By Peter Duru
Incessant attacks on farmer and their farmlands in Benue State, which have claimed hundreds of lives and the destruction of property worth hundreds of millions of Naira, have resulted in food shortage with a sharp rise in prices across the state and its environs, findings by Arewa Voice have indicated.
The sustained attacks on the farming community of the state, according to findings, have also seriously disrupted all-season farming activities in the state and adversely affected food production and the economy of the state, hitherto dubbed “The Food Basket of Nigeria”.
As a result of these onslaughts, the swathes of bustling farmlands that normally produce a variety of cash and food crops have been deserted as the herdsmen, who attack, destroy and kill, have not been sparing in their assaults in recent years.
Consequently upon the attacks and desertion of farmlands by farmers, most food markets have become scanty and the bustling fresh farm foods have also dried up, leaving buyers and consumers with little or no alternatives.
This has resulted in the emergence of people with empty stomachs even as the state, which hitherto produced large quantity of food for Nigerians, has now become home to over one million internally displaced persons, IDPs.
The consequence of these violent attacks is the spike in the prices of the little available food in the state which expectedly have gone beyond the reach of the ordinary man. Also the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR profile of the government has been adversely affected given the loss of revenue accruals from farm produce across the state.
This troubling situation in Benue has become a source of serious concern to women in the state under the aegis of “Concerned Benue Mothers”, who decry the spate of killings in the state and the failure of the federal government to stem the tide, warning that the seeming failure of the government to address the herdsmen menace could trigger the worst food crisis in the state.
Spokesperson of the mothers, and former federal lawmaker, Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan, noted that the unchecked attacks on farmers in Benue State had resulted in food crisis and might escalate to a more dangerous dimension if not stopped.
The same fear has also been expressed by a former acting Director General of Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, and Benue state governorship aspirant, Dr. Paul Angya, who decried the spate of attacks on communities in the state.
Dr. Angya noted: “It is now obvious to everyone that these attacks by armed herders on Benue communities have led to sharp drop in food production in the state by over 50 percent. And we all know what that means to the food security of the state and indeed the country because Benue contributes in no small measure to the food security of this country,” he added.
But the account of the food producers and traders in some markets visited by Arewa Voice speak of a serious disaster about to be unleashed unless urgent steps are taken to make food available to consumers at affordable prices.
According to Judith Ger who trades in yam, grains and other farm produce at the North Bank market, if something is not done urgently Benue may be seeking food supply from outside the state to feed its populace.
“It is disturbing that we are not getting enough yam to buy from farmers anymore because most of the farmers have run away from their homes and most of the yam that are usually stocked up for sale at this time of the year have been destroyed and in some cases looted by armed herdsmen who have been killing and destroying in our communities.
“That is why the price of a heap of ten sizable tubers of yam that was usually sold for N1,500 is now going for as much as N4,000. Do you know that a ‘mudu‘ of corn is being sold for N500 as against N150 it was sold within this period last year?,” the trader asked rhetorically.
“The situation is not different from the prices of cassava chips that we usually sell for N50 per ‘mudu’ which is now going for as high as N300. Then the question is how many of that ‘mudu’ would an individual buy to be able to put food on the table”?
“A basin of cassava chips used to sell for N1, 000 but now it is being sold for up to N10, 000 in Benue state where we produce cassava in very large quantity.
Another trader, Margaret Num, also recounted how her brother was killed a few days back in his farm in Gwer West LGA by armed herders when he made efforts to access the farm in order to plant his grains.
“Two of my brothers went to Bunaka our village in Gwer West LGA to plant millet only for them to be confronted by armed herdsmen who shot and killed one of them while the other escaped.
“As I speak we have not been able to recover his corpse and all our farmlands have been occupied by these killer herdsmen so nobody is farming anymore in our communities. That is the reason why we do not have anything to sell to the people because we cannot engage in farming actives in our communities until the herdsmen are removed from our villages.
On her part, Grace Anule who said she lost her father to herdsmen attacks in Yelwata, Guma LGA said, lamented that he community has been deserted due to the continuous attacks by herdsmen, leading to acute food shortage and high prices for local cash crops like millet, corn, guinea corn, maize, yam, soya beans, melon, pepper and tomato and a host of others.
“It is sad that the federal government has failed us. They have refused to protect us from our killers and left us to die in hunger when everyone knows that our preoccupation here in Benue is farming which cannot coexist with herders and their herds.
“That is why we told our government to make a law banning open grazing and allowing ranching so that peace can reign in our communities. But sadly the federal government has refused to support us in order to ensure that the law is fully implemented to ensure peace in our villages.
“But we believe that the federal and the Benue State government should work together to bring an end to the incessant killings by herdsman and ensure the interrupted food production in the state so that our farmers can have enough for consumption and export as has always been the case in the state, Anule prayed.