After escaping Boko Haram, farmers begin a new season with hope

Mary Utsewa gripped an ear of maize so large she could barely get her hand around it. Standing among bright green cornstalks swaying high above her head, she smiled and considered her good fortune. She is a farmer again. In 2013, she had been driven from her fields in the Sukur district in northeast Nigeria.

There are thousands of Nigerian farmers who suffered similar fates — displaced by the Boko Haram terrorist organization — who are cultivating again.

Utsewa, 38, and her family are among 6,000 farming households displaced by Boko Haram that are receiving seeds and farming implements donated by the U.S. Agency for International Development so they can return to their fields. The seeds  — including maize, sorghum, millet, groundnut and cowpea  — are being distributed to people who were, in many cases, forced from their homes or had their land and farming equipment destroyed by the festering Islamic insurrection.

Utsewa and her family faced the typical odyssey of the displaced over the course of three years. They found refuge with a family in a host community, became displaced again when their new community came under fire and ended up in a camp.

The family landed in Magadali in late 2015. When Utsewa received the seeds, she was allowed to plant after she was allotted a parcel of land from host community elders.

“No words can express my joy for this harvest,” Utsewa said in December. “From the community that lent me the land to grow this crop to the donation of the seed, I can’t believe it.”

With the harvest complete and ten 100-kilogram sacks full of high-quality maize, Utsewa and her family now can earn cash by selling the crop at local markets. Most important, they have hope for the future.

Harvesting hope

Man standing in corn field (AUN-API)
“These seeds helped me start my life again,” says Garba Abdullahi, a farmer from the town of Fufore. (AUN-API)

“My family ran from Boko Haram with just the shirts on our backs,” said Garba Abdullahi, a farmer from Fufore. “We left everything.”

USAID partners, including state and local government agencies, helped ensure distribution occurred ahead of this year’s planting season.

“We gave people farmland and give them instructions on how to use the seeds, and insist they not take them to market to sell,” said Malam Aminu Jauro, a community leader and local official in Fufore. “Providing the farmers food assistance as well ensured the majority of the seeds were planted.”

Farmer in straw hat tending to cornfield (AUN-API)

Nearly four out of five farmers reported the quality of their crops was good. (AUN-API)

In all, the 160 metric tons of seed donated to 6,000 households helped improve the region’s food supply, jump-start the stagnating economy and restore a sense of normalcy to battered communities after years on the brink of famine.

As for Utsewa, her harvest will help her restore the life her family knew before the conflict and express gratitude toward her gracious hosts. “To me, it was a bumper crop,” she said.

Richard Zack Taylor, a specialist at USAID’s mission in Nigeria, wrote this article. A longer version appears in the March/April 2017 issue of FrontLines, USAID’s online magazine.