March 25, 2015 / 6:24 PM / 3 years ago

CAR farmers need seeds now, cheaper than more food aid later: U.N.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Failure to provide farmers in conflict-hit Central African Republic with seeds to plant crops could worsen food shortages, displace more people and raise the cost of humanitarian aid, a U.N. official said on Wednesday.

Around 1.5 million CAR citizens are short of food, and that number is likely to rise unless farmers get seeds before the planting season begins in April, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative Pierre Vauthier said.

”If farmers cannot plant seeds this season, they will have to move to find work or receive food aid,“ Vauthier told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. ”Delivering food aid is more expensive than providing tools and seeds.

“An increased number of displaced people could fuel tension in certain communities as their populations swell.”

Thousands have died and around one million people have been displaced since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition seized power in the majority Christian country in March 2013.

The rebels later withdrew from Bangui and ceded power to a transitional government. But their abuses prompted a backlash by mainly Christian militias that has plunged the country into a series of inter-communal clashes.

Around 2.7 million people, more than half the population, need shelter, food and water, basic healthcare and education, according to the United Nations.

Farming output has fallen by around 60 percent from pre-crisis levels and the lean season between harvests is expected to begin four months earlier than usual this year, the FAO said.

Livestock numbers have fallen by more than three quarters as a result of cattle raids and rustling in the last two years, and food reserves in rural areas are down 40 percent from normal levels due to raiding and violence, it reported in October.

A lack of jobs in agriculture, which occupies 75 percent of the working population, could push more young people into banditry and joining militias for “easy money”, Vauthier said.

Foreign peacekeepers have kept a semblance of security in parts of the country, but some rural areas remain vulnerable.

“It is difficult to ensure state authority and establish a security presence in the countryside, so the rural population is much more exposed to pillaging and looting,” Vauthier added.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce

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