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CAR Races to Save Planting Season

  • Nick Long

FILE - People stand behind a gate at Mpoko Airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, as food is being unloaded from a cargo aircraft.

FILE - People stand behind a gate at Mpoko Airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, as food is being unloaded from a cargo aircraft.

A food crisis is looming in many parts of the Central African Republic, where many villagers have lived in the bush for months to avoid marauding armed groups.

The United Nations estimates about 700,000 people are forced to live away from their homes in the Central African Republic, and most of them are in rural areas.

Traveling through the northwest of the country, you can see many signs of the violence that has driven people into the bush. For mile after mile you pass roofless empty houses, where everything inside was likely stolen or burned.

But where do people go in the bush? A young man at the village of Bessane offered to show VOA where his neighbors have been sheltering.

After walking for about five kilometers, we arrived at a clearing where a family was sitting outside half a dozen circular mud brick huts. These huts are close to several families’ fields and were built to provide shelter during busy periods of the farming year.

Eric Zouta, the head of one of the families living here, says he brought the family here to avoid Seleka violence, and this is where they have been living for months. The huts are small, there are no beds or mosquito nets, and he does not sleep here himself, he says. He goes further into the bush and sleeps on a pile of cut grass, because it is mainly men that the Seleka target.

The villagers can not easily hide in the fields around this encampment - they would be visible from higher ground. They say they could not work normally for fear of being killed by the Seleka or nomadic people allied to them.

This has meant there is not much food or many seeds left over from the last harvest.

They ate all their seeds, says Zouta. They had to, he says, as they were short of food.

The head of mission for an international aid organization in the CAR, who preferred his name be withheld, said the Zouta family was lucky, in one sense.

"You are lucky if you are able to eat your own seeds because a lot of them were actually stolen or burned by different groups - the Seleka, anti-balaka and the nomadic people that come from Chad and roam around the country," he said.

Villagers at Bessane say they need seeds and tools if they are to plant enough food in the fast-approaching planting season, which lasts from mid-March to mid-May. They said that besides seeds they have lost their machetes, hoes, rakes and watering cans.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a plan to distribute seeds and tools to 150,000 households in the CAR in time for planting.

Only one type of tool will be provided, says FAO’s head of mission in the CAR Pierre Vauthier.

He says they are only distributing hoes as FAO, for reasons of security and protection, does not wish to distribute machetes, even though these are a necessity for farmers. FAO could not be sure that machetes would not be used for murderous purposes, he explains.

FAO says most of the seeds will have to be imported, and it is trying to coordinate purchasing in order to keep the price down.

Many problems, mainly insecurity but also lack of funding, information and qualified agricultural staff on the ground have meant that the FAO and other NGOs are behind schedule with their plans.

But the World Food Program has managed to transport food to the northwest of the country in the past two months, so in theory it should be possible to distribute seeds and tools.