Slow take-off of livestock plan worsens woes of farmers, herders

Msughve Tsavsaa, a 35-year-old father of six, lost his home, his farmland and his leg after his community was attacked during the farmer/herder clash in 2018 in Benue state.

Since then, living has been traumatic and difficult for him.

Tsavsaa who was a successful rice, maize and yam farmer before the conflict can no longer cater for himself or his family and is now relying on support by humanitarian agencies at the Gbajimba Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp.

He had just returned from the farm when his community was attacked, two people were instantly killed. Tsavsaa, while trying to save his family, got shot in the leg.

Still desperate to live, he crawled into the bush and I stayed there till the next day with a bullet buried deep in his leg.

“Luckily,” he said, “I was rescued by security agents who took me to the Benue State Teaching Hospital, where my leg was amputated.

“Living has been painful; I can no longer cater for my family. My wife goes out for menial jobs, but the pay is poor and never enough.”

Like Tsavsaa, Mdodo Nyitor fled her home in Taraba state to take shelter in the camp. The mother of four and farmer said she was attacked during the violent clash and her attackers killed her husband and one of her children on the spot.

She said the persisting conflict between farmers and herders remains the biggest reason they are still displaced. At the camp, she lives with 38 others in a room. With insufficient rooms, some use the toilet areas as shelter, BusinessDay observed.

With abject socio-economic degradation at the camp, Nyitor survives by taking up menial jobs for people who sometimes cannot afford to pay for her labour.

She desperately wants to return home but said the government is not doing much to tackle the conflict.

“I want to go home. Life is difficult for me,” she said. “Today I did a farm job but I was paid with a measure of melon seed. I will have to remove the shell and sell it to see if I can make up to N1,000 to feed my children.”

Read Also: Solution underway for farmers-herders clashes as Northern Governors move to end nomadic grazing

Tsavsaa and Nyitor are two of the cases of millions of people whose lives have been plunged into untold hardship due to the conflict. Available data shows that at least 1.5 million displaced persons are taking shelter in various camps.

It was learnt that the number of displaced persons is increasing on a daily basis, resulting in serious humanitarian crises in the state.

The devastation brought by these deadly clashes are ‘immeasurable’ farmers and herders in the state lamented. For more than five years, thousands of people have been killed; millions displaced and lost their means of livelihoods.

Agro-economic activities have been crippled as farmlands have been deserted. At the border area alone, BusinessDay learnt that about 120, 000 hectares of land used for cultivation every year has been completely deserted. This situation has pushed many into hunger and extreme poverty.

As a result, families are taking inhumane and irrational steps to survive. For instance, there was a peculiar case of a father in one of the camps who gave out his 14-year-old daughter in exchange for a basin of corn.

It was also gathered that families who are displaced often give out their children because they do not have the means to cater for them—a situation that has fuelled child marriage in most northern states.

In addition to poverty, Benue state risks a generation of illiterates as more children are falling out-of-school.

Over 1.5 million people in host communities and IDP camps are not going to school, according to Magdalyne Dura, special adviser on Development Cooperation, SDGs and NEPAD. Even though some form of emergency education is ongoing in these IDP camps, Dura said the standard of learning is too poor.

UNDP’s intervention projects

With limited government provision, displaced persons are surviving intervention initiatives by humanitarian agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The UNDP in partnership with UNHCR, and FAO is building standard shelters for these displaced persons and is providing Critical Rescue Items (CRIs) and Non-Food Items (NFIs) such as mattresses, buckets, mosquito nets.

Focusing on long term development goals, is improving infrastructure and irrigation facilities to support livelihood and farming. Four boreholes’ installations are 90 completed in three local government areas.

The additional water sources aim to directly support displaced farmers in crop and pasture production, and by extension, mitigate the water needs of the various communities’ members totalling 826,600 and broken down as follows—Guma262,100, Kwande 335,600, and Logo 228,900.

At least 400 persons across five local government areas have been empowered with sustainable vocational skills and all beneficiaries received start-up kits to enable them to meet their family needs. This is in a bid to restore hope and dignity to displaced people.

“We can’t let them lose hope, we have built houses close to the IDP camps so that they can start having hope of settling a new life,” Ashraf Usman, conflict and political economy specialist, UNDP said.

In order to end clashes between farmers and herders, a cause of their displacement, UNDP established a peace forum made up of farmers, herders, CSOs, religious & traditional leaders, and government officials.

The Forum meets monthly and succeeded in the advocacy for the passage of the Peacebuilding Agency Bill which is currently at the Benue State House of Assembly, with prospects for speedy passage.

Despite these interventions, many IDPs said their greatest desire is to return home, but they are disappointed with the government’s effort in resolving the conflict. This view is also held by both farmers and herders who are working towards peace but need the federal government’s intervention.

The conflict between farmers and herders has lasted for more than five years, but has not improved and is still at a worrying level, according to Usman.

The drivers of this conflict persist in the state. Usman noted that the farmer/herder crisis is a complex issue with multiple drivers, but the leading causes according to him, are socio-economic factors evidenced in the lack of jobs, rising population which puts pressure on basic services.

He added that the presence of the government is not being felt by the people, while ethnicity and poor education is escalating the conflict.

In addition, the All-Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) Benue State Chapter told BusinessDay that the conflict is largely being fuelled by cross border herders, most of whom are criminals.

Ibrahim Galma, state secretary of MACBAN Benue State chapter noted that Benue state is an important grazing area to herders, so they move freely from neighbouring states and even from the far north especially during dry season.

During this period, he explains, the state witnesses an influx of herders into the state, including those who are not “genuine herders.”

BusinessDay gathered that before the conflict began, it was tradition for herders to come into the state during the dry season and leave during the rainy season, but now, herders who come in decide to stay back and resort to violence.

Galma said the association is however now seeking partnership with government and security agencies to identify the genuine herders at the borders and stop the free movement of cattle herders into the state.

It is also trying to register all “genuine herders” in the state for easy identification of aliens in the state.

Farmers, herders embrace ranching, but policy implementation crawls

While many policies have been proposed by the state and federal governments to quell the deadly clashes, the most accepted solution by both farmers and herders in the state is ranching as contained in the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) initiated in 2019.

But the implementation of this policy by the federal government has been slow due to the lack of political will and inconsistencies in policy implementation, stakeholders on the matter said.

If implemented, the policy could address the grievances of both parties and restore peace in a sustainable manner. This will enable the displaced persons to return home and get their lives back.

“This livestock plan is our greatest desire”, the state chairman AFAN said.

The plan was adopted as an alternative to the open grazing of cattle. It identifies five main pillars as priority areas, including conflict resolution; justice and peace; humanitarian relief; human capital development and cross-cutting issues.

So far, 22 states including Benue state have indicated readiness to domesticate this law. In phase one, the NLTP would initially support the development of pilot ranches in each of seven pilot states of Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa and Zamfara.

Dura (mentioned earlier) the special adviser on Development Cooperation, SDGs and NEPAD explained that the implementation of the policy is based on cost-sharing—the federal government will bring a percentage of funding and the state government will counter the fund, which was accepted by interested states.

Dura said Benue state has met all the requirements, including setting up an office, providing land for pilot ranches, done all training since 2019, and set up a committee that has domesticated the plan.

“But, we are waiting on the federal government to flag-off the programme, instead of doing that, we are back to cattle routes, that’s just the problem,” she said.

If the federal government had shown commitment and sincerity in implementing the plan, according to her, Benue state would have made significant progress.

The state would have its model ranches, “but we really don’t understand why there is inconsistency in policy implementation,” Dura adds.

Meanwhile, Benue state has the anti-grazing law already in place, which stipulates that all dwellers including indigenes and herders must keep their animals in enclosed spaces, but farmers in the state said the law is being violated especially by herders who invade communities.

But some stakeholders argue that the law has doused tension and put some level of stability in the state.

They, however, want advocate and sensitization towards the benefits of ranches to continue. Herders need to be educated in what ranches are, as “they are completely ignorant of this.”

Farmers/herders’ economic interdependence could bring lasting peace

While the federal government has failed to end clashes between farmers and herders by implementing the NLTP, in addition to providing succour and humanitarian interventions, the UNDP is developing and fostering economic interdependence between farmers and herders in communities where farmers and herders coexist.

Under this approach, farmers are empowered to grow and sell products that are relevant to herders such as feed, fodders and at a decent price, while the herders sell products such as milk to the farmers at affordable prices. Hence, they coexist economically by depending on each other.

This is being achieved in places like Ohimini in Agatu Local Government Area of the state which still has a significant number of herders.

In this community, the economic exchange is fostering communication and understanding between both parties, proving that herders and farmers can coexist with less chance of conflict, when they understand their economic usefulness.

In addition to fostering economic interdependence, as aforementioned, the UNDP is fostering the development of peace institutions, strengthening the peacebuilding capacities of communities.

Funded through the human security trust fund and the peacebuilding fund, UNDP is building the capacity of various communities to identify issues before they become conflicts through an early warning system.

To support that process, the agency recently presented the draft of a bill called Peace Building Agency Bill to Titus Uba, speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly.

The Peace Building Agency Bill has been identified as a potential asset that will institutionalise the peace process and drive more investment from the government.

It is expected to institutionalise training of people and advocacy to identify early warning signs and promote early response to potential crises situations.

Agri-business innovation hub underway

As an agro-based economy, the UNDP seeks the establishment of an innovation hub, to empower locals to add value to agricultural products in the state. The agency is also working with the state government to provide those trained in agri-business with land, extension services, and farm inputs.

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