“Here We Do Not Go to the Fields”
A salary that may be stolen from you, a commute with the threat of rape, a workplace in 35-degree heat. Farming in Batangafo, in the north of the Central African Republic, is one of the hardest jobs in the world. If Rosalie Fiobona*  and Antoinette Ngaïnam*  seem both incredibly tired and incredibly tough, it is clear why.
They, along with many displaced women in Batangafo, have always been farmers. Both inherited their farms from their fathers, one on land so flat it is near where aeroplanes land and the other in the rich, damp soil near the Ouham River. But today she says:
“I have fear because we go to the fields and on my return the armed men can attack us, rape us … assault us”
Antoinette Ngaïnam, Farmer.
They, and 35,000 other displaced people, have been forced to flee from their homes in Batangafo, a large portion of whom live on just 1km². Within this small space there are MINUSCA peacekeepers and humanitarians distributing food and supplies who try to create a safe area. But there are only three dirt roads surrounding this triangle of land and endless entry points. The violence is not localised nor continuous; its seasons are not predictable. Months of farming work can be lost when armed groups appear on land worked beyond its borders.
“At the start I made an effort to go to plant, but I had no time to harvest…if I went to the fields the armed men chased me and said the displaced had no right to go there”
Rosalie Fiobona, Farmer
Even those attempting to help the displaced people in Batangafo are, themselves, becoming targets. Batangafo is one of the sub-prefectures most affected by incidents against humanitarian workers in a country already listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a humanitarian. On several occasions emergency aid work had to be suspended as humanitarians were forced to withdraw. Every day an average of at least one act of violence is registered against humanitarian workers in the Central African Republic. Batangafo was the fourth most affected sub-prefecture with 39 incidents against humanitarian personnel or property in 2020. In January 2021, 66 incidents were recorded across CAR – more than double the monthly average in 2020.
Neither Rosalie nor Antoinette have any property within the triangle. And even if they did, every inch has a shelter, a person, a purpose. Both women’s properties are less than 3km away. Most of the displaced people have homes that are heartbreakingly close. An afternoon’s walk, a simple stroll across the road, a short hour away. There, there are houses with burnt roofs and grass where crops were planted before. Most still visit their homes despite the danger. Not just for food but also to be, for an hour or two, in their own homes. The lure of the memory of a time when they had control of their own lives, when they could work to feed themselves, surrounded by their neighbours and families, is so great that even the threat of rape and death cannot always conquer it.
As the evening closes in Rosalie and Antoinette walk back into the centre of the displaced people’s site. When everything they want and have worked so hard for: independence, control and home, lies, impossibly, in the opposite direction.
*names have been changed to protect the interviewees