Central African Republic farmers ‘need seeds to avert disruptive food shortages’ | Clár Ní Chonghaile

UN says that without seeds and tools to plant crops, food scarcity could see CAR revert to chaos and violence, and increase costs of any humanitarian response

Two years after Séléka rebels ousted the president of the Central African Republic and plunged the country into chaos, farmers urgently need seeds and tools to plant crops and avert food shortages. Failure to supply them could increase tension between communities, delay the return of displaced people, and ratchet up the costs of the humanitarian response, the UN has said.

Around 1.5 million people do not have enough to eat in the country, where religious violence has killed thousands since the mainly Muslim Séléka rebels deposed President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013.

The rebels withdrew to the north-east last year, after international pressure and violence by mainly Christian anti-balaka militias. However, security remains fragile, with armed groups still attacking civilians in the north and east and reports of widespread human rights violations.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that the number of hungry people was likely to rise if immediate support were not provided to farmers, many of whom lost their seeds and tools to armed looters.

“If there are no seeds in many areas, it means that people will try to move to towns. It means more displaced populations and definitely, it will mean more food aid, which is so expensive in terms of logistics and volumes,” said Jean-Alexandre Scaglia, the FAO’s representative.

Farmers and their families were in an “extremely fragile” situation, with seeds urgently needed before the start of the rainy season at the end of April or beginning of May.

“In Bangui, they want vegetable seeds, they want maize seeds, and it is essential for them,” Scaglia said, adding that without seeds, the lean season – when households are between harvests – could stretch until November.

The FAO is distributing maize, sorghum and vegetable seeds, as well as cassava cuttings, but it has only received half the required funding and urgently needs an additional $6.2m to support more than 60,000 vulnerable households ahead of the April planting season.

“If we can help to restart agriculture, which is the main source of income of the population, it will automatically generate stability, social cohesion and peace,” Scaglia said.

A dearth of funding has long stymied humanitarian efforts in CAR, which lacks the immediate visibility of other global crises. The UN has only received 11% of the $613m it requires for its programmes in 2015.

Agricultural production has fallen by around 60% from levels seen before the crisis, and the FAO warned that the lean season was likely to begin four months earlier than usual.

In an update from 18 March, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said the number of people in need of humanitarian aid had risen from 2.5 million to 2.7 million, out of a population of 4.6 million, over the past year. Around 436,000 people are displaced, and almost half a million have fled to neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Ocha said the situation remains “volatile” with criminal activities continuing in Bangui, and armed groups fighting in several northern and eastern provinces. As fighting flares, people leave their villages and seek refuge in the bush, but some people are also returning from the capital to their homes in the countryside.

Livestock numbers are down by up to 77% compared with figures before the crisis began in late 2012, and fish supplies have fallen by about 40%. Food reserves are 40%–50% lower than average, Ocha said.

In late February, the UN refugee agency said an upsurge in violence had forced almost 50,000 people to flee their homes since the start of the year, including more than 19,000 who crossed into DRC’s Equateur province.

A spokeswoman said many were escaping violence linked to the seasonal movements of livestock with clashes between herders and the local and farming populations. The faultlines, in some cases, mirrored those between the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka militias.

Catherine Samba-Panza took over as interim president in January 2014 and pledged to restore peace. Parliamentary and presidential elections are due to be held in July and August.

Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, head of the Africa bureau at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), has said these polls are vital to restart development, and has called for more UN peacekeepers to be deployed ahead of the polls.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has asked the security council for 1,030 more peacekeepers, to strengthen the peacekeeping operation, known as Minusca, and boost numbers to almost 13,000 uniformed personnel.


Clár Ní Chonghaile

The GuardianTramp

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