Tim McDonnell

Multimedia environmental journalist

Farming Becomes the New Frontline in Boko Haram War

Nigeria wants farmers to return to land terrorized by Boko Haram. Is there really enough peace to replant?

Boko Haram militants occupied Bulama Alajiri’s village for three years and forbade him to farm. In April, he and his family fled to an IDP camp near Maiduguri. (Tim McDonnell)

Boko Haram militants occupied Bulama Alajiri’s village for three years and forbade him to farm. In April, he and his family fled to an IDP camp near Maiduguri. (Tim McDonnell)

On a recent Monday morning, under the blistering sun of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, two senior politicians – surrounded by a hoard of local officials and paparazzi – thought they spied victory in a small mountain of seeds.

Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, once a top general, picked through burlap sacks filled with 36 metric tonnes of maize, cowpea, and rice seed bred specially for the region’s arid climate. These are the latest weapons in the war against Boko Haram.

The seeds were sitting in a massive dirt lot in Maiduguri, the state capital, alongside hundreds of gleaming new tractors, all destined to be donated to farmers across the state. The donations weren’t just to grow food, Shettima announced. It was also to send a message to the Islamist militants who have terrorised this region for the last eight years.  

“At the risk of sounding immodest, I dare to say that there is no state in the Nigerian federation that is better prepared for agriculture than Borno State,” he said, to applause. “All we are lacking is peace, and gradually we are going to get that back.”

Shettima’s high-profile dedication of farming supplies signals the government’s readiness to convert its recent military momentum against Boko Haram into a revitalisation of the state’s agricultural sector. Doing so could be lifesaving for the 5.2 million peoplesuffering from acute food insecurity across the region, including an estimated 50,000 at risk of famine.

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