Thanks to support from FAO and ECHO households affected by the farmer-herder conflict harvest life-saving meals in northeastern Nigeria

A village where no one sleeps. Earthen homes mark the landscape of a village empty of the sound of children. A wind, unrestrained blows heavily through fields of grass, the footpath to homesteads overgrown with flora the height of men. In Dawa* village, Lazarus* is building a roof for a home he cannot yet live in. “I will rebuild it as many times as they destroy it and if they come break it again, I will weave another one,” said Lazarus defiantly. In June 2019, attackers razed scores of homes, livestock and property. In the aftermath, 17 people were dead and more than 30 injured. Villagers fled to Numan town nearby, the capital of the local government area of the same name.

Today, all homes are unoccupied, as inhabitants live in fear of a return of the attackers. But they must still feed their families. The men, of families uprooted by the conflict, travel home in the day to till the soil, harvest and – well before the horizon deepens to a burnt orange – hurry back to safer Numan. It is a borrowed home, just a place to sleep Lazarus says; more familiar beds in their homesteads lay vacant. And at dusk, everyone – including the committed roof weaver – must leave.

Across parts of the north and middle belt of Nigeria, a deadly conflict between nomadic herders and farmers over land and water resources has taken hundreds, if not thousands, of lives in attacks and reprisals. More than 300 people were displaced in this village bordering Taraba, a state affected by frequent attacks and reprisals in Nigeria’s middle belt. The conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria and across West Africa spans hundreds of years, with historical records of cattle herders and crop farmers embroiled in clashes from as early as the 12th century. With climate change making grazing and water resources scarcer in the last decade, the conflict has worsened, affecting food production and leading to greater food insecurity and malnutrition. To support farmers and herder communities affected by this crisis as well as the general armed insurgency in the North-East, FAO has reached tens of thousands of homes in the North-East and middle belt with crop seed and fertilizer for rainy season production.

With harvests now complete, about 98 400 households have enough staple foods to last them for up to six months, including the displaced villagers of Dawa and other households affected by the conflict between farming and herding communities. Peter*, 30, harvested about 1 tonne of cowpea on 0.5 ha of land with seed he received from FAO for rainy season planting. Though he farmed for income in previous years, due to limited access to land, all of his harvest will be consumed by his family of five in the upcoming months. With training from FAO on the biological control of pests and diseases, Peter protected much of his harvest from the insects assaulting Nigeria’s smallscale pulse production.

“The most important thing is that my children are able to eat,” he said, while noting that prior to the conflict he planted on a much larger scale. “Things were better financially but now we are depending on relatives.” Peter’s eagerness to go home is matched only by his fear of return. His face is forlorn as he points to his abandoned homestead which has been reduced to a topless shed with few remaining household items strewn about the yard. “We want to go back and farm the right way but need security. My planting area is so small and I even have to share it with others.”

Missing women

Israel*, a 41 year old father of four, once tilled the earth of his family’s small farm with wife Mary*. Now he goes at it all alone, from land preparation to harvesting. “I planted my wife’s farm this rainy season. She was disappointed that she could not do it herself. This is our only option until we know that the village is secure enough for the women and children to return,” he shared. 

“The people decided that it’s best that the women stay away as much as possible. You cannot see children anymore and our women manage the household in Numan,” said village head Moses*.  Moses also appealed for greater inputs for agriculture, food assistance and above all else, security. In our time in Dawa, FAO saw only one woman. She fetched water for Lazarus as he committed himself to weaving his new roof.

FAO Representative ad interim in Nigeria, Alhassan Cissé, appealed for greater support to households affected by the conflict in middle belt and northeastern part of the country. “Agriculture-based households are affected by multiple crises and challenges. In one village there may be families impacted by both the insurgency and the farmer-herder crisis. In reprisals, unrelated herding communities are often attacked, continuing the cycle of violence. To sustainably solve this issue we must address the natural resource gaps contributing to the clashes. Resources for sustainable farming and herding must be available to both groups,” said Cissé.

During the rainy season planting and harvests, Dawa’s villagers produced staple crops with inputs provided by FAO and without any major security incidence. Villagers received NPK fertilizer (15-15-15) and seed for staple crops such as maize, millet and sorghum, pulses like cowpea and vegetables including amaranth and okra. FAO provided extension support to the farms with the assistance of the Adamawa State Agriculture Development Programme, enabling producer households to increase their efficiency under difficult conditions.

The distribution in Numan local government area was funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), one of FAO’s key partners in meeting the livelihood needs of conflict affected households in Nigeria. Partnering since 2015, ECHO has provided close to USD 10 million in funding to FAO’s efforts, including food security analysis and the institutionalization of the Cadre Harmonisé, a food security analysis framework adopted by the Economic Community of West African States.

FAO’ s other rainy season resource partners in 2019 included the European Union Trust Fund, the United States Agency for International Development, the Swedish International Development Agency and the Governments of Norway and Germany.

* Names of people and places changed for security reasons.

Source : Fao