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How herdsmen, cattle destroyed a N110mn farm investment

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There have been numerous accounts of farms destroyed by cattle that had either strayed or deliberately brought to graze. While the frequency of these attacks appear to have subsided in recent times, many farmers – some now former farmers having abandoned their lands – continue to lick their wounds and count losses.

One of such is Olumide Abayomi, a chartered account and fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), who retired from his lucrative job at African Capital Alliance, a private equity firm, in 2013. Upon retirement, he planned to pursue his own private ventures, which included farming. The plan long-term was to develop the plantation into a resort, since it had access to a railway line, a river flowed behind it, and the ambience was great, not just for crops but humans too.

“If one had no reserve, by now one would have committed suicide,” said Abayomi in a phone interview, as he recalled losses incurred after crops on his 450-acre farm in Osun state were eaten up by cattle, which according to him were brought by Fulani herdsmen.

The 450 acre farmland was acquired in 2012, and he opened up about 100 acres out of it, planted palm trees in some portion, and then put 50 cows of his own there, having planned to raise cattle as well. However, the plan was not to have them brought by external parties to destroy his farm. He opened up another 25 acres of land for the plantain farm, where he had 12,000 plantain trees at 480 per acre. A government official (name withheld) who visited the farm according to him, had even remarked that he had not seen any plantain farm do that well. Some of the palm trees, like the plantain trees would later be destroyed when herdsmen came uninvited with their cattle to graze.

“I invested heavily and wanted to really do agriculture,” he said, stating that he had spent an estimated N110 million on the farmland located in Osuntedo village, Osun state. Abandoned on the farm after the herders plundered it with their cattle is a bulldozer bought for about $126,000 (N45.4 million), one he says is one of the biggest in the country. Farmland plus survey cost about N18 million, workers salary for about 5 years before stopping was about N9 million, the initial clearing of land for 100 acres, was over N8 million, and there were two industrial boreholes sunk on the farm, recalled Olumide.

“I learnt I was the third largest plantain farmer in Osun state. That is now history,” he said.

When the herdsmen invaded his farm with their cattle, 28 acres of rice and 25 acres of plantain tress were all eaten up. Before the devastation of his farm, he was able to harvest plantain for two years, and he said harvesting was done every two weeks. Every fortnight, two to three truckloads was harvested, and “that is what the cattle ate up completely,” he said.

Even after the loss, there was no room for compensation, according to him, saying the feedback from the Osun state government under Rauf Aregbesola as Governor, was that all farmers whose farm produce were eaten up by cattle should endeavour to fence their farmland.

“Fencing the farmland would have cost me N57 million. So, does it make sense to do that?,” he quipped. If N57 million is invested into agriculture, and the farm is in the productive state, then such fencing can be done from what the farm generates. But that cannot be invested upfront, he explained.

With a land perimeter of nine kilometres, fencing at the cost of N57 million would have been more than half the actual investments on the farm. That amount can empower 10 people to do agriculture successfully at N5.7 million each. Even with N2.5 million, Olumide explained one can do well in agriculture, so he was essentially being told to use the equivalent of what could be start-up capital of over 20 people just for fencing.

In the long-term, Olumide explained that the intention was for the palm trees to be the real thing, and the cattle will graze under them. But, these were meant to be his own cattle, not those of rampaging herdsmen that would later destroy his multimillion naira investment.

His plan was to have the place transformed into a resort that people can leave Lagos to come there and relax. Right in front of the land is a railway line and one could actually get a train stop, he said. So, people coming from Lagos could alight there and enter the resort. When they are done and wish to return to the hustle and bustle of Lagos, they could simply hop on the train and return to Lagos.

“All of those were things I had in the pipeline but had to put a stop to everything”, he said.

For now, Olumide has abandoned the farmland, and appears to have moved on with his life until things change; policy and security wise, before he can return to his investment. However, not many people would have been able to withstand the shock of such a loss, emotionally and financially.

 

CALEB OJEWALE

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