The clashes between farmers and herdsmen in different parts of the country will definitely lead to a hike in food prices any time soon if not addressed, agricultural professionals and civil society have warned.
According to them, some parts of the country are already experiencing a hike in the cost of agricultural commodities, a development caused by the continued clashes between herdsmen and farmers in different communities.
They stated that the recurrent conflicts between herdsmen and farmers had led to the abandonment of various farmlands across the country, adding that crop production had reduced in Nigeria, particularly in the past three months.
Farmers also told our correspondent that they had stopped dry season farming due to the attacks unleashed on crop producers by marauding armed herdsmen.
It was learnt that the production of crops such as cassava and some vegetables in some states in Nigeria had reduced, as producers of these commodities now steer clear of farmlands for fear of being maimed or killed by herders.
CSOs as well as practitioners in the agricultural sector stated that Nigeria may experience food crisis because many farmers in food producing states were now afraid of going to their farms.
They observed that farmers were now fleeing their farmlands, while some others now go to their respective farms in groups as they dread herdsmen.
Civil society organisations stated that the arms-bearing Fulani herdsmen operating in Nigeria had succeeded in unleashing terror attacks in no fewer than 12 states across the country.
The states include Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Edo, Kogi, Ondo, Enugu, Nasarawa, Ekiti, Rivers and Cross Rivers states, among others.
The different organisations that spoke to our correspondent in Abuja include the International Action Network on Small Arms, NINGONET for Humanitarian Development Response Initiative, as well as Adinya Arise Foundation.
A board member of NINGONET, Tim Aniebonam, said, “We have observed with dismay, the spread of violent attacks by herdsmen across Nigeria and particularly on Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Edo, Kogi, Ondo, Enugu and Nasarawa states. Many lives have been lost and farmlands destroyed and set ablaze as a result of wanton killings and activities of the herdsmen, leaving community members displaced.
“These herdsmen have grown into monsters who regularly rape women and female children they come across in the farms and bushes with people no longer able to move about freely. This has made many to flee their farmlands and very soon the result will be a sharp hike in food prices across the country.”
He added, “The attacks by herdsmen are also causing a wave in the South-South region of the country as lives have been lost and many displaced from communities in Rivers and Cross River states, leading to a growing number of displaced persons in Nigeria.”
Also, different groups of farmers told our correspondent that if the Federal Government fails to call the herdsmen to order, their activities may not only warrant hike in food prices, but might lead to food scarcity in Nigeria.
The Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Otunba Femi Oke, stated that farmers across the country were not happy with what is going on in Nigeria as regards the clashes between crop producers and herdsmen.
He urged the government to take the policy on agro-rangers seriously, as farmers need to be protected from rampaging herdsmen if they (farmers) must produce food for the country.
Oke said, “We are not happy at the moment and we want this problem not to repeat itself because most of our farmers cannot feed themselves anymore. Many of them have fled and left their farmlands because of the activities of herdsmen. This can lead to food crisis any time from now if it is not addressed. Of course, it will lead to a hike in food prices as well.
“But I must mention that we are all one and I pray the crisis do not repeat itself as seen in the past. The policy on agro-rangers can also help; we want to see it implemented adequately in order to curb all the clashes and menace we experience across the country.”
Also commenting on the development, the President, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, Mr. Segun Adewumi, said the killings by armed herdsmen had made farmers to go to farms in groups and warned of an imminent hike in food prices.
He, however, stated that some locations in Nigeria were already experiencing a hike in the cost of agricultural produce.
Adewumi said, “I have the fear of an imminent food crisis in Nigeria if the clashes between herdsmen and farmers continue. I say this because in our own case as cassava farmers, right now many people are afraid to go to their farmlands. Some now go to their farms in groups, but are still afraid of being attacked. Is this supposed to be so?
“In Ekiti, for instance, a woman was killed some days ago by herdsmen. We also heard of killings in Plateau State. And when farmers go in groups, they are afraid because they know that the attackers can come with sophisticated weapons and guns. So right now, people are afraid to go to farms in various states that I know and this may lead to food scarcity if nothing is done about it.”
The Network Coordinator, IANSA, Mimidoo Achakpa, stated that the lack of haste in addressing the issue and poor proactive response had further worsened the crisis.
Achakpa said, “The network wish to draw public attention to humanitarian crisis in war torn countries and North-East and wonder if Nigeria and indeed West Africa would be able to accommodate Nigerian refugees in their numbers should this crisis escalate beyond its current scope.
The Coordinator, Nigeria Agribusiness Group, Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere, said the Federal Government must make herdsmen know their limits, stressing that they were also in business with other businessmen and women across the country.
He said, “Cattle rearing is a business like poultry, piggery and others. If one person’s business becomes a problem to somebody else’s business, the government should intervene to ensure that everybody knows where their own right starts and ends. That is basically the situation here and we should remove politics from it.
“There will be food crisis both ways if the clashes are not brought under control. However, I do not think that the crop crisis will be as imminent as the lack of beef. This is because a lot of beef comes from the Northern part of Nigeria to the Southern part.”
Ijewere added, “What will happen is that these clashes and the distraught will lead to a situation where the supply chain will be broken. Then meat will become a scarce commodity. As for the crop farmers, I know they will suffer it badly, but it is not as if 90 per cent of farms in Nigeria are being eaten up by cows.
“But it is very terrible when herdsmen get to your farm because this will definitely have its impact on food production in Nigeria. However, can we say half the farms in Nigeria are in danger of herdsmen attacks? Mind you, I am not in any way saying that their (herdsmen) attacks won’t affect crop production across the country.”
On her part, the National Coordinator, NINGONET, Josephine Habba, stated that the alleged involvement of serving and retired military, police and security officers in cattle business had contributed greatly to the crisis.
She said, “Sources observed that these security officers were in the habit of hiring Malians, Nigeriens and Chadians as herders. These foreign herders, not accustomed to the culture of Nigerian herders, are hostile to communities and because many of them are dislodged fighters in their respective countries, they are prone to bearing arms.
“The violent foreign herders have also been fingered as teaching Nigerian herdsmen to carry arms. These arms are reported to have been supplied by employers of the herdsmen.”
Habba urged the Federal Government to ensure that security forces were reinforced to protect lives generally in Nigeria because both farmers and herders were victims as herdsmen had been victims of alien herdsmen or rustlers.
She added, “The state police should be decentralised. Serving and retired military and police officers who own cattle should be profiled and documented. Serving military and police top brass should be stopped from owning cattle.
“It at all, they should be subjected to full security profile and must subject their herdsmen to security checks. All of the security personnel involved in cattle business should be registered and the military and police personnel should be directed to provide ranches for their cattle.”
Commenting on the matter, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said he was grieved and seriously concerned about the fatal dimension that the herders/crop farmers’ crises had taking but assured that the Federal Government would solve the problem.
He said this in a statement made available to our correspondent in Abuja on Friday by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
He said, “We didn’t envisage how much high voltage emotion and politicking this issue has generated. I know that the average herdsman is more concerned about the number of his herds than perhaps the milk coming out, the speed the cattle can grow and the value of the meat, which is why he needs education. More than this, we also have the leaders, the politicians; we all need education on this.”
According to Ogbeh, government’s proposal to set up cattle colonies and the encouragement of ranches were the best options to the killings and the toxic hatred that the current altercation was generating.