From Priscilla Ediare, Ado-Ekiti
The biblical verse “A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted” did not come to pass for members of the Maize Growers Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN) in Ekiti State.
Their hopes were shattered when herdsmen reportedly led their cattle to a large maize farm in the state, destroying crops worth millions of naira.
The maize farmers, who said they obtained loans from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to plant the maize on the farm in Ago Aduloju forest reserve, a large forest that links Ado, Ikere, Ise and Ijan-Ekiti together in Ekiti State, blamed the cattle herders for the total destruction of their maize farm.
The farmers lamented that, apart from their hopes being shattered, they were also at a loss as to how they would repay the loans they took from the CBN. They said the repayment agreement was supposed to be from the proceeds from their farm.
Chairman of the association in Ekiti, Mr. John Omoyajowo, who said the massive destruction of the maize crop had eroded the bountiful harvest they had expected. He noted that it was the first time the association’s members planted maize, which covered about 250 acres, an equivalent of 100 hectares of land for 100 maize farmers.
Omoyajowo said the maize project, which was the maiden attempt by the farmers, did very well. The crops were planted in September last year and the farmers had planned to harvest them between December 2020 and January 2021. He noted that the maize on each stalk had become dry enough for storage and was ready for the market, but he lamented that the herders led their cattle to the farm and destroyed the crops, which he said would have yielded millions of naira for them.
Although it was the first invasion encountered on their farm, Omoyajowo said the association had made efforts to secure the farm and also forestall trespassing. He said the group hired guards and provided motorcycles for them to move around the farm during the day. He said most farm invasions happened at night.
He further explained that, for their farm to be safe and free of attacks, day or night, the farmers had held a meeting with the Department of State Service (DSS) in Ekiti in September last year to ensure security of their farm as required by the national body of the association. Also, in December, he said the farmers met with stakeholders concerned with cattle breeding in the state. They included the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Cattle Fulani (cattle breeders from Kwara State), Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Ministry of Agriculture, and other non-maize farmers in the state. He recalled that, at the meeting, the Miyetti Allah group promised there was not going to be any grazing of cattle on their farms.
Omoyajowo noted that what informed the meeting with other stakeholders at that time was because the dry season was fast approaching, which was usually accompanied by rampant grazing on farms.
On when they noticed the destruction on the farm, the chairman said: “We noticed the invasion on January 18 during our normal routine visit to know the state of the farm. We were also there in preparation for harvesting, because the maize had gone dry on the stalks and were ready for harvesting. When we arrived on our farm, we noticed the massive destruction of our maize farm by cattle and immediately we reported at the police station and also to the Amotekun Corps.”
The association attributed the alleged incursion on their farm to the eviction notice served by the Ondo State Government to herders in that state to vacate forest reserves. Omoyajowo said the notice forced the herders to migrate to Ekiti State with their herds on January 18, a day after the ultimatum expired.
Considering the enormous amount of the ruin done, the association said it quickly informed their lending bank, CBN, and Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC), which paid a visit to the farm.
He explained that, the day the officials of the CBN and NAIC visited the farm, they saw a dead calf on the site, which further buttressed their allegations that the cattle that destroyed their multi-million naira maize farm had migrated into Ekiti from Ondo State.
“It shows that the cattle that invaded the farm had come from a long journey. The long distance involved would have been responsible for the calf’s death. This was four or five days after they were chased away from Ondo State,” Omoyajowo said.
He added that, even after the havoc, they were surprised in one of their routine visits to the farm to see that cattle were still feeding on the leftovers of maize on the ground. They decided to chase the cattle and other neighbouring farmers who saw them joined in the chase.
“ When the Fulani herders saw that we were many chasing them, they ran and we also ran after them until the herders entered a camp where Fulani people reside behind the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti. There we (farmers) turned back. It meant that the Fulani people living behind the Federal Polytechnics were also joined with those from Ondo State to destroy our maize farm.”
So, how would they pay back the CBN loans? The farmers’ chairman said: “We are at a crossroads. Each member was allocated one hectare of land to plant maize. Each hectare was expected to yield eight tonnes of maize, from which each member would repay the CBN with two tonnes of maize. Now, we are left with the challenge of repaying the loans, because we don’t have the wherewithal to do so.”
On whether the NAIC was going to take responsibility for the loss, Omoyajowo said: “No, because destruction by cattle, according to them, is man-made, It is not a natural disaster, so it is not insured.”
He explained that the 100 hectares of maize crop would have yielded 800 tonnes of maize, because each hectare allotted to a farmer was expected to yield eight tons, the value of which ran into millions of naira.
Omoyajowo, who noted that members’ survival was germane, appealed to government to rescue them. He said government only reached out to them when it sent Amotekun and other officials to pay a visit to the farm: “We plead with government and good-spirited individuals to come to our aid to help us offset the loans and also help us in refunding so that we can go back to our farms to start planting. With these in place, we will recover fast from the loss.”
He, therefore, called on government at all levels to immediately address cattle invasion on farms to save the country from plunging into famine.
Some of the maize farmers lamented that the invasion had brought untold hardship on them.
One of the farmers, Emmanuel Tope, told the reporter: “When I heard the news of the invasion, it was like a dream. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the amount of damage done with my very eyes, because the farm was so big and the stems really produced healthy cobs.
“I least expected it because we had, in order to prevent any invasion, involved the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association and some other stakeholders. We even employed guards and provided them with motorcycles to ride on the farm.
“Now, where do I start from? How do I feed my family and how do I repay the loan? It was really a big loss because a maize stem would have given 390 grams per stand, multiplied by 230,000 stands per hectare. That is a whole lot. I had drafted my plans on what to use the money from the proceeds for, only for these herders to shatter my hopes by invading the farm, destroying everything.”
Another farmer, Mr. Adekunle Falana, said he never thought that a sad event was going to end such a huge project.
His words: “On seeing the destruction, I exclaimed. I started heaving sighs of hopelessness repeatedly. I kept asking, what did we do to deserve it, because I never envisaged any unpalatable event on the farm. I fell sick immediately. It has also caused a drawback for me, because it was our first time of venturing into such projects.
“I was proud of the farm and my expectations were very high. Everybody who saw the maize farm loved it, because every stand produced healthy cobs, which were every farmer’s pride.
“I had believed so much in the farm to provide for my family and also offset my outstanding bills because I don’t have any job.”
Another victim, Mrs. Oke Rachael Aina, was full of lamentations. She said: “The destruction was beyond my comprehension. I shed tears when I saw it. I am a widow. I used to sell yam before I lost my husband. I was duped after my husband died and have been left with nothing ever since. I joined the maize farmers so that I won’t depend on people for bread, so that I can provide for my children, pay their school fees and do other things.
“The farm was healthy and beautiful to behold. I was expecting so much from it because I had calculated my profit, I had thought it was going to end in praise. But now, it is from being duped to another weighty loss. Is this not from fry pan to fire? Where do I start from?”