FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva visits a farm centre in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria.

7 April 2017, Maiduguri/Rome – It is imperative to immediately ramp up humanitarian assistance to hunger-threatened rural communities in the strife-torn Lake Chad Basin region, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today during a visit to some of the affected areas in northeastern Nigeria.

“If we miss the coming planting season, there will be no substantial harvests until 2018. Failure to restore food production now will lead to the worsening of widespread and severe hunger and prolonged dependency on external assistance further into the future,” Graziano da Silva said.  The time for all of us to act is now.” 

Insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin – which incorporates parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and northeastern Nigeria – has resulted in the largest humanitarian crisis in Africa. The conflict has forced an estimated 1.9 million people to abandon their homes and their predominantly agricultural livelihoods, in northeastern Nigeria alone.

Across the Lake Chad Basin region, some 7 million people risk suffering from severe hunger during the lean season and require immediate food and livelihood assistance.

“The situation we have now is largely due to the conflicts and armed groups that have devastated the lives and livelihoods across the whole of Lake Chad region. It is like an opportunistic infection, which is largely taking advantage of an already weak body from underlying problems of environmental degradation, related droughts, low investment in rural development and limited employment and livelihood opportunities for young men and women. We need to work on the symptoms by restoring peace and treat the disease by making the body stronger. This is all about resilience,” Graziano da Silva stressed.

More than 1 million returnees and the majority of internally displaced people in areas which have recently become relatively strife-free, have access to land and may benefit from the forthcoming rainy season starting in May 2017 should sufficient agriculture support be provided.

 “Protracted conflict has eroded coping capacities, exhausted livelihoods and left people with no way to feed themselves and their families.  Agriculture cannot be an afterthought. More than 80 percent of people rely on farming, fishing and herding for their livelihoods,” the FAO Director-General said.

Graziano da Silva met local farmers on several FAO supported farms in Gongolong and Old Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State. He was accompanied by the Federal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, T.H Audu Ogbeh.

FAO’s work

More than 1.16 million people will receive assistance from FAO in the coming months across the most affected areas of the Lake Chad Basin region as the UN agency and partners move to scale up their work.

Key activities include the distribution of cereal seeds, animal feed and the provision of cash transfers and veterinary care. This will enable displaced farmers and voluntary returnees to get a substantial harvest and replenish their food stocks, and to prevent animal losses among vulnerable herders.

Graziano da Silva noted how many people have lost their harvests and productive assets for up to three consecutive seasons. This has left them extremely food insecure and with a drastically reduced purchasing power. Livestock has been looted or abandoned, irrigation infrastructure destroyed, and extension services and markets have collapsed in many areas.

One of the farmers, Alhaji Mustapha Ali Gaji from Fariya, a village in the Jere Local Government area of Borno State, recounted how he fled when Fariya was attacked and occupied by the insurgents two years ago.

“I was caught and was to be killed but managed to escape. With FAO assistance, I am back to farming. My tomatoes, amaranth and sorrel are doing well.”

More support needed from the international community

While the support provided by FAO and other partners will be key to mitigating the impact of the crisis, limited funding for emergency agricultural assistance is jeopardizing the ability to reach out to the majority of those in need.

To date only $12.5 million or one fifth of the requested funding needed to support food production this year in northeast Nigeria have been secured. More than  1.1 million people will receive agricultural inputs during the next planting season, but this represents a little under half of the targeted population.

“Some 4.7 million people are currently severely food insecure in the three northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. In particular, the next main planting season starting in May is a unique opportunity to tackle alarming levels of food insecurity by helping crisis-hit families to produce their own food,” says Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa. 

FAO has developed a three-year strategy for the Lake Chad Basin crisis to improve food security and nutrition and strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities in the affected areas. With a budget of USD 232 million – USD 191 million for northeastern Nigeria alone – required over the next three years, the Strategy targets 3 million people in the region, focusing on women and youth.

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