By Chinyere Anyanwu and Steve Agbota
Going by the current skirmishes between farmers and herdsmen across the country, especially in the North central and South west parts of the country, experts say the country stands the risk of plunging into a major food crisis as well as huge financial losses.
In a recent report by Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organisation funded by the British Department for International Development (DFID), the country loses at least $14 billion in potential revenues annually, no thanks to the ongoing herdsmen-farmers’ conflict. Based on the above revelation, the country would have lost nothing less than $84 billion between 2015 and 2020 to the conflict.
According to the report, an outcome of a research carried out on the causes and effects of the perennial clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria, death toll of rural dwellers resulting from the clashes is in thousands. In 2020 alone, more than 1,100 people in rural areas lost their lives to these attacks.
A 2015 study on the conflict revealed that Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Plateau states, among the worst hit in the country, lost 47 per cent of their internally generated revenues.
In March 2017, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, stated that attacks by herders had cost his state N95 billion, about $634 million, between 2012 and 2014.
Counting their losses, the ethnic Nzor-Tiv Global Association estimated its Agatu communities in Benue State lost N65 billion in property ($204 million) during the early 2016 herder attacks.
According to the association, “the loss of large cattle herds, crops (due to population displacements and damage to irrigation facilities), as well as increases in transport and labour costs in post-conflict environments all increase poverty and food insecurity in affected communities – and beyond.”
Farmers of other ethnic groups have not been exempted from Fulani herders attacks as evident in the regular attacks on Ebonyi and Enugu farmers, and the current crisis going on in Ondo and Oyo states, which degenerated into the South West governors’ quit notice to the herders.
Owing to these clashes, growth in the agricultural sector has been inconsistent and constantly nosediving since the third quarter of 2016 over worsening insecurity issues.
Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that growth in the agricultural sector slowed from 1.58 per cent in the third quarter of 2019 to 1.39 per cent. According to NBS, average price of 1kg of tomato increased year-on-year by 17.51 per cent in December 2020; average price of 1kg of rice (imported high quality rice) increased year-on-year by 19.80 per cent in December while the average price of 1kg of yam tuber increased year-on-year by 12.89 per cent in December 2020, among others.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) had in 2020 listed Nigeria among 27 countries that are on the frontline of an impending food crisis in 2021.
With farmers fleeing the tense states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and thousands of agribusinesses being destroyed following destructions of their factories, food crisis seems imminent.
Expressing concern over the dire situation of farmers, agriculture, agribusiness and food availability owing to the farmers-herders conflict, the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabiru, said, “there is evidence that there will be a food crisis this year. Food prices are already skyrocketing and they will further surge but we must address the issue of insecurity and banditry to avert this impending food crisis in 2021.”
He submitted that, “whatever insecurity you have in the system is a threat to food security or food sufficiency because if the farmers cannot go to their farms to produce food regularly, there will be shortage and the shortage is what causes the skyrocketing of prices of food items. And you can never then get food sufficiency or food security.”
To cushion the resultant food shortage, the country resorts to food importation. The FAO has said several adverse situations, including the widespread farmers-herders’ conflict, have adversely “impacted food production in 2020 and led to a surge in imports. Nigeria’s agricultural imports for Q3 2020 increased in value by 21.13 per cent compared to Q2 2020 and 109.82 per cent compared to the corresponding period in 2019.”
The farmers-herders’ conflict has equally assumed a troubling dimension where the farmers are compelled to pay huge sums of money to the herders as settlement before they can be allowed to harvest their crops in peace, failing which they are attacked and killed, their produce carted away and their farms destroyed.
Decrying this anomaly, the AFAN National President, Kabiru, said, “farmers should be able to carry out their farming activities without any form of fear and harvest without having to pay bandits. These are crucial in preventing a food crisis.”
He said the crisis is not the herders’ fault but can be attributed to institutional failure, saying, “because some people take the law into their hands, and attack the herders, they have learnt to protect themselves by going around with AK-47 and other weapons to protect themselves. And it’s not the herders fault, it’s our own fault. It’s institutional failure that is bringing all these things. The police should not allow anybody to carry gun illegally. Anytime they see that kind of thing, they should arrest and punish the person in order to deter others. It’s a very sad development because in Nigeria, institutions and law enforcement are not working properly, so people have learnt to protect themselves.”
Lending his voice to the farmers-herders’ conflict and the pain it is inflicting on the country, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, during a recent interview on Channels TV, declared that it has caused the nation untold pain and losses, decrying the “lackadaisical attitude” of the country’s leadership in handling the matter.
Soyinka stated that, “there are ways in which people deal and have dealt for decades, for centuries, with cattle. I travel everywhere; there’s nothing so mysterious about cattle rearing. There are solutions which are very simple. People have talked about ranching, but the ranching have got to be done in places which are environmentally congenial to that particular kind of trade and at the same time, do not afflict humanity. What’s the point trying to provide food and the food chokes us? Which is what cattle and cattle rearers have been doing.
“When cattle go to Ijebu-Ode and eat up Shodipe’s trees’ seedlings, and this is somebody working towards guaranteeing the environment by planting trees to replace the trees he uses as timber for his furniture-making business. Then these cattle come and eat up everything and you expect people to sit down and be quiet?”
He lamented the attitude of the country’s leadership, saying, “Buhari took such a long time; and for me he deserved, to have lost the last election if only on account of the lackadaisical attitude he took to the issue of cattle rearers. People have been killed in hundreds, till today, and it’s only because of the failure of leadership at the critical time.
“The cattle rearers have been given a sense of impunity; they kill without any compunction, they drive away farmers who are contributing to the food solution of the country, burn their farms, and eat their crops. I think there’s going to be trouble in this county if this cattle rearing issue is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as the priority. There cannot be any kind of society where cattle take priority over human beings.”
An agribusiness stakeholder and Coordinator, Agribusiness & Youth Empowerment of Community of Agricultural Stakeholders of Nigeria (CASON), Mr. Sotonye Anga, is a victim of the rampaging activities of the Fulani herders. In a chat with Daily Sun, he narrates his experience, which set him back in his agribusiness venture to the tune of over N20 million.
According to him, “every farm comes at a cost to the farmer. Once that farm is destroyed, it affects the personal economy of the farmer. If we allow this destruction of farms to continue, it means that the farmer will become impoverished. It will serve as a disincentive for farming when people begin to become discouraged about going into farming. They leave farming business and look for other things to do.
“The destruction of farms will lead to unemployment, increase in poverty rate and also lead to rural-urban migration because villages are no longer safe as a result of sudden attacks from herders. It is going to result in multiplicity of negative impacts on our food security.”
He lamented: “My farm too was affected. Sometimes, they can set fire and from one little bush they are trying to burn to get new grass to regrow, the fire will move from that spot and get into people’s farms. I have been affected. One of my farms has been burnt under this circumstance. My farm that was damaged cost me about N20 million. We had to report the case to the police but we got frustrated and just left and forgot about it. But it was a burden on me. We lost N20 million to that fire.”
The impacts of the farmers-herders’ conflict on the nation’s economy, farmers and their households, agribusiness and agriculture in general, cannot be overemphasised but all stakeholders are in agreement that there is urgent need to bring an end to the problem and chart a way forward for everyone involved.
In this regard, Chairman of Highhill Holdings and Founder, GoGreen Africa Initiative, Adeniyi Sola Bunmi, advised that, “government needs to go back to the basis and create the sense of security that will really allow everybody to go back to the farm and farm with peace of mind. Now we don’t produce anything because of insecurity; we keep importing and that is a problem.”
For the CASON Coordinator, Anga, there is need for dialogue between all the parties involved to fashion out a solution that will be suitable for every stakeholder. He said, “we need to talk; the Fulani herdsmen, the farmers and the government. It also requires a kind of law. People should not be taking laws into their hands. The herders should respect food producers, farmers and people’s farms. The herders need to understand that wherever they are passing through, they need to respect the properties of people. As a matter of fact, any herdsman caught with rifles (should be apprehended).
“The government needs to act. Actions are required now. We need to sit down and factor a solution that will be workable. The solution that would work for the herdsmen, farmers and everybody and implement it to the letter.”
A step in this direction has been taken by the Federal Government, according to AFAN National President, Kabiru, who explained that government has just approved the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), a programme targeted at settling the herders in clusters. The programme, which he said will start in Nassarawa and a few other states, will provide water, food and other amenities to the beneficiaries.
He added that, “this is a very good way forward if it is implemented properly.”