displaced people like him, returnees and the communities that host them.

“Before the crisis, I had a very profitable business farming onions and could make millions each season. Production went down to zero when the Boko Haram attacks escalated. FAO’s seed distribution has helped me to resume my production, feed my family for at least four months and buy more fertilizer and seeds for the next farming season,” Kachalla said.

The young farmer expects to reap about a tonne of onion (ten bags) for the local markets, earning him about NGN 40 000 (USD 110). Prior to the conflict, Kachalla would harvest more than 1 000 bags of onion, each weighing 100 kg and fetching upwards of NGN 4 million at farm gate. “This is small compared to what I used to produce before but it is a good start. The profits will help me to feed my family for at least four months,” he shared.

Ibrahima BulamaA turn of fate and a new future

“I was on my way to the farm and then they appeared out of nowhere. One of them headed my way and shouted at me to lay down,” began Ibrahim Bulama, a 60-year-old FAO beneficiary farmer who ran from Shwaram in Mafa LGA to Dala Lawanti in Jere LGA after a close brush with death in 2015.

“He made it clear he was going to behead me. I refused to get on the ground, I thought, they were going to kill me anyway, why should I submit? I stood up and looked him straight in the eyes. My defiance must have affected him, made him lose his nerve, so he walked off without saying a word to me.” Bulama rushed back home, gathered his family and they left Shwaram, abandoning all they had.

They journeyed for a week before eventually settling in Dala Lawanti. Four of his children didn’t make it, succumbing to exhaustion and hunger. “My family spent three years surviving only on food aid.” Bulama shared that the period was difficult and he yearned to resume farming, earn an income and stand on his own feet. In 2018, he received a mix of vegetable seeds and fertilizer from FAO under its dry season programme and began farming for the local market, after three years of unemployment.

“The seed was another chance for me and my family to start over, my most important goal is to successfully send the younger ones to school”. From his dry season harvest and income as a petty trader, Bulama also plans to buy food for his family and re-invest a portion of the income to expand his farm.

Alklali TelaA new home for Tela

Monguno, one of the largest towns in conflict-ridden Borno, is bordered by the Lake Chad to the north and stretches to Marte at its southernmost tip. With a central market bubbling with a wide variety of fresh crops, fish, fish products and animals for sale, it is the most diverse and economically strategic town in northern Borno. In 2014, Monguno was overrun by insurgents, forcing villagers to flee for their lives. Houses, livestock and farms were ravaged and like many in his town, Alkali Tela lost his livelihood as a farmer and tailor. Tela and his 16-member family sought refuge in his brother’s house in Maiduguri, the state capital, about 137 km from Monguno.

“My family was not happy in Maiduguri, we didn’t get much assistance. We were there for a year and it was hard to find food, the children were out of school,” Tela shared.

With the return of relative calm in 2015, residents began trickling back to Monguno. Tela was among the first returnees. “We just wanted to get back home quickly,” he said. When they returned, the house he had built was burnt to the ground. They had few resources, very little money for seed or fertilizer and faced significant restrictions on farming. “We received food when we returned to the village but it was never enough. To sustain my family, I would plant a few vegetables around our tents but the harvest was poor as I did not have enough seeds,” said Tela.

In 2018, Tela was among the beneficiaries of FAO’s agricultural support programme in Borno, specifically funded by the European Union Trust Fund, through which 10 000 vulnerable households were provided with high yielding, drought-resistant seeds to plant for the dry season, spanning from October to April 2019.

“Even in times of peace, the dry season was usually a difficult farming period; our farms often failed due to drought. But the seeds we were given did well and yielded well beyond our expectations,” Tela said, with eyes affixed to his last heap of onions pulled from the earth. Tela harvested 30 bags of onions (50 kg each), allowing him to generate a total of NGN 120 000 (USD 500).

“After I sold the first part of the harvest, the first thing that came to my mind was shelter for my family”. Tela built a new two-room house from the sales of his 2019 onion crop; with the rest, he plans to buy seeds for the coming rainy season. “Though it is still a long way to go, I hope we continue to enjoy peace and then I can grow my farm.”

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