Boukara Abba, a smallholder farmer in the Mozogo locality of Cameroon’s Far North region, looked happily at his flourishing maize and okra which he planned to harvest next month.
It was a couple of minutes after midday as it drizzled on Abba’s approximately three-hectare farm.
The 31-year-old is one of several young people who have found fortune in agriculture in the volatile region. Since 2014, a wide area of Cameroon’s Far North region is suffering from the fighting between Boko Haram, the terrorist group, and government forces.
Many communities in Cameroon’s Far North region have faced renewed violence in recent months. The armed conflict and worsening humanitarian crises have left the region’s agriculture sector struggling as more than half of the displaced persons come from agricultural backgrounds.
Some of them were reported to have one meal a day with children and women suffering the most.
Thanks to an agricultural program by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), however, the displaced persons are now earning a living through farming.
“There was no one to give us seeds before the Red Cross arrived,” said Abba who hosts 20 displaced people in his house.
So far this year, the ICRC initiative in Cameroon has assisted 26,000 displaced people, returnees and host communities with agricultural inputs and cash to increase their crop production, said ICRC agricultural engineer Nouratou Bouba Hadja.
“We assist them with maize, okra, sorghum and cowpea seeds. We give fertilizer to families affected by the conflict and in homes, young people are the most active in the production chain. When we identify a household, it is generally young people who work on the farm,” said Hadja who had come to supervise Abba’s farming activities.
“The objective is to improve agricultural production of these vulnerable families and after the production, they can now eat and sell their products to take care of other needs such as health needs or the education of children. It is a revenue-generating activity for these families.”
For Abba, the agricultural program in Cameroon’s Far North region has lifted young people out of poverty and unemployment. “Everything has changed. Production has increased. As a young man, we were unemployed. Today ICRC came (and helped us) and now we are living our lives,” said the father of three.
For Gui Daidi who was displaced from Zeleved village, there is never a question that his six children would have to get their hands dirty and learn how to grow their food.
“The ICRC program has helped young people to stay away from crime and trouble. No other job could provide the same security as farming because people will always have to eat so there is always money to be made,” said the 57-year-old who now lives in Mozogo with his family.
In Kerawa, a locality in Cameroon’s Far North region that shares a porous border with Nigeria and is notorious for constant Boko Haram raids, Hadja Cheripou gets set to prepare the evening meal.
The 57-year-old fled to settle in Kerawa during the heat of the conflict to restart her life. She said that before now, the community leader and some good people in the locality were assisting her and her 13 children with food and other daily needs. Now with the good harvest she got from the seeds and cash assistance, she is able to take care of her family.
“My children and I now have enough to eat. Life is better now,” she said.
“We had nothing. My children and grandchildren now feed well,” said 54-year-old Wandala Hoda whose 22 children are now all farmers.
The agricultural partnership between Cameroon’s government and ICRC has made farming profitable and cool for young people and the region safer, said Simplice Sadou, Far North regional chief of agriculture and rural development.
“Since this partnership started two years ago with ICRC, we’ve had a good quantity of quality seeds that are produced in the region,” Sadou said. “Seed industry is very important. We have many young people in the industry and this partnership has increased their capacity and today, in all the zones where the partnership is operational, there is an increase in revenue because of the quality of the seeds.”
As the world commemorates International Youth Day on Aug. 12, young people affected by the armed conflict in the region now find a sense of purpose in the valuable farming skills they have brought to their new communities.