Anyebe Peter has only recently returned to his farm in central Nigeria, nearly three months after attacks by Fulani herdsmen killed seven villagers, destroyed 250 homes and forced survivors to flee.
“Nothing is left for us either on our farm or in our village after the attack,” he told AFP in Adagbo, a stone’s throw from the Benue river that forms the border between Benue and Nasarawa states.
“The attackers destroyed all our farms and the yields. We have nothing to sell or eat now.”
More than 20 villages populated by mainly Agatu farmers were attacked by the marauding cattlemen, according to community leaders.
Unconfirmed reports say up to 500 people were killed. Homes, churches, mosques, grain stores and land were ransacked or destroyed.
But beyond the cost to lives and property, the violence along the river and in other central states has exacerbated rising food prices that are increasingly having an impact across the country.
“After harvesting we normally take our rice to processing mills in Abakaliki (southeast) and Kaduna (north) before we sell in Lagos and southern states,” said one youth leader in Adagbo.
“But we have nothing to eat now let alone to sell. We’re famished and don’t have any money. Our only source of income has been hampered by the killings.”
Fears of fresh attacks have forced many Agatu farmers to stay away and with no one to plant crops, the fields will go fallow. With less produce to sell, already high prices are climbing further.
– Rising inflation –
Clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers have been a regular feature of life in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” — Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi states — largely over grazing rights.
In states such as Plateau, the often tit-for-tat violence goes beyond the fight for resources, with ethnic and religious undertones.
All five states produce many of the food staples consumed in the south: pepper, yams, tomatoes, onions, carrots, rice, wheat, potatoes, millet and pumpkin.
Nearly seven years of violence by Boko Haram insurgents in the agrarian northeast has also cut production and caused food shortages for the more than 2.0 million internally displaced.
A shortfall in supply because of missed harvests, compounded by rising transportation costs and restrictions on imports because of a lack of foreign exchange, has sent prices spiralling.
Overall, Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy — is in bad shape. The slump in global crude prices has drastically cut government revenue from oil exports, weakening the naira currency.
Inflation climbed for the sixth successive month in April to 13.7 percent, up from 12.8 percent in March, the National Bureau of Statistics said last week.
Food inflation in April rose 1.3 percentage points to 13.2 percent, with the highest increases in fish — a staple in the northeast — fruits and vegetables, bread and cereals.
“Inflation was driven by increases in prices of imported as well as domestically produced foods due to supply constraints,” the NBS stated.
– ‘I can see hunger’ –
The World Bank has since 2008 provided funding to the Nigerian government to support ‘fadama’ farms — a Hausa-language term for low-lying irrigable land near major rivers.
The $450 million (400-million-euro) scheme supports production and trade of rice, tomato and yams, as well as fishing, forestry and water for livestock.
Nigeria’s government wants to boost agriculture to diversify the economy away from a dependency on oil.
But when AFP visited ‘fadama’ land in Obagaji it was almost completely deserted. Only a few fishermen were seen around the river bed.
Analysts SBM Intelligence said in a report “Terror in the Food Basket” published last October that some farmers in the “Middle Belt” had not planted crops or harvested since 2006.
The huge Mile 12 market is one of the biggest in Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos, some 11 hours or more by road from Benue.
“Only a quarter of the number of trucks from the north that daily discharged products in Lagos and the southwest are currently doing so,” said market representative Jubril Magaji.
“This is the main cause of the scarcity and sharp price increases,” he added.
For wholesalers and ordinary shoppers, the hikes are compounding rising costs for fuel and electricity, both of which are in short supply.
“I bought four tomatoes for 200 naira ($0.99, 87 euros) instead of the usual 50 naira,” said caterer Peju Adegoke out shopping in Mile 12.
“A tuber of yam which sold for 250 naira a few months back now sells for 600 naira. I can see hunger staring us in the face. It’s lamentable.”