Ivory Coast: Rains arrive but farmers afraid to return to their land (IRIN, VOA, FAO)

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The rainy season is just beginning in Ivory Coast. But in many places, the rain will fall on unplanted ground. Although the post-election fighting is mostly over, many farmers, especially in western regions, have not yet returned to their land.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates that one million people have been displaced in and around Abidjan, with at least 200,000 displaced in the west. Few people remain on their farms to cultivate the land.

Doh St. Michel fled his village near Duékoué in western Ivory Coast in November. Gunfire erupted and farmers were killed on the day of the presidential run-off election. He now lives at the Catholic mission along with an estimated 27,000 others. He says, “We live off the land … We just want to get back to work so we can feed our families.” He is not proud of staying at the mission but is afraid to return to his farm.

Land disputes and tensions between different ethnic groups are not new in Ivory Coast. The post-election crisis raised tensions and triggered violence. Mr. St. Michel continues, “The only way we’re able to eat is by our own hands, our own might. It’s not the president who’s going to manufacture food for us; it’s our machetes. We have nothing to do with these politics.”

Patrick Berner is a senior emergency expert with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He is assessing the situation in the western region. He says, “When all these people left their homes, very often they left without anything. And also their food and their stocks of seed have been looted.”

Many people will not be able to return to their land in time to plant. Mr. Berner says, “They will lose this season. So it will have a huge impact on food security, and these people will be in need of food assistance [for] a long period.”

FAO is assisting recent returnees by distributing seeds. So far, they have reached around 10,000 households. Aid agencies still have limited access to western Ivory Coast. Until they can be assured of peace and security, farmers like Mr. St. Michel feel they have little choice but to watch the rain fall on untilled land.