•They burn our food barns, destroy our crops

By Dayo Johnson; Samuel Oyadongha; Festus Ahon; Peter Duru; Charly Agwam; Rotimi Ojomeyela; Marie-Therese Nanlong; Egufe Yafugborhi; Davies Iheamnachor; Chioma Onuegbu; Emen Idio; Ochuko Akuopha; James Ogunnaike; Deola Badru; Ibrahim Hassan; Ibrahim Ogalah; Nasir Gusau & Musa Ubandawaki

Two weeks ago, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Mohammed Mahmood Abubakar, while presenting his ministry’s scorecard from 2015 to 2023 in Abuja, attributed the rising cost of food items to inflation and COVID 19 pandemic.

He also expressed doubt that the herders would intentionally unleash their cattle on farms which has been the cause of clashes between herders and farmers which sometimes result to casualties.

In their separate interviews however, farmers across the country dismissed the minister’s claims and proffered the real reasons for the soaring price of foodstuff. Some of the farmers also decried what they described as the lack of incentive from the state and the Federal Government.

PLATEAU

Farmers in Plateau State attributed food scarcity to the frequent invasion of their farms by herdsmen. They argued that in the past, many families had enough food at home and only sold what was necessary to meet other needs but now, families are stranded because they have lost both their homes and means of livelihood to the activities of some herders. The farmers said they have lost different types of grains, tubers and vegetables among other crops to the unwholesome activities of herdsmen who apart from destroying the crops in the farm, also burnt food barns where foodstuffs and seedlings were kept. Respondents from Bokkos, Bassa, and Wase local government areas of the state unanimously lamented their sorry situation.

Ujan Mashat whose village, Folloh in Bokkos local government area was recently attacked said, “There is food scarcity because the herders are intentional in their attempt at impoverishing the people, many crops due for harvest have been destroyed by the herders who always attack us. Their cows would graze the crops while the herders would burn the harvested ones stored at home. When communities are deserted, they have a field day grazing on farms without any repercussion”.

Patience Auta, a native of Ancha village, Miango district, Irigwe chiefdom of Bassa local government area added, “I am a farmer but I ran from the village to Jos in January this year to engage in petty trading because of incessant attacks by herders. Everybody knows that an average Irigwe person is a farmer but many villages are deserted, we cannot go to the farms for fear of being killed by herders. If you succeed in farming, your crops would be grazed by cows and the entire resources and efforts wasted.

Since we survived the January 2022 attack, my family had to relocate to Jos but where can we get farmland to cultivate? They burnt our food barns, destroyed our crops and chased us out and all of these have negative effects on food security.” Ezra Mairiga, a farmer from Wase maintained that, “the land mass in the entire north is enough to feed Nigeria and other nations who are interested in what we produce. The land is fertile to cultivate yam, rice, cassava, millet, but take my case for example. I borrowed N500,000 to farm but everything was wasted because I had to run away with my family because of the bandits. I am now in Shendam doing nothing because I don’t have any money to put on the farm. I am not the only person in this situation, some of my friends are in the same situation. If small-scale farmers like us cannot farm to support the big-time farmers because of insecurity, how can the country sustain food security?”

SOKOTO

A large scale farmer in Sokoto state Alhaji Dalhatu Abdullahi Gada, while reacting to skyrocketing cost of foodstuffs said most of the commercial farming states in the northwest that include Katsina, Zamfara and Niger states have been taken over by bandits. He added that even the peasant farmers who cultivate to feed their families have been denied access to their farmlands by the bandits. Mohammed kurebe a farmer in Isa local Government area blamed the rise in the prices of foodstuffs to high demand by business men who yearly purchase and hoard food items to be sold at a later date for anticipated profit.

According to him, another factor for the increase in prices of food items was the migration of rural farmers to the urban centres who were forced to flee their villages for fear of banditry.

BENUE

Benue State Chairman of the National Association of Yam farmers, Processors and Marketers, Dominic Dekera said: “the real herdsmen that we knew in the past that lived with us were not violent. We knew their mode of operation and lived without issues. For instance as a rice farmer when you harvest your rice and trash it, the fodder is what the herdsmen we knew in the past came for, to feed their cattle with.

Sometimes they would come to you to take permission to have their cattle graze in any part of the community. And when they did that they would give us fresh milk and sometimes we also gave them yam and other foodstuff. That was the kind of friendship we used to have at the time. But this strange herdsmen of nowadays send their cattle into our flourishing farms and allow them to consume anything in the farm and no one will raise a voice. These people also have the temerity to challenge owners of the farms they destroy. Sometime they confront their victims to come out and attack them if they are pained by their action. They do that because they go about with AK47 riffle. They take over our farmland and will not allow us to farm. These herdsmen are on a mission to take over our land because those who are supposed to halt their activities are encouraging them. These people in government who are supporting what the herdsmen are doing should be blamed for the food shortages we are witnessing. They forget that we cannot live on meat. We need the food from our farms to survive as humans. We must eat rice, yam, cassava, millet, corn and others to survive but not meat. But those who are supposed to cultivate the food are now living in Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps. Why would anyone deliberately change the narrative of the herdsmen activities in our communities when we all see what they are doing in our communities? These herdsmen will trek hundreds of kilometers and land in people’s village, destroying farms and killing the people all in a bid to take over and somebody will say they do not do it deliberately”.

KATSINA

Similarly in Katsina State most of the farmers who spoke to Vanguard argued that the herders intentionally unleash their cattle on people’s farms in desperation to sustain their cattle. According to Ahmed Rufai, a farmer from Funtua Local Government Area of the state, “the government is to blame for the activities of the herders. Having destroyed their grazing routes, they are left with no choice but to seek ways by all means to fend for their cattle by eating up people’s farms. To make the matter worse, most of the time, only two or three herders are controlling over a 1000 cattle which is impossible to effectively control them.” Another farmer, Usman Abdullahi, from Kaita LGA of the state said most of the time, “the herders usually come grazing at night with their cattle, knowing that we are yet to evacuate our harvest from the farm completely and disappear before dawn. The high cost of foodstuff is also attributable to the announced redesign of naira notes because a lot of people who stacked money in their homes and warehouses are afraid to take their money to the bank for fear of being quizzed. So, they are now rushing to the market to buy farm produce, not necessarily to make profit but to prevent losing their money completely.”

KADUNA

Malam Basiru Muhammadu, a local farmer in Kaduna State said the fear of bandits and other criminal elements has made farmers to stay away from their farmlands in the bush where they used to produce food crops in large quantity. He said if they were able to produce large quantity of food crops during the rainy season and have made it available to the markets like before, that would have reduced the high cost of food stuffs presently experienced in the markets. Malam Basiru said there were some communities where farm lands were abandoned because the farmers were afraid of being kidnapped, which had grossly affected the food economy.

ZAMFARA

A farmer in Zamfara state, Shehu Danja said farmers in the state witnessed massive reduction in rice and other farm produce in the 2022 rainy farming season because of the activities of bandits. According to him, “most of our farmers cannot go to farms due to fear of bandits’ attacks and kidnapping. Bandits send messages of attack to communities or impose heavy levy on us before allowing us access to our own farms. Bandits are the ones who decide whether we go to farms or not, in some areas even if farmers plant crops they cannot harvest due to insecurity. The situation is unfortunate. Most of the areas affected by insecurity are where we have a large number of farmers. Some of our farmers producing thousands of bags of grains, cannot produce even a quarter of the quantity of food they used to produce”.

A large scale farmer, Abdullahi Dalla-Dalla, said, “Farmers are always facing threats from the bandits. Last year, I lost over 150 bags of grains to bandits. On his part, Malam Yusha’u Bingi a staff of College of Education Maru, explained that he cultivated Soya beans this year in his village and when it was time for harvest, the bandits stormed the farm and harvested the farm produce. I spent huge money on the farm which I borrowed with the agreement of paying back after harvest. But when it was harvest time, the bandits stormed the farm and harvested everything”.

Another farmer, Alhaji Nasir Rugga said, in some areas farmers have to go and negotiate with leaders of the bandits so as to allow them farm. He lamented that the Federal Government seemed to have abandoned them to their fate and jettisoned any idea of providing security for the farmers.

BAUCHI

A dry season farmer in Bauchi, Yohanna Mugana said that in his over 30 years of farming, he had witnessed 12 incidents where Fulani herders entered his farm to graze their livestock.

According to him, “on several occasions Fulani men directed their cattle to my farm without knowing I was in the farm with my family. 

But when they found out that I was in the farm, they apologized and drove away their cows. Two years ago, they went into my farm and ate up my guinea corn. These experiences didn’t lead to altercations and attendant deaths because I applied wisdom in dealing with them. Other farmers may not have allowed the herders to get away with it.”

ONDO

Mr Zadok Akintoye, a farmer in Ondo state said, “the comment from the Minister is quite regrettable considering the many proven instances of willful, malicious and deliberate herding of cattle into farms, one of which happened to me. If he had said that many of these herders were under the influence of drugs as a possible reason for their actions, I would have understood but to find excuses for these herders would be tantamount to insulting many victims of such occurrences. In my own instance, the young boy that was left with the cattle, not only guided them into our estate, but deliberately into my cassava farm, where the animals destroyed the entire farm. I think what should concern the minister is the impact of such farmer-herder conflicts on food security, rather than finding excuses for acts that are otherwise criminal in nature. What I believe we must begin to find solutions to in this instance, is the culture of cattle herding which has been abolished in many societies due to the conflicts created when clear lines of separation between what constitutes a grazing path and farms, is not respected by herders”.

RIVERS

Mrs Uchendu Nkechi, a farmer in various crops in Rumuji, Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers state said, “it’s so unthinkable that a Minister of Agriculture could say he’s not sure if herders intentionally unleash their cattle on farms when we, the helpless farmers, have painful experiences to share on how these reckless herders frequently destroy our cassava, yams and vegetables. Some persons could not live to share their pains having been killed by herders. This minister and the FG he represents must be living in a Nigeria different from the Nigerian space occupied by the helpless farmers facing the key challenges of insecurity and the insensitivity of this government”.

BAYELSA

The story is not different in Bayelsa. A farmer at Otuasega in Ogbia LGA who simply identified herself as Mama Azi, lamented that in spite of the ban on open grazing by the state government, the herders have continued to invade and destroy their farmlands, recalling a near tragic incident in which one of their youths was brutally attacked by some herdsmen trespassing their farm. “The Minister’s comment that herders infraction on farmlands is not deliberate and not responsible for escalating food prices shows clearly the insensitivity of the Federal Government to the plight of local farmers”.

AKWA IBOM

In Akwa Ibom State, farmers blamed the biting high cost of food items on failure of state and Federal Governments to provide incentives and grants to genuine farmers to improve their farmlands.

A farmer, elder Samuel Udobong from Afaha Atai village in Eket local government area said, “the issue we have here in the state is lack of grants/incentives from both state and federal governments. We don’t have access to funds, incentives to improve on production, like farmers in the north. So it is not about Covid-19 pandemic or inflation. Similarly, another farmer in Etinan local government area who simply identified himself as Mr Paul noted that “in my own opinion it is because government has not prioritised agriculture. Government programmes on agriculture are only on paper. When Nigerian government begins to take agriculture as a priority, it will go a long way to address food production”.

DELTA

In Delta State, farmers insisted that the herders have been intentionally destroying their crops with their cattle and chasing them from their farmlands. A farmer and community leader in Arhadhe community, Isoko North Local Government Area of the State, Chief Felix Omakobia, said: “The herders are deliberately doing it. They will not only destroy the farmlands, but also uproot cassava and give to their cows to eat. You know cassava farming is the mainstay of our economy here and everyone is complaining on a daily basis. Every effort to ensure that crops are not destroyed have been to no avail”. Another farmer, Chief Edward Olisenekwu from Umueleke-Ossissa, Ndokwa East Local Government Area, said: “It is very clear that they are deliberately destroying the crops; they do it intentionally and when you ask them, they tell you the land belongs to them. Sometimes, they even set fire on farms and burn them. They deliberately do it and if you challenge them, they threaten to shoot you. They rape women in the farms and when the women hear their voices they run away and the herders take their cattle into the farms to eat cassava. On his part, Mr. Matthew Ujene said: “most of the destruction of crops was carried out intentionally by the herders. They will take their cattle into the cassava farms and even tell you that cassava is very nourishing for the cows”.

EKITI

A farmer in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti state, Mr Ogunleye Omowumi, blamed the hike in food prices to herders/farmers crisis saying that due to the incessant attacks by herders, crops that are already due for harvest would be abandoned, leading to low production. According to him, “we can’t go to farm regularly, because we are afraid of their threats and the disaster they can cause. This makes our production to be little and this leads to high cost of our produce”. Oludare Idowu, Vice Chairman, Ondo State agricultural commodities Association (OSACA) said, “the statement of Dr Mohammed Abubakar is quite insensitive to the pain and suffering the farmers in Nigeria are going through presently. On his part, the Deputy National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN),

Chief Olusegun Dasaolu, attributed the problem of high cost of food in Nigeria to some factors which include climate change, insecurity and lack of fund for farmers to operate. According to Chief Dasaolu, “the climate change is really affecting farmers seriously. In the South West part of the country, the inadequate rainfall affected farm produce while in the northern part of the country where there was heavy rainfall, it caused heavy flooding which washed away farm produce worth several millions of Naira, apart from hundreds of lives that were lost. The herders also invade farmlands with their cattle, destroyed farm produce and go ahead to kill any farmers that challenge them. This has created fear in the mind of the farmers and nobody is ready to risk his/her life. This crisis has left several people killed or displaced, who are mostly farmers and has affected food production across the country.

OYO

Chairman of All Farmers Association in Oyo State, Mr John Olateru, in his reaction, described insecurity and invasion of farms as serious challenges confronting farmers in the southwest.

He expressed pessimism that the southwest may still experience food shortage in the coming seasons due to the activities of suspected Fulani herdsmen which have made many farmers abandon their farms for the fear of being killed or kidnapped. “We have started experiencing food shortages already. It will be worse next season. The most unfortunate thing is that there are powers somewhere supporting these Fulani people. Our governors cannot speak the truth again because of their selfish interest and the fear of the Federal Government”, he said

A farmer, Mr. Kehinde Ojelere, in Igangan town in Ibarapa area of the state, while narrating his experience to Vanguard, said he had stopped going to his farm since it was taken over by Fulani herdsmen. According to him, “the Fulani herdsmen are not allowing us to fully concentrate on our farming business. We have reported them to law enforcement agents on countless occasions but they did nothing”. Another farmer, Mr Femi Ojedokun, said, “Fulani herdsmen would invade our farms and rape our wives who are assisting us there. If they destroy the farm, the police, after collecting money, would release the culprit. This is giving them a lot of confidence to do more harm,”.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.