MAIDUGURI (NIGERIA): Farmers and fishermen displaced by Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria want to return home, saying it will help ease chronic food shortages for the remote region's starving millions.
Subsistence agriculture is a lifeline in the northeast but the eight-year Islamist insurgency has devastated activities, causing a desperate lack of food and sky-high prices.
Many farmers and fishermen have either been killed or fled to camps for the displaced, where they are dependent on food aid, or to live with friends and distant relatives.
Aid agencies say a severe funding shortfall is affecting feeding programmes, despite high levels of severe acute malnutrition and repeated warnings that famine is a possibility.
The head of the Lake Chad fishermen's union, Labbo Tahir, said: "No amount of food aid can adequately feed us.
"The only way out of this unending starvation is for us to return home, grow our own food and rebuild our lives," he told AFP.
Ibrahim Mammadu used to grow rice and other crops but now works as a labourer on a tomato field near the Borno state capital Maiduguri for USD 13 (11.6 euros) a month.
The money is hardly enough to feed his family of five for a week.
"If only I can return to my farm my hardship would be over and within a year I can grow enough food for my family," said the 35-year-old.
"This is the only way I can end my dependency and poverty because farming is all I know."
The freshwaters of Lake Chad and its fertile shores have made northern Borno the state's food basket.
Government statistics say three districts on the Nigerian side of the lake - Marte, Kukawa and Ngala - provided a quarter of the country's annual wheat production of 90,000 tonnes in 2014.
The Fisheries Society of Nigeria says some 300,000 tonnes of fish caught in the region represents about 12 per cent of fish consumed nationwide.
But Lake Chad is currently a Boko Haram hotspot and economic activity has ground to a halt. A sales ban has exacerbated losses, as the military fears profits are funding insurgent activities.
In recent weeks, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) donated 30 tonnes of early-maturing, pestresistant seeds to Borno's farmers.
But IITA coordinator Kamai Nkike said three consecutive rainy seasons have been missed and the current season, which began two weeks ago, is also likely to pass without crops being planted.
"Farming in northern Borno at the moment is practically impossible," said Nkike. "The farmers want to be on their own.
They are not happy with food aid."