By Alex Whiting
ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Farmers in Nigeria's crisis-hit northeast urgently need help to start growing crops again, the U.N. food agency said on Tuesday, warning that a failure to get people back on their feet could open the door to radicalisation.
An insurgency by Boko Haram militants in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states disrupted fishing, farming, cattle breeding and trade routes after violence worsened in 2012.
Government forces retook territory from the insurgents last year, although attacks continue.
The improved situation has allowed aid agencies to reach more of the 7 million people who need aid, including 3 million experiencing severe food shortages.
But failure to rebuild the rural economy and boost job opportunities could result in youth frustration and continued violence in the region, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.
"If you miss the opportunity, you perpetuate the need for food assistance. You create dependency," Dominique Burgeon, director of FAO's emergency and rehabilitation division, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"If you create frustration, you leave the door open to all sorts of discontent including radicalisation and enrolment into armed groups."
The United Nations and medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres warned last month that nearly 250,000 children in Borno state alone were suffering life-threatening malnourishment, and many were dying.
Aid agencies now have "a critical opportunity to tackle the alarming levels of food insecurity in northeast Nigeria," Tim Vaessen, FAO's emergency and response manager in Nigeria, said in a statement.
FAO has already distributed seeds to some 120,000 farmers to grow crops during the rainy season. Their harvest is expected in September and experts hope it will provide families with enough food for up to 10 months.
The U.N. agency now wants to reach 385,000 farmers who can grow crops on land that can be irrigated during the current drier weather.
Boko Haram controlled a swathe of land in northeast Nigeria around the size of Belgium at the end of 2014, but was pushed out by Nigerian troops, aided by soldiers from neighboring countries, early last year.
Some 9 million people are in need of aid across the Lake Chad region, comprising Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Late last month, U.N. humanitarian aid chief Stephen O'Brien, told the Security Council: "What we have uncovered and assessed is deeply, distressingly alarming, even for those of us who have witnessed such depths of humanitarian need before."
He warned that the lean season - the period between harvests - which puts millions in the Lake Chad region at risk of hunger and malnutrition each year, had already begun, making the need for aid even more urgent.
(Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Emma Batha.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)