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Cultivating Peace: Borno State’s Agricultural Bounty Offers Renewed Hope and Progress

Borno State, located in northeast Nigeria, has endured immense suffering and hardship over the past decade due to the Boko Haram insurgency. The violence disrupted all aspects of life for millions of residents and had an especially devastating impact on the state’s essential agricultural sector.

However, thanks to improving security conditions and the tireless efforts of the Nigerian military, Borno State is embarking on a remarkable recovery journey focused heavily on the revival and growth of agriculture. This is providing renewed optimism, stability, and progress for communities across the state after years of turmoil.

Agriculture’s Vital Role in Borno’s Economy and Society

Agriculture has served as the backbone of Borno State’s economy and way of life since long before the Boko Haram crisis erupted. Approximately 80% of the state’s population relies directly or indirectly on farming, livestock rearing, and fishing activities to meet their livelihood and nutritional needs.

The sector accounts for over 70% of household incomes in rural areas and makes up 60% of state GDP when accounting for crop cultivation, fisheries, and livestock. Borno’s unique landscape and climate allow for excellent production of staple crops like maize, millet, and sorghum, as well as cash crops such as cotton, sesame, and groundnuts.

Beyond economic impact, agriculture connects deeply to the culture and tradition of Borno State. Techniques and practices have been passed down for centuries that allow resilient harnessing of the region’s fertile lands along the Chad Basin. The seasonal cycles of preparing fields, sowing seeds, tending crops, and celebrating bountiful harvests shape community ties.

Devastation Wrought by the Boko Haram Insurgency

This agricultural abundance and communal harmony were shattered starting in 2009 when Boko Haram launched its violent insurgency across northeast Nigeria. Borno, as the birthplace of Boko Haram, saw death and destruction proliferate rapidly.

The state became highly volatile and insecure as Boko Haram cells carried out vicious attacks and seized territory. Residents were displaced en masse, fleeing their homes and farmlands to escape the bloodshed. Infrastructure, markets, and transport links were demolished repeatedly, disrupting economic activity.

Agriculture was hit especially hard by the upheaval. Vast areas of cropland were abandoned and irrigation facilities destroyed during periods of occupation and conflict. Livestock herds were raided, driving pastoral groups into destitution. Farm labourers and families could no longer safely or reliably work fields and harvest yields, leading to critical food shortages.

By the height of the crisis in 2015, Borno’s agricultural output had plunged by over 80%, crops had withered unattended in deserted fields, and over 60% of residents suffered severe hunger and malnutrition. Livelihoods and dignity for all people in the state were stripped away by the Boko Haram onslaught.

Nigerian Military Rolls Back Insurgency, Opening Door to Recovery

The tide began turning in 2016 as the rejuvenated Nigerian military launched expansive offensives to tackle Boko Haram and reclaim Borno villages and terrain lost to their control. Troop reinforcements and special counterinsurgency training strengthened the military’s capability to uproot militants from their enclaves.

Gradually, after years of intense effort and sacrifice, the Nigerian forces were able to decimate Boko Haram cells across the state and force any remnants to remote border hideouts, ending open robbery and violence. By 2020, the military had largely restored stability and access for international relief groups to launch rehabilitation initiatives in newly secured areas.

With Boko Haram supremacy eliminated and threat levels controlled, Borno State was finally able to shift focus towards reconciliation, reconstruction, and restarting the economy. Agriculture sat at the crux of rebuilding as the sector with the most potential to catalyse widespread renewal if properly revived.

Launching the Borno State 25-Year Development Plan

In 2021, the Borno State government, in partnership with federal leaders and foreign development bodies, began formulating strategies to not just repair damage but holistically transform the state over the long term. They drafted an ambitious 25-year Borno State Development Plan centred on restoring the agricultural sector first and then leveraging its bounty to uplift all domains.

The plan has mobilised over $1 billion so far in combined public and private investment for modern farming equipment, training programmes, and systems to streamline production and distribution. Tens of thousands of displaced farming families have received financial support to restart their smallholding operations. Irrigation canals, grain warehouses, and rural roadways are also being rehabilitated under the framework.

Oversight committees featuring community elders and agricultural experts guide decision-making and adaptation, representing the vision of Borno residents. They help tailor initiatives like the rehabilitation of major farming township Damasak according to the locals’ needs so crop selection and land usage align with traditions.

The comprehensive plan stretches across all of Borno, leaving no family or community behind, whether in still-fractured northern villages or more stable southern towns. Everyone has a critical role to play in realising Borno’s agricultural promise.

Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Profitability

The early outputs from the 25-Year Borno Agriculture Development Plan have been tremendously promising despite the deep devastation wrought by terrorism that cannot be quickly undone. Crop yields in the past two years have risen by over 30% as farming families return to their fields with robust government support.

Borno farmers harvested over 540,000 metric tonnes of grains last season, nearing 80% of pre-insurgency levels. Thousands of hectares of previously fallow fields have been planted with bounties of sesame, beans, cassava, and potatoes with minimal external inputs.

Livestock sectors are also seeing a resurgence, with poultry farms restocking chick inventories and cattle markets reopening. Fish catch numbers are rebounding fast as access to Lake Chad and other waterways stabilizes. Rural incomes are up and urban food costs are down as local supplies recover.

Government investments in equipment and training are accelerating productivity gains. Tractors and irrigation systems allow for much faster ploughing and watering of larger farm areas. New disease-resistant seed varieties developed by agricultural researchers at the University of Maiduguri are being distributed to reduce blight and boost yields.

Youths apprenticing with veteran farmers are learning modern techniques to replace outdated methods. Demand for Borno agricultural produce outside the state is also rising quickly, demonstrating the sector’s increasing commercial viability.

Building Agricultural Processing Capacity

A major pillar within the 25-year framework is establishing additional processing facilities to enhance the preservation, packaging, and overall quality assurance of Borno crops and livestock commodities. This expands income streams for farmers who can sell refined goods. It also unlocks export opportunities to both domestic and global markets.

For example, seven new cold storage warehouses have come online this year, allowing potato and tomato hauls to be aggregated and safely held for sale when prices peak. With less spoilage, farmers’ incomes are surging. Women-owned groundnut oil milling centres are supplying packaged oils to northern Nigerian markets, garnering premium prices relative to bulk loads.

The federal Ministry of Agriculture is now upgrading roads, electrification, and water access spanning key farming areas to support the emergence of large-scale processing plants. Private food processors are scoping sites to build mills and sorting sheds as output volumes increase annually. Partnerships with logistics firms guarantee speedy transport connectivity for processed goods to reach Lagos and Port Harcourt.

Empowering women and youth

Critical to the goals of restoring vibrancy, equity, and lasting peace is ensuring farming and agricultural commercialization initiatives expressly empower historically marginalised groups, namely women and young people. Women bear outsized burdens for providing household food security and welfare, while youth need viable opportunities to focus their energy towards legal livelihoods.

Accordingly, the 25-Year Plan demands at least 30% of all government farming support be allotted towards female-headed households and land parcels. Rural women have organised into agricultural collectives and cooperatives, applying for shared equipment and technical assistance.

Youth are paired with farming mentors, receiving start-up capital, tools, and guaranteed acreage after training. With solid land tenure and capital backing, youth staying engaged in agriculture face brighter and more stable futures.

Rebuilding Agricultural Markets and Trade

Agricultural productivity is only half the equation, with market linkages and trade avenues determining if farmers and pastoralists can profitably sell wares. Unfortunately, the turmoil of Boko Haram’s assaults left many rural periodic markets deserted and supply chains deeply fractured.

Restoring market infrastructure and connectivity has thus been integral to helping communities bounce back. Dozens of rural periodic markets facilitating commerce for remote villages have been reactivated by stabilising business regulations and security patrols. Investments have modernised facilities, providing warehousing, waste management, and even childcare and clinics.

Interstate roadways allowing two-way trade of Borno’s grains, dried chilies, and fermented milk goods to the rest of Nigeria have reopened. Armed escorts support convoys of hundreds of trucks and motorbikes daily packed with agricultural wares. Border markets near Chad and Niger have also resumed operation.

Improving Rural Banking and Farm Credit

Access to capital remains one of the toughest barriers for Borno’s smallholder farmers, with many lacking collateral for loans after property losses. Microlenders are hesitant to enter still-fragile areas. Financial inclusion is similarly low, especially among women, with few having basic savings accounts.

Thus, the state government has worked to expand agricultural and rural credit in locally-sensitive ways. Public banking options now offer more low-cost farm loans tailored to small acreages and seasonal crop patterns. Tiered savings programmes allow incremental buildup before accessing credit.

Mobile payment systems linked to agricultural support allow those without formal identification to receive aid quickly and transact. Targeted lending for women through faith-based community institutions reduces limitations on credit. Interest-free equipment leasing contracts bring machinery within financial reach.

Building Climate Resilience Amid Ecological Pressures

While Borno State works to support small farms, environmental stresses compound pressure and uncertainty for rural groups and regional stability overall. The Lake Chad basin waters sustaining hundreds of communities have receded 95% over the past 60 years from overuse and shifts in rain patterns. Grasslands are turning barren without regeneration periods.

Climate-smart initiatives now reinforce all facets of Borno’s agriculture strategy, mindful of coming resource strains. Water reservoirs have been introduced, capturing seasonal floods for conservation as underground aquifers deplete. Agroforestry, which involves interleaving trees and understory crops, combats erosion while producing nuts and fruits.

Testing of drought-tolerant crop varieties adapts field selections for increased aridity. Laser land levelling, crop rotation guidelines, and restrictions on grazing periods aim to bolster long-term soil health. Investments also aid pastoralists migrating south through transhumance corridors during lean times, minimising tensions.

All villagers are trained in resilience practices to implement locally, like small-scale rainwater harvesting and regenerative horticulture. The goal is to build communities’ self-sufficiency to handle the effects of climate change and environmental decline. With ecological stability, peace and development outcomes can endure.

Increasing Agricultural Education and Innovative Research

Transforming Borno’s agricultural sector requires advanced skill development and innovation pipelines that unlock higher-value activities. Educational infrastructure in rural zones and opportunities at agricultural technical schools and universities lagged due to the conflict. There was minimal research on enhancing unique regional crops or livestock strains.

Rehabilitating facilities at the Borno State University Department of Agriculture, along with farming secondary schools, expands critical technical human capital foundations. Satellite teacher training colleges have also been constructed in remote districts to nurture talent locally.

Curriculum enhancements focus on regenerative methods, genetics prophecies, soil microbiology, arid-climate water management, and entrepreneurship. Post-graduate students are incentivized towards research on sorghum hybrids, greenhouse integration, and candied cashew value addition.

Collaborating for Broad-Based Advancement

With Borno State’s safety and stability progressing but social service functionality still recovering after prolonged instability, international development partners and humanitarian bodies fill vital gaps. They operate programmes reinforcing Nigerian-led agricultural renewal and long-term resilience.

For example, USAID trained over 50,000 returning farmers on fertiliser microdosing, which increased yields for nutrient-starved soils by 30%. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation expanded solar-powered irrigation to conserve water and power. MercyCorps is helping farmers digitise record-keeping and connect with buyers.

The partnerships allow Borno communities to fast-track the adoption of promising practices and technologies generally inaccessible directly after crises. They also foster community dialogue and reconciliation amid lingering distrust between ethnic groups after Boko Haram manipulation worsened divisions.

This collaborative platform, focused wholly on strengthening agriculture and food security, avoids the risks of aid dependence. It empowers groups to directly lead farming area recovery with outsider technical assistance, transitioning to advisers as government capacity rebounds.

Achieving Lasting Peace and Prosperity

The hard-fought restoration of stability and agricultural livelihoods across communities advances the vision of attaining enduring peace. Boko Haram and other extremists exploited and fed off social vulnerabilities stemming from poverty, hunger, and a lack of opportunity.

Now agriculture once again delivers dignified work and reliable income while nourishing the spirit of the community. Crops grow bountifully, livestock dot pastures, markets bustle with trade, and people rest easier knowing granaries and savings offer security.

Borno State’s bold 25-year roadmap steers the state towards reconciliation and progressive advancement after devastation few regions have ever endured and overcome. The frameworks and infrastructure being laid today ensure that coming generations inherit more ecologically thriving, equitable, and prosperous conditions than prevailed before Boko Haram emerged.

The fruits cultivated now through collective struggle and labour are sowing the seeds for liberty and human flourishing to grow for perpetuity.

 

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