They survived Boko Haram, now returnees are fighting hunger

Story highlights

  • Boko Haram attacked a village in Damboa, Nigeria in 2014
  • Many who fled have since returned, but food shortages are a very present threat

Adamawa, Nigeria (CNN)In September 2014, Boko Haram attacked Bdagu -- a village in Adamawa state, northern Nigeria.

Jafiya Nuhu, a 52-year-old commercial farmer, hid under maize cobs in his farm with his wife and two children as the insurgents raided their neighbors, looting and torching houses.
His family and a few others were lucky to escape unhurt.
    "It all happened so fast," Nuhu recounts. While the attack occurred on a Sunday morning, his family stayed hidden till late in the night and ran through the bushes till they arrived in a village, five kilometers away from Michika.
    They found safety in the embrace of sympathetic villagers. "They offered us food," he says, admitting that he struggled to fend for his family, having been cut away from his source of livelihood.
    Today, Nuhu and his family have returned to his community but he has not farmed since.
    According to the International Organization for Migration's Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) Round XV February-March 2017 report, Adamawa State has had the highest number of returnees with the total of 655,122, followed by Borno and Yobe.
    The report shows that about 1,151,427 internally displaced persons returned home in March with over 10% (122, 507) returned to Michika.
    These days, Nuhu hews firewood and earns a meager N500 ($1.50) daily from wood sales -- selling about five packs at N100 each (30 cents) -- to support his family.
    "The last time I farmed in Bdagu was 2014, and after Boko Haram attack I have not gone back to farming," he says. "I tried [but] they chased me from my farm."
    Many other farmers from the settlement have similar tales to Nuhu's -- unable to farm and earn a livelihood since the aftermath of the September 2014 capture of their community by the insurgents.
    Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are gradually returning to their respective communities, many of which remain bullet-ridden ruins and unsafe for farming.
    The timing of the return coincides with the worst economic crisis experienced by Nigeria in over two decades.
    The local currency naira has fallen significantly against the dollar as the recession bites hard.

    Food insecurity

    Since 2009, Boko Haram militants have ravaged north east Nigeria; Adamawa, Yobe, and Borno states have been the most affected -- with thousands killed and over two million people displaced according to estimates by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
    The consequence is severe as most of the displaced adult population are farmers, putting their immediate communities at risk of food shortage.
    Already, there are ominous signs that things could be even worse.
    A recent food security projection for the months of February to September 2017 by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network reveals a great need of assistance as food insecurity threats increase -- in spite of the large presence of humanitarian agencies in the region.
    "A large portion of the population remains in need of food assistance and other basic services driven primarily by ongoing insecurity and displacement.
    "Worst affected accessible LGAs are facing emergency acute food insecurity with an increased risk of high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality. Less accessible areas, likely experiencing similar or worse conditions to neighboring, accessible areas, face an increased risk of famine in 2017," the report adds.
    Before the 2014 attacks, each harvest from the farm of Mrs. Hajara Tumba -- an early returnee to Madagali -- could yield a total of 90 bags of maize, groundnut, and millet.
    Trade between the communities and neighboring countries such as Cameroon, which borders Michika, has been greatly affected causing hikes in food prices and putting pressure on the declining local production.
    "Borno for example, produces the highest number of maize we eat in this country, Adamawa produces the highest number of sorghum and other crops not favorable to the tropical area but suitable to the weather of the northeast," Adamu Kamale, a federal legislator told Machacha, a social change platform.
    Most of the farmers lack support from the Ministry of Agriculture, and have no farming equipment or the capital to procure them.
    Advocating for increased attention by government and international development agencies, Kamale, who looks resigned to fate, delivers a damning prediction; "If this train continues, government reserves will be depleted. Most of government reserves are beefed up from the produce in the northeast."

    Nothing's happening

    Before the 2014 attacks, each harvest from the farm of Hajara Tumba could yield a total of 90 bags of maize, groundnut, and millet.
    The responsibility of farming has fallen on her four unemployed children who produce for subsistence, she says. Hajara is still traumatized from her last experience and how she survived an attack by the insurgents.
    "I thank God for escaping alive," she recounts in her native Hausa. She believes the insurgents still hold part of Madagali, contrary to narratives by the Nigerian security agencies and that is holding her back.
    Food scarcity in Michika is an issue on the rise, agrees Galaxy Harat, founder of Hope And Rural Aid Foundation (HARAF), one of a few non-profit organizations working in the area.
    "About 60 percent of children in Michika and Madagali were suffering malnourishment," says Harat. "If something is not done this year we will be facing food scarcity in this region." The first glimmer of hope is that as she reveals, the FAO in partnership with some local NGOs is about to initiate agricultural support for rainy season farming in the two local governments.
    A survivor makes local groundnut oil for their family.
    According to her organization's assessment, most of the returnees are facing psychological trauma while others were maimed by the insurgents or suffered long-lasting injuries while trying to escape.
    Currently, the town is in complete darkness as electricity infrastructure is yet to be restored and government presence is skeletal.
    Civil servants attached to the local government secretariat now work under an acacia tree just outside the ruins of their former offices.
    David Ishaye, a pastor whose church was burnt down by the insurgents said: "How do you want us to move on from what happened in Michika, when there is no food and life here is hard?"
    This article was first published in the social change platform Machacha