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Farming becomes the new front line in Boko Haram war (IRIN)

Mallam Modusugu arrived two years ago at Bakasi Camp, a refuge for 21,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria. He had fled the small town of Bama after his home was destroyed and his neighbours killed by Boko Haram.

When Mr. Modusugu heard that the government had set aside a small plot of land next to the camp where IDPs could farm, he and a few friends worked odd jobs around town until they had saved enough to buy a few seeds, starting with tomatoes, onions, and okra.

After surviving Boko Haram, Mr. Modusugu’s new fear is fruit thieves who he worries will take away his newfound livelihood. He says, “At night, we have to wait with the watermelons or people will come and steal.”

Bakasi Camp’s backyard farm has proven successful. Both locals and IDPs buy the produce. Mr. Modusugu says he has earned enough money to invest in a diesel-powered irrigation pump. Other IDPs have followed suit, planting maize, cassava, and groundnuts.

Mr. Modusugu says, “When we came here, we were empty-handed. With these crops, we are able to sustain our lives.”

In May, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo donated 36 metric tonnes of maize, cowpea, and rice seeds bred specially for the region’s arid climate to help those affected by the war against Boko Haram.

But not all farmers are ready to sow those seeds. Outside of the IDP camps, farmers still face significant security risks, even close to Maiduguri. In May, Boko Haram militants on motorcycles attacked and killed six farmers working in a field near town. In remote regions, the situation can be even more volatile.

The military controls only a scattering of major towns, each of which is ringed by a perimeter of semi-secure potential farmland, ranging from one to 30 kilometres from town.
Mandisa Mashologu is the deputy country director for the United Nations Development Program in Uganda. He says, “We have to expand the security perimeter little by little. If people return and there are no services, it’s not going to help. It’s not just about, ‘Give out the seeds and everything will be ok’.”

Mr. Mashologu adds that farmers need better security, as well as access to food and water, housing, and other necessities before farms can operate safely and productively.

As long as Boko Haram remains a threat, displaced people have little hope of rebuilding outside the camps. At an IDP camp in Jakana, an hour’s drive from Maiduguri, several farmers who had recently fled their homes say they cannot imagine returning.

Bulama Alajiri is a farmer who arrived at the camp this spring from a village near the town of Konduga, 40 kilometres southeast of Maiduguri. He says a small group of Boko Haram militants first reached his village three years ago and robbed the villagers of food, money, and anything else they could find. At first, they allowed some villagers to carry on tending to their fields of maize and beans. But then, says Mr. Alajiri, the militants effectively put the villagers under house arrest. They shot anyone who went to the fields, including Mr. Alajiri’s brother. It didn’t take long for the village to run out of food.

Mr. Alajiri says, “We have no plans to return [home], because up to now Boko Haram is still there. If the terrorists leave, we can return. If not, we can’t.”

This story is adapted from an article originally published in IRIN, titled “Farming becomes the new front line in Boko Haram war.” To read the full story, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2017/06/26/farming-becomes-new-frontline-boko-haram-war [1]

PhotO: A farmer at Bakasi IDP camp. Credit: Tim McDonell/IRIN