How displaced persons rebuild their lives as conflict continues to drive hunger in North East Nigeria
Malam Maina Bulama, 75, cannot forget the visitors who brought death and destruction. Four years ago, on the western banks of Lake Chad, Bulama’s rural community in Abadam Local Government Area of Borno State, was targeted by armed fighters. Bulama suffered as a result of the violent attack: one of his wives died, and he is still searching for his oldest daughter.
Bulama fled his home with the rest of his family, leaving behind his vast acres of farmland and his herds of cattle. He is one of the nearly two million people driven from their homes by the 10-year-long conflict in North East Nigeria.
When he arrived in Azbak in Yobe State, over 300 km from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, he had no means to grow or buy food. He struggled to feed his family. They did not know where their next meal would come from.
“You cannot farm where you don’t have land,” says Bulama.
Happy to farm again
But in the last year, he has returned to farming. The host community granted Bulama and other farmers free access to their most cherished possession — their farmland. They practice irrigation farming, with the support of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which allows them to grow a variety of crops all year round. The displaced people produce fruits, vegetables and grains enough food to feed their families — and sell the surplus in the local markets rehabilitated by WFP to help boost the local economy.
“The people here have been very kind to us,” says a grateful Bulama. “I am lucky to return to farming, which is what I do best and feed my family. I produce rice, sorghum and vegetables; I would not have been able to do this without the assistance I am receiving,” he adds while harvesting his crops in his adopted village of Azbak.
Water and peace
But farming in Nigeria’s north east, especially in Borno State, comes with its own challenges. Water is very scarce. Conflicts are quick to flare up when communities lack water to grow food and to feed their animals. Communal tension often escalates when displaced persons settle in host communities, putting enormous pressure on the scarce resource.
As part of its self-reliance projects for people uprooted by conflict and the communities hosting them, WFP has provided two boreholes, an irrigation system and water storage tanks in Azbak. This is helping to create a harmonious relationship between the members of the host community and the displaced people, like Bulama and his family, and contributing to an enabling environment for longer-term peacebuilding.
However, an upsurge in violence has resulted in a fresh wave of displacement, cutting off access to farmlands essential for food and livelihoods in North East Nigeria. Nearly three million people are struggling to meet their food needs in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. This number could rise to more than 3.8 million people in the June-August lean season, if there isn’t sustained humanitarian assistance.
The USA, the UK, the European Union, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and several other donors have provided contributions to support WFP operations in Nigeria. But with increasing conflict and rising hunger levels, more support is needed to continue providing life-changing assistance and helping to build peace in the North East.