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Source: International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA

Drip irrigation technologies have contributed to an increase in crop yields of 60% for farmers in this internally displaced camp located in Abuja, providing food and a source of income for thousands. (Photo: Fasina Abayomi)

Fleeing from terrorists and sheltering in makeshift camps for the internally displaced is a reality for many in Nigeria. During this time of hardship, farming is a source of solace and income for some. Liayatu Ayuba, a farmer who fled from Boko Haram, a terrorist group in West Africa, now lives in a camp for internally displaced people, or IDPs, in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. She is one of over 2,500 people in the Abuja camp who has received training and equipment to set up small-scale drip irrigation systems (see The Science) for growing food since 2018.

“Being trained on this new agricultural technology and putting it into practice gives us a little bit of our lives back,” said Ayuba.

The assistance is part of a technical cooperation project by the IAEA, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Federal University of Oye Ekiti. Using nuclear technology, the IAEA – in partnership with the FAO – has developed techniques for cultivating crops with minimal water use under an approach that is called climate-smart agriculture. This has benefitted farmers in many countries. In the Abuja camp, the new irrigation systems have helped increase yields of crops such as cucumber, watermelon and okra by 60%, while decreasing water use by 45% compared to other methods.

“Growing and selling these crops gives us an income, and we are working towards improving the lives of many in the camps by providing food,” Ayuba said. More than 80% of the camp’s inhabitants are women and children.

Ayuba’s situation is not uncommon in Nigeria. Over 2.7 million people have been displaced in the country since 2014 due to Boko Haram, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR. The group has used extreme forms of violence to threaten villages across Nigeria, forcing people from their homes and livelihoods.

Many of the people end up in IDP camps, which are often overcrowded and have food shortages. They comprise makeshift tents and shelters built out of plastic and metal sheets, which offer little relief from the baking sun and the heat of the tropical climate.

Many camps are located in areas with harsh climate conditions, such as minimal rainfall, drought, and high temperatures, making it difficult to grow food. This is only being exacerbated by climate change.

Following the success of the small-scale drip irrigation systems in Abuja, the Federal University of Oye Ekiti has partnered with a local non-governmental organization, Akabat Ventures, to expand the use of drip irrigation technology to more camps throughout the country, in part through funding from the national Tertiary Education Tax Fund.

“Through training and support, the farmers – mostly women – can really make a difference by not only providing food for themselves, but creating a business providing food for others at the camps as well. This has real long-term impact on the lives of people,” said Thuloane Tsehlo, the IAEA Programme Management Officer leading the project.


How does a drip irrigation system work?

A small-scale drip irrigation system involves placing a container of water above the ground, which is connected to tubing with emitters dripping directly on the soil surface next to the crops.

How do you track fertilizer use?

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients for crop production. It plays an important role in photosynthesis and is a major component of amino acids, which is the building block of proteins found in food. Nitrogen-15 (15N) is a stable isotope of nitrogen, which has an extra neutron and can be distinguished from other atoms. By applying 15N fertilizer to a small plot in the field, it is possible to trace its movement and measure the amount of nitrogen plants take up to determine the precise amount of fertilizer farmers should use at different stages of plant growth to maximize the fertilizer’s use efficiency.

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