•As farmers, traders lament, count losses
By Peter Duru, Makurdi; Umar Yusuf, Yola; Marie-Therese Nanlong, Jos; David Odama, Lafia
Farmers, food vendors and residents in the middle belt region of the country have raised an alarm of an impending famine and hunger in Nigeria. Following persistent attacks by insurgents and herdsmen on the farming communities in the region, the farmers in their thousands have fled their homes and farms and are taking refuge in Internally Displaced Persons’, IDPs, camps.
This has therefore led to food shortage while the prices of food items in the region have skyrocketed. From Benue to Plateau, Adamawa and Nasarawa states, the story is the same. As the farmers are lamenting their inability to return to farms, the traders are complaining of food items to sell while the residents are groaning under the weight of the high prices of the few commodities available in the market.
Benue in particular was most devastated in the attacks with as many as 500,000 persons displaced from their ancestral homes. Many communities in Benue state, known as the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’ have now been desolate. The state known for producing the large quantity of food consumed in parts of the country has become a ghost of itself, no thanks to the unending herdsmen killings which since the beginning of the year have left over 500 dead, many others missing, several hundreds injured, and farmlands and food barns destroyed and looted.
Today, majority of those affected in the crisis, from Logo to Guma, Makurdi to Gwer West and Agatu are taking refuge in eight Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps established by the state government to provide safe haven for the victims of the crisis. The development has left a large number of the farming populace of the state at the mercy of public spirited individuals, groups and organizations who willingly donated essential items for their upkeep. The implication is that the large number of the people renowned for their farming prowess have all deserted their ancestral homes and farmlands and the quantum of food and cash crops production in this part of the country have taken a nosedive leading to a sudden surge in the prices of these items in the state and other parts of the country.
A visit to selected local markets in Makurdi confirmed the fears of many as prices of several food items produced locally in the state, that were hitherto affordable and always in large supply in markets across the state were either in short supply or sold at outrageous prices. Some of the traders and farmers spoken to on the development expressed fears that the state might be in for a long period of food shortage and consequent hike in prices.
Yam seller recounts experience
According to Elizberth Iorron, a yam seller at the popular High Level market in Makurdi, the development has forced prices out of the reach of the ordinary man.
Her words: “This is my 15th year of trading in yam, rice, corn, melon and garri which we used to produce in large quantity in Benue state but today the situation is different because of the herdsmen crisis. Most of the farmers of these crops have all fled their communities and farms and are currently taking refuge in IDPs camps so we can hardly see any goods to buy from the village markets.
“The most painful part of it all is that even when you see any of the goods at all, you will not be able to buy because the asking price would be out of your reach. For example, before the crisis that started in January we used to buy a bag of melon in Guma local government, where it was being produced more than any other place, for about N20,000 but now if you see at all, a bag goes for as high as N50,000. So it has become almost impossible to buy. The same thing goes for rice and corn which are produced in Guma in very large quantity. Prices of these food crops have doubled or tripled because the farmers can no longer access their farmlands most of which were completely razed and destroyed by armed herdsmen. Today a cup of melon which was sold for N100 as at last year now goes for as much as N300 or more.
“As for yam which the entire world knows we produce massively in Benue state, the situation is also that bad. We are in September but look around in the market, how many new yams can you find to buy? In fact most of the stalls are locked up because traders cannot get these goods to buy in the villages.
“I recall that this time every year we had new yams everywhere and it was very affordable for everyone, but today you can hardly see to buy and even if you see, the size which was sold for N100 last year now goes for as high as N300. This is because the several communities in the Logo axis of the state which produces the largest quantity of yam in the state have all been deserted, the farmers of yam in Benue now live in IDPs camps.
“Most of us now go to Tse Abategba, Annunne, Tyowanye to source for these food crops but the fact is that these are areas where these food items are not produced in large quantity. I can go on and on, no doubt we are all in for trouble because Benue farmers may not be able to meet the food need of the people of the state not to talk of the country where people eagerly await the coming of Benue yam. It is indeed saddening.
“This is what the herdsmen crisis has created for our people and the entire country. That was why we were crying and pleading with the federal government to arrest the situation but all our cries fell on deaf ears and they failed to realize that their inaction to tackle the crisis was preparing grounds for long period of food shortage in the country.
Displaced farmers’ lamentation
On his part a displaced farmer currently taking refuge at the IDPs camp, in Abagena, Mr. Igbakura Ter who recalled how his several rice and guineacorn farms were razed in Tomatar community, said he lost over N6million worth of harvested crops in his barn.
According to him, “my community was attacked early January by herdsmen and after killing several of our people they burnt down our homes, farms, food barns and local warehouses where we usually stocked our produce for sale to traders from across the country. It is the same story in virtually all the communities that were attacked in Guma local government at the peak of the crisis. So we were left with nothing to sell, even the crops we planted during the dry season were all destroyed.
“As for me, I lost over N6million worth of harvested crops which were stored for sale to buyers who usually come from the state and other parts of the country. Most of the families and communities affected in the crisis suffered the same fate because in Benue we all rely on our produce for the sustenance of our families.”
“From all indications, even if we return to our communities today, it could take us another two to three years to be able to reorganize and redevelop our massive farms. And what that means is that those who come from across the country will have to wait a long time to be able to get anything to buy from us.
“What that also means is that our families will live in abject poverty within the said period except the federal government intervenes by providing us some support because the situation is completely beyond the state government.”
On his part, 55 year old Chabo Numve, a renowned yam farmer in Ayilamo in Logo local government, said he was yet to do a comprehensive assessment of the quantum and monetary value of losses he suffered in his 15 yam farms and 28 local barns destroyed by the invading armed herdsmen when they struck in the area between January and May.
He said, “I cannot tell you the value of my harvested yams that were burnt and looted by the herdsmen when they attacked my community but I know it cannot be less than N12million worth. Till today I am still in shock because though I did not lose any of my family members to the crisis but the quantity of my produce and farmlands that were destroyed was enough to push me to commit suicide because I lost everything and it might take me another four years to find my feet again in the business and you know what that means to a big farmer like me. All my customers who used to come to my village with trucks to purchase yams from me will also stay away from my community for fear of the unknown.”
Ex-Agriculture commissioner predicts years of food shortages
Speaking on the implication of the crisis on the Benue economy and the lives of the people, the immediate past Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. James Anbua said Benue farmers lost over N85billion worth of harvested farm produce and planted crops to the crisis.
Anbua said “the invasion of Logo and Guma local government areas which are the hub of farm produce in Benue state, by herdsmen has no doubt left a deep scar on the lives of the people and also eroded whatever gains we recorded in the agricultural sector. The crisis came when our local farmers had keyed into the agricultural policies of the Governor Samuel Ortom led administration and were recording steady increase in production due to the improved agronomy practices introduced by the government with the support of international organizations. Regrettably all that was stocked for sale to local consumers and traders from outside the state were all destroyed including farmlands, farm houses and warehouses which implies that we would obviously go through some years of food shortages not only in Benue but other parts of the country where the farm produce from here are consumed.
“From the rough inventory and estimate we were able to put together, the losses the people suffered was over N85billion but it could be higher when the sacked locals are able to access their communities not to talk of the huge revenue losses the state government is currently recording,”Anbua added.
I forsee famine, hunger in the land—Gov Ortom
Also speaking recently on the consequences of the herdsmen crisis on the farming populace of the state, Governor Samuel Ortom who lamented the level of devastation the local farmers suffered as a result of the crisis acknowledged that the state and country could face the prospect of huge food shortages.
Ortom said, “I must say that it is a big challenge for me having over 180,000 IDPs in about eight camps. And I forsee famine and hunger over our land as a result of the crisis. I’m sure it will affect other states because as the food basket of the nation I know the worth of farm produce that used to go out of our state daily and how it supported food security in Nigeria.
“Today all those people that are in the IDPs camps are the people who produce food for their livelihood but now they cannot access their farms. Where they are today are semi urban areas, so it is difficult to have land to talk about cultivating and when they go back to their ancestral land to try to farm they are attacked. No doubt we are going to pay a huge price in terms of food production and food security in this country as a consequence of the crisis,” Ortom added.
In Plateau state, the story is not different as herdsmen attacks have prevented many farmers from going to their farms for fear of being killed or watch their farms being destroyed by straying cows.
For instance in many farming communities in some local government areas in Plateau North and Central Senatorial zones where produce such as carrot, cucumber, broccoli, strawberry, sour-sop, lemon, sesame, cabbage, grape, asparagus, hot pepper, soya beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, acha (hungry rice), maize, green beans, beans, guinea corn, yam, among others are cultivated in commercial quantity, farmers have gory tales to tell of how their investments that ran into millions of naira went down the drain due to herders’ activities. The attacks by herdsmen have adversely affected the prices of such produce in the markets. From Barkin Ladi to Riyom to Bassa, Jos South, Mangu, to Bokkos local government areas, farmers narrated their losses while traders in such produce also lamented the high prices of the commodities.
Vanguard gathered that in the last two months, over 600 farmers have had their farms destroyed not by natural disaster but herders’ activities as some farms had their crops destroyed by cattle while others were either cut down or harvested by the herders.
Moses Choji whose farm was destroyed at Jol, Riyom local government area said, “I was not the only one affected but the entire community because we predominantly farm Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, soya beans and other crops. Last month, the herdsmen invaded our farms and destroyed the produce. Over 200 people in Jol have had their farms destroyed and my experience is even little compared to what other members of the community went through.”
Another farmer, Dalyop Mwantiri said, “I have a farm measuring about three hectares grown with Maize and sesame crops. I spent not less than N200, 000 in clearing, cultivating, purchase of fertilizer, insecticide, labour and other activities, believing to have a bountiful harvest of approximately N650,000.
“Unfortunately, my dreams and that of other affected farmers in this raining season have been shattered by the act of criminality perpetrated by herdsmen who went even in broad daylight to mow down crops leaving the victims in a state of despondency. The continuous mischievous activities of herdsmen have made not only my life but those of hundreds of other locals very pathetic.
“The numerous human disasters deliberately orchestrated with impunity as exhibited by the herders were not limited to Jol community alone, but other Berom communities such as Rim, Gako, Byei, Kwi, Wereng, Gwon, Ken, Shonong, Palang, among many in Riyom LGA. Communities like Gassa, Kakuruk, Nghar, Soi, Tissan, Ropp of Barkin Ladi were also not spared.
“I passionately appeal to NEMA, SEMA, Red Cross International, Nigerian Government at all levels, local and international bodies to swiftly intervene with necessary assistance so as to curb an inevitable food security crisis obviously looming in the state.”
Jude Auta, who is a farmer/trader from Irigwe community of Bassa Local Council, said “Everyone in this state knows about Miango yam, this is where we used to cultivate it. You also know about Miango pepper and water leaves; we used to have them here in large quantities. In Bokkos local government area, we used to have Irish potatoes and maize. In Barkin Ladi and Riyom, we used to have tomatoes, cabbage and varieties of vegetables; all in very large quantities. Today, that has changed because attacks in recent times have slowed down the pace of cultivation, acha is gradually disappearing and if found, very costly. Farmers have deserted the fertile areas as a result of herdsmen killings; many families have lost their loved ones. The farmers are no longer getting sufficient produce and these have affected economic and commercial activities in the state, as there is no revenue generation within the crisis zone, because buying and selling have been greatly affected.
“Apart from the burning of crops and killing of farmers, many surviving farmers are in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps and cannot return to take advantage of the raining season for agricultural purposes which guarantees food security. So, why will there not be food shortage?”
Rita Dafes who traded in Irish potatoes also lamented the difficulty she and her colleagues were facing in their business. According to her; “things are increasingly getting worse because of the persistent attacks. It is difficult to get potatoes at a good rate; three years ago, a bag of Irish potatoes used to be between N5, 000 and N6, 000 but now we are buying it between N8, 000 and N9, 000. It is still the same bag, the same quantity, so how do we make profit from such?”
In Nasarawa state, farmers and traders were also lamenting, attributing the short fall on crops production to incessant attacks on farmers in several areas of the state. Some farmers and traders who spoke to Vanguard maintained that the attacks have paralysed economic, political and social activities in the state.
The senator representing Nasarawa South, Sen. Suleiman Adokwe said the incessant farmers /herdsmen clashes have resulted in acute food shortage. According to him, “the farmers /herdsmen clashes have continued for too long resulting in poverty, hunger and unemployment”.
Also speaking, a one time councillor and a farmer in Wamba local government area of the state, Jerry Peleng said the herdsmen/ farmers, religious, communal and ethnic crisis have not only led to loss of lives and property, but have increased shortage in food production within the state. Peleng noted that “the attacks had affected both the farmers and the traders in all the 13 local government areas in Nasarawa state in particular and the nothern states in general as farmers could no longer grow food crops again due to the fear of the herders”.
A yam trader in Lafia local government area, Alhaji Ibrahim Danladi regretted that rather than selling to people in other communities and neighbouring state who used to come to buy food items from Lafia, the people of Nasarawa state now go to other towns and neighbouring states to buy food. “The stores where food crops used to be preserved are empty as there are no food items to store again as most farmers would not go to farm for fear of being attacked.” Danladi stated.
As far back as 2009, Adamawa state alongside Borno, Yobe and some other states in the north east have been grappling with the issue of insurgents attack which claimed not only human lives but affected farming activities as able-bodied men and women, mainly rural dwellers who should be on the farm were either killed, maimed or displaced. Those who were lucky to be alive have remained in the IDPs camps as refugees.
Book haram attacks completely disengaged farmers from their farms especially the northen local government areas of the state such as Michika, Mubi North, Mubi South, Gombi, Hong and Madagali.
However, while Boko Haram attacks have subsided since the inception of the present administration in 2015, a more dangerous dimension, the cattle rearers/farmers clash has engulfed the entire state.
The crisis was such that no one could dare go to the farm for fear of herdsmen attack.
Consequently, about 98% of the agrarian population in the Northern senatorial zone of the state was completely dislodged thereby leading to food shortage and high cost of food items
Mr. Simon Papka, a big tine farmer in Madagali Local Government Area of the state explained that though the issue of insurgency attack had relatively reduced, the farmers could not afford to stay on the farms for fear of being attacked. Mr. Papka added that farmers in the area were merely relying on the little produce from their back yards.
Madam Cynthia Ikwere, popularly known as Mama Hillary, a major dealer in farm produce in Jimeta modern market attributed the high cost of farm produce to attacks by the insurgents and herdsmen arguing that until the attacks were curtailed, the high cost of food items would continue unabated.