The unending farmers and herders’ clashes across the country is making it difficult for farmers to go to their farms. Environmental factors that affect farming activities are all ganging up and unless it is addressed by the authorities, Nigeria may just be heading for the inevitable; BENJAMIN UMUTEME and KEHINDE OSASONA write.
In June of 2017, Ms. Oghenetega Efejiro had gone to her farm in Abraka, Delta state, with some hired hands to weed the farm which had been overgrown by weeds. But to their amazement, the entire three hectares of cassava farm had been destroyed allegedly by cattle.
According to her, it is not the first time that such incident would happen. In 2016, the same fate befell her as two hectares of cassava farm were equally destroyed by cattle.
For Mr. Ese Ojobor, he was not that lucky as he sustained machete cuts because he challenged five herdsmen who had brought their cattle to graze on his farm.
He said he had spent over N100, 000 to get the farm to the stage it is at the moment, and would start to harvest the following month.
For Ojobor, he did not only lose his investment, but had to consign himself to having to treat himself.
The cases of Efejiro and Ojobor are common experiences in Abraka which has for a long time been under the siege of herdsmen who not only attack framers on their farmland, but in the process destroy huge farmlands.
From Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba, Sokoto, Ekiti, Ondo and even Kebbi, the story is the same. Many farmers are now afraid to go to the farms because of the activities of herdsmen who continue to be unrelenting in their quest to continue with open grazing.
Specifically, herders and farmers are critical to Nigeria’s food security. The Fulani indisputably represent a significant component of the Nigerian economy. They constitute the major breeders of cattle, the main source of meat the most available and cheap source of animal proteins consumed by Nigerians. They own over 90 per cent of the nation’s livestock population which accounts for one third of agricultural GDP and 3.2 per cent of the Nigeria’s GDP.
Threat to food production
In Nigeria, most of its population resides in the rural areas, communal violence or conflicts have serious implications of access and availability to food, since agriculture is the main pre-occupation of rural population. Therefore, communal conflicts have serious implication on food system. Often, warring communities or parties tactically resort to manipulation over access to food and livestock.
This reduction in production and income has serious implication on food security with the capacity to reduce coping capacity of those depending on food resources for their livelihood.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), communal violence has cost Nigeria over $12 billion worth of agricultural production in the last 20 years.
Not only does insecurity limit production of food, it also has the propensity to deny people access to food and availability of food supply. According to analysts, farmers who should ordinarily be in their farm are now Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in various parts of the country.
Ojobor said, “It has been difficult for me to go farm because I am afraid that I might be attacked by herdsmen who hide in the bush. Not me alone, many farmers most especially women have been raped or killed by these herdsmen. Not long after my encounter with them, a lecturer with the Delta State University lost his life to herdsmen attack.”
For media practitioner Cobham Nsa, the fear of herdsmen is fuelling the potential of food insecurity. Citing his case as an example, he said because of fear of possible herdsmen attack he had to lease out his one hectare farm in Masaka, Nasarawa state, to some locals to tend.
“I had a farmland in Masaka which I have stopped farming on. I told my sister who used to farm in the place to stop going there because herders used to bring their cows to graze around the area. At the end of the day I had to lease it out to some local people because I would not want my baby sister to risk her life.
“Before we were not buying melon, groundnut and some other things which we get from the farm but now, it is no longer the case even our family members who used to enjoy some of these produce no longer get them,” Nsa told Blueprint Weekend in a chat.
He further said the farmers, herders’ clash “is seriously taking its toll on food production as the amount of food that used to come into the market has seriously depreciated.”
“For instance, in Benue where a whole community was burnt down, it meant that whatever quantity of yams that would have come from such a community, had gone,” he said.
An environmental analyst based in Abuja, Greg Odogwu, told Blueprint Weekend that the Fulani herdsmen threat requires urgent solution, adding that “if not quickly checked, Nigeria is likely to faces future food scarcity.”
“Borno and Yobe states which used to be havens for farmers are now a shadow of themselves as farmers are afraid to go to their farms for fear of being attacked by the insurgents.
“And only recently, 12 farmers in Kalle village, Borno state, North-east Nigeria, were killed by Boko Haram terrorists,” he said.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has described the level of violence in North-east as “alarming,” noting that “with farmers becoming easy targets, they are afraid to cultivate their land thus worsening the already grim food crisis in the region which has been devastated by insecurity.”
Shrinking Lake Chad to blame?
At the high level meeting of International Conference on Lake Chad in Abuja in 2018, President Muhammadu Buahri noted that the dwindling fortunes of the Lake Chad had contributed to the upsurge in insecurity albeit; the persistent farmers, herders’ clashes in different parts of Nigeria.
The president also stated that the shrinkage of Lake Chad was responsible for the instability in West Africa, asserting that youth were joining terrorist groups because of lack of jobs and difficult economic conditions.
According to Buhari, the Lake Chad region was formerly an “oasis in the desert,” a hub of economic activities and food security and that farmers, fishermen, herdsmen, and traders were happy because business was booming, and that the happiness and contentment contributed to the stability of the sub-region.
“Unfortunately, today that is all history. The ‘oasis in the desert’ is just a desert now, due to the drying up of the Lake Chad.
“This has resulted in dire consequences for our people as follows: Fish varieties are long gone, leaving the fishermen jobless. Farmers and herdsmen struggle over the little water left. Herdsmen migrate in search of greener pastures, resulting in conflicts. Our youths are joining terrorist groups because of lack of jobs and difficult economic conditions.”
Food sufficiency under threat – AFAN
Even, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) has described farmers, herders’ conflict as a threat to food sufficiency in the country.
Its national president, Mr Kabir Ibrahim, who condemned the devastating effect of conflicts, frowned on the number of persons that had been killed and property destroyed due to farmers, herders’ conflicts.
Making reference to Katsina, the AFAN president said no fewer than 50 people had been buried in the past couple of weeks.
According to him, the farmer-herder conflict is limited to encroaching into the territory of “our farms or farmlands by pastoralists and those do not result in the use of AK-47.”
He said his association was working with MACBAN president to ensure that peace was restored, and emphasised that there are other factors that could contribute to the several killings, banditry and kidnapping that might not necessarily be the farmer-herder’s clash.
“Farmer-herder conflict has the potential of disrupting farming activities completely and once we don’t go to the farm, we do not produce food there will be a short fall of food supply and therefore there will be a threat to food sufficiency in Nigeria. We will not have what we termed to be food security by 2020. There may be matches, sticks but this incidence of AK-47 or bigger rifles being used are alien to the herder-farmer conflicts. But If we can resolve the farmer-herder conflicts l believed other things will also be resolved and we are hopeful there will be peace very soon,” he said.
Changing the narrative
To address this downward slide, President Buhari admitted that there is an urgent need for action to resuscitate it in order to save the Lake from going into extinction. “We must treat the issues of Lake Chad with the urgency they deserve and show the needed political commitment towards reviving the lake.
“Together, let us share this mission of rescuing Lake Chad Basin with a renewed vigour, determination and international collaboration as our inaction or delay will continue to accelerate the deteriorating standard of living of millions of our people with dire consequences on our continent and the World at large.
‘’The time to act is now. The time to bail out the region is now. The time to show our humanity is now.”
Ms. Angela Okoye, an ActionAid-trained agriculture budget tracker, said, “It is the responsibility of the government to pay more attention to developing policies and systems aimed at mitigating climate change, while also helping communities’ adapt and build resilience as a means of ensuring food security in the region.”
Alluding to this line of thoughts, Odogwu said, “It is as clear as daylight that the one strategy that the government should be advised to undertake in order to ensure that food shortage is prevented this year is a frontal attack plan against the activities of the Fulani herdsmen.”
“When the meteorological agency released its annual rainfall prediction, it predicted early onset rainfall and early cessation in many parts of Nigeria, especially the northern part in 2017.
“It will not take a rocket scientist to tell us that when these farmers abandon food production, the country would go hungry. And we do not need professional statisticians to regale us with the scary figures: The farms are being abandoned daily, and the barns are drying up. We are food-bleeding. And, with NiMet’s warning, I see scarcity around the corner.”
Looking for solution
In order to bring the level of insecurity that presently pervades the country and its attendant effect on food security, the present administration is working with North-western state governments in pursuing an urgent revamp of the national security apparatus in the sub-region following the infiltration of bandits into areas, otherwise secure. There have been attacks on communities in the North-west by bandits which has left dozens dead.
Under the plan, states will be joining the federal government in supporting the security and military operations by providing logistical support.
According to the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, in a statement in Abuja, the states would also provide additional vehicles in addition to those provided from the centre.
“The federal government is establishing new forward operation bases and when all of these come together, the ongoing operations will be scaled up.
“The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, and the various State Emergency Management Agencies, SEMA are expected to streamline their operations to provide succor to displaced persons, thousands of whom are taking refuge in the neighbouring Niger Republic. The full implementation of the plan is expected to provide security for residents to return to deserted communities,” the statement atated.
Also, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) an International organisation has put in place strategies to a start peaceful mediation process between Benue and Nasarawa states before the end of July to ensure lasting solution to endemic herder-farmer conflicts.
In a workshop organised for members of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) recently in Abuja, the country director of the centre, Mr Babatunde Afolabi, said the organisation had in the past couple of months undertaken series of consultations across the three senatorial zones of Benue and Nasarawa in preparation for the peaceful process.
“Our sincere hope is that we will extend our mediation efforts beyond Benue and Nasarawa to the other frontline states in due course.
“We hope to achieve these in strict conformity with our overarching organisational principles of humanity, impartiality and confidentiality,” Afolabi said.
The country director identified the capacity building as part of HD’s overarching strategy toward addressing the endemic farmer-herder conflicts which had had devastating impact upon the country, especially in the seven frontline states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara.
He said the dialogue efforts were community-driven, enabling communities to be more directly involved in finding lasting solutions to their issues and concerns to build trust and confidence.
“We are also actively engaged in the North-east where ongoing projects focus on dialogue around inter-communal and interreligious issues, engagement with vigilante groups in terms of their interface with society and government.
“We are also engaging with religious and traditional authorities on proffering an alternative narrative or codified response to extremist ideology.”
Food crises might not just be far away from Nigeria except and unless the government puts an end to rhetoric and tackles head-long the prevailing issues.
Community-based conflict resolution mechanism
For the Forum of Farmers and Herders’ Relations in Nigeria (FFARN), an NGO, the federal government should move beyond the deployment of security agencies and explore alternative community-based responses to farmer-herder conflicts.
The organisation stated this in its policy brief entitled, “Response to conflicts between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt of Nigeria: Mapping past efforts and opportunities for violence prevention.”
The policy brief was made available at a media roundtable organised by FFARN and conveyed by ‘Search for Common Ground’ recently in Abuja.
Presenting the document, the Kaduna State Peace Commission and FFARN member, Mr Saleh Momale, said the deployment of the military in response to conflicts between farmers and herders had become an alternative for the federal government in many locations.
“The federal government should collaborate with the state and local governments to build up alternative responses that utilise dialogue and mediation as de-escalation techniques with the conflicting parties.
“Security agents need clear rules of engagement over their conduct, management of internal security and respect to human rights and International humanitarian law.
“Above all, their focus should be on guaranteeing the safety of citizens they are deployed to protect, by not deepening the animosity of the herders and farmers through unprofessional or criminal conducts,” it said.