THE persistent rise in food prices unsettling majority of Nigerians and fuelling hunger may become worse as farmers have raised the alarm that terrorists were taking over their farmland and preventing them from carrying out their farming activities.
In the North, where the bulk of commercial farming takes place given their vast arable land, some farmers in Zamfara, Katsina, Nasarawa and Benue states in interactions with our correspondents lamented that the insecurity had prevented them from taking maximum advantage of the rainy season, which would have boosted their harvest and crash the price in the market.
Some of them said they had to pay levies to the terrorists to be able to access their farms.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mahmood Abubakar, noted during a recent ministerial briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team that attacks by terrorists had denied farmers access to their farms, especially in the North-West and North-Central. He however said the government was making efforts to address the problem.
He had said, “That is one of the reasons why we have an arrangement for security agents known as agro-rangers, who are providing some measures of security so that the farmers will be able to access their farms. Truly, if they cannot completely access farms all over the country, you will expect a drop in production, but right now we are doing everything possible to make sure production is maintained through that security provision.”
In May, Boko Haram members of the Islamic State West African Province faction reportedly invaded some farmland on the outskirts of Kala Balge Local Government Area of Borno State and killed over 50 farmers. There have been other attacks on farmers in different parts of the North. In the South, some farmers also complained about the invasion of their farms by herders.
Meanwhile, in Zamfara State, where the slogan is ‘Farming is our Pride’, farmers lamented that due to attacks by the terrorists, farming was becoming almost impossible in the state. They said many farmers had been killed while some were kidnapped.
A rice farmer in the state, Alhaji Nuhu Deme, told Sunday PUNCH that food prices might continue to rise and that there could be scarcity if nothing was done to address the challenge. He said this year’s farming season would have been the best in recent years given the improved rainfall but that terrorists had continued to attack, kill or kidnap farmers who dared to go to their farms.
The insecurity in the state came to a head when the governor, Bello Matawalle, said in June that residents should protect themselves with guns, a move that was faulted by the police and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor.
Deme said, “Despite the improved rainfall this year, bandits now addressed as terrorists invade our farmland at will and sometimes we have nothing to harvest. They go about with sophisticated weapons to monitor farmers and ensure that nobody cultivates their crops without first paying them.
“The levy ranges from N100,000 to N1m depending on the size of the farm and it must be paid before a farmer could be allowed to go to their farm. That is not a guarantee the person would be spared in case they decide to launch an attack. Already, some farmers have paid the levy to the bandits and they are able to access their farm. That is why food is expensive because the farmer has to recoup every cost incurred, in addition to the high cost of transportation.
“If a farmer does not have money, the bandits would take part of the crops after the harvest. They are that patient and it tells you they are on ground. If a farmer proves difficult, they will either destroy the crops by grazing their animals on the farm or they will kidnap the farmer. I can tell you that many farmers have fallen victim to their ungodly activities.”
Deme said further that the terrorists sometimes ask communities to pay a certain amount if they want to go to their farms unhindered, and that the amount depends on the size and their assessment of the community.
He added, “Some communities in Dansadau emirate in Maru Local Government Area were levied between N500,000 and N1m and many have found ways to pay because the farmers also need to farm to feed their families.
He lamented, “One disturbing situation is that, sometimes the bandits could come back and destroy the crops after collecting the levy from the farmers. Sometimes, once they see people working on their farms, they will kidnap them and take them to their hideouts and demand for ransoms from the families. I can tell you that there are many farmers they have taken hostage for farming without paying the levy.”
Another farmer, Aminu Jangeme, also told Sunday PUNCH that the attacks by the terrorists had left many farmers poor since they couldn’t farm, their only occupation.
Jangeme added, “They took away our animals, they collected millions of naira from us as ransom for the release of our kidnapped relations and now they have refused to allow us to go to our farms.
He noted that the incessant attacks had forced many farmers to flee the state and that some had dumped farming for other ventures. He expressed dissatisfaction over the inability of the authorities concerned to bring the situation under control despite a series of complaints from the affected communities.
He added, “The government is well aware of our plight. We have complained both verbally and in writing. We informed officials of both the state and local governments but nothing has happened. Our emir had on several occasions notified the state government of this problem but nothing has happened.
While noting that the security agents deployed to tackle the problem were grossly inadequate, he said many more farmers might dump farming, which would lead to scarcity. “Another consequence is that if the situation is not addressed on time, many of us farmers will migrate to other states to look for how to survive,” he added.
In an interview with Sunday PUNCH, the Sarkin Noman Tofa, Mohammed Aminu, said, “We are pleading with the relevant agencies to come to our aid. We are in a hopeless situation here. Our people are leaving the villages en masse. We want the government to deploy more troops to Zamfara State, especially the rural areas where the bandits have completely taken over, so that farmers can go back to farm.”
He however thanked the Zamfara State government for allowing the people of the state to carry arms and defend themselves.
In Nasarawa State, which shares a border with the Federal Capital Territory, farmers also lamented how the attacks by bandits had hindered them from going to their farmland this rainy season. They described their condition as dehumanising as they appealed to the state government to intervene by providing adequate security to enable them to have bumper harvest at the end of the season.
A farmer in Awe Local Government Area, William Yakubu, told one of our correspondents that farming in the area had been difficult, adding that terrorists in the area also collect money from farmers before allowing them to access their farmland.
He said, “The Nasarawa State government has been trying to address this insecurity but the activities of the bandits seem to be increasing on a daily basis. If you don’t pay them, they may not allow you to enter your farm. That is how serious the situation has been. I am appealing to the government not to relent on this matter. They should put in more efforts to tackle the insecurity in the area to ensure food sufficiency in the state.”
Another farmer from Obi LGA, Ibrahim Yunusa, said he stopped going to the farm since the beginning of the year because of the fear of being kidnapped. “I have stopped going to farm because I don’t want to be kidnapped,” he said, “I had to stop farming because I know that if I am kidnapped I will not be able to pay the ransom. The government should help us out of the situation.”
In Katsina State, farmers highlighted the same problem, saying the raining season that should have brought them joy and increased harvest had witnessed severe attacks by the terrorists, which prevented them from going to their farms.
A farmer in Batsari Local Government Area, Muntari Awwal, lamented that apart from being killed or kidnapped, farmers are sometimes forced to work on their (terrorists) farms along the forests that border Katsina and Zamfara states.
He added, “Throughout last year and even this raining season, many of us who have farms in Nahuta, Dangeza and in nearby locations along the forests that border Zamfara State cannot go to our farms because terrorists always roam those places unannounced and some of them even have farms there.
“What we do is to limit ourselves to the little grains we get from our smaller farms that are not far away from Batsari. This has affected us negatively and we pray to Almighty Allah to help us put an end to the activities of the terrorists. We also appeal to our security agencies to put in more efforts to defeat the terrorists.”
Another farmer in Gurza, Danmusa Local Government Area of the state, Nuhu Gozarki, expressed similar concern, while calling on the Federal Government to save farmers from terrorists.
He added, “The terrorists have taken our farmland and villages and you must be ready to do their bidding for you to be alive. Many of us cannot go to our farms again as one can easily fall into their hands while you are working on the farm.”
The district head of Batsari, Muhammed Muazu, said many farmers had been forced to abandon their farms. He however urged the Federal Government and security operatives not to relent in their current efforts in checkmating the terrorists.
He added, “We appreciate the efforts of the security agencies to tackle the terrorists but we urge them to do more and not relent. Many farmers in our district have been forced to abandon their farmland because of terrorists. Many farmers have left their villages and now settle in Batsari because of their safety. We also pray to the Almighty Allah to help us tackle the terrorists as their activities are affecting our farming activities negatively.”
The chairman of the state chapter of the All Nigerian Farmers Association, Yau Gwajo Gwajo, did not answer his calls. He also did not respond to the SMS sent to him on the issue.
In Benue State, which is the Food Basket of the Nation, farmers told one of our correspondents that they had lost a lot due to the incessant attacks.
The state governor, Samuel Ortom, had about a week ago inaugurated the state Community Volunteer Guards, while he also wrote the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) to give his approval for the corps to carry AK-47 and AK-49 rifles.
A mechanised farmer, Vitalis Tarnongu, said he had lost over N20m as a result of his inability to access his farm.
He said, “The invasion has affected me seriously because the place where I have my farm is now a no-go area. I’m talking about Yogbo in Guma Local Government Area. For the past four farming seasons, I have not been able to access the farm which covers 500 acres of land.
“I planted corn and rice but nothing is going on there now. I have lost over N20m since I couldn’t access the farm.”
Meanwhile, the state chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Saaku Aondongu, lamented the inability of his members to go to farm due to attacks.
He added, “Some of our members can no longer go to their farms due to the incessant attacks and killings of farmers across the state. Most of our members have abandoned farming and taken to other menial jobs. Remember that aside from being unable to access their farms, some of them are now in internally displaced persons’ camps.
Also, the immediate past President, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, Isaac Adewunmi, stated that many farmers had abandoned their farmland and fled, as their farms had been occupied by bandits.
He added, “We join in the call for adequate security deployment to tackle this high-level insecurity confronting us as a country, particularly farmers in Nigeria, because many of us in various states are scared of going to our farms due to the activities of these bandits.”
Meanwhile, an economist and Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, corroborated the position of farmers as he stated that industrialists who use agricultural products were currently finding it tough to access the items due to the impact of insecurity on crop production.
He stated that some agro-product users in Nigeria were now moving to other West African countries to source raw materials for production.
Yusuf said, “The worsening insecurity in Nigeria is a major problem for investors in the economy. Many industrialists especially those who are in the agro-allied sector are grappling with challenges getting raw materials from the crop producing areas of our country.
“This has continued to negatively impact capacity utilisation, turnover, cost of production and the value delivery to shareholders. Some now source raw materials from neighbouring West African countries.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has expressed concern over the looming food crisis in Nigeria, saying it may lead to instability.
In a joint FAO-World Food Programme report, it stated that Nigeria and other countries were named as one of the 20 “hunger hotspots” where it feared that hunger might worsen.
Recover farmland – AFAN
When contacted, the National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, said terrorists were taking over their members’ farmland but noted that since the past three weeks, security agencies had intensified the onslaught against the terrorists.
He urged the Federal Government to sustain the tempo, as this had been the call by farmers for several years, adding that in some states like Katsina, some farmers were forced to pay levies to terrorists before being allowed to enter their farms.
Ibrahim said, “If you had asked me about this about three weeks ago, I would have told you the same thing that our farmland are being taken over by bandits and that some of us pay them to harvest our crops, but we have asked the government to take the fight to the terrorists and the security agencies are coming up with results.
“But even in my village in Katsina State, the farmers have to pay some kind of ransom to be allowed to go to their farms – that is the truth. But today as we are talking, the story is different. Farmers have been reporting some level of respite due to the fight against the terrorists and that there has been improvement in the past two weeks. So if the pressure is sustained on the bandits I’m sure it will make a serious impact on them.”
Given that the terrorists have spread to many states in the North, Sunday PUNCH asked the police what they were doing to address the problem.
The spokesperson for the Zamfara State Police Command, SP Muhammed Shehu, said the command was doing its best to provide security to all and sundry, including the farmers. “We are recording successes, we are stabilising many communities and villages and we have been making confidence-building patrols. Our men are on rigorous patrol and that has assisted a lot in ensuring the safety and security of Zamfara State.”
In Nasarawa State, the police spokesperson, DSP Ramhan Nansel, said the police was doing its best to address the situation.
Also, in Plateau State, the police spokesperson, DSP Alabo Alfred, said the commissioner of police had ensured that most police stations had been reopened. He added, “Some weeks ago, we opened a police station at Bassa, in Wase Local Government Area where banditry is about to kick off and cause the disruption of law and order within the plateau.”
In Taraba State, the police spokesperson, SP Abdullahi Usman, said the police commissioner had reviewed the security architecture and made the response inclusive. He added, “We are working round the clock to make sure that every farmer can go about their business without being attacked and we also have what we call joint operations with the military.”
Farms recovered – JTF
The Force Commander, Multinational Joint Task Force, Major General Abdul Khalifah Ibrahim, has said many areas captured by terrorists in the last one year have been reclaimed. He said some of the communities recaptured in Nigeria include Banki, Baga, Doron Baga, Cross Kauwa and Malamfatori among others.
Ibrahim added that Baroua in Niger amongst other towns, Amchide and Kolofata towns in Cameroon as well as Madai in Chad had also been reclaimed.
These were contained in a statement on Friday by Chief of Military Public Information Office, HQ MNJTF, N’Djamena, Lt. Col. Kamarudeen Adegoke.
The statement quoted the commander as saying, “He said there are remarkable improvements in security in the Lake Chad Basin and in the north-eastern part of Nigeria where massive and unprecedented surrenders of over 80,000 terrorists and their families have been recorded and are ongoing daily. He said the same though on a lower scale are being recorded in Chad, Cameroon and Niger.”
Ibrahim noted that the MNJTF would continue to partner with neighbouring operations and other strategic partners in ensuring that total peace was restored to the Lake Chad Region.