• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Chase killer herders out of our farms to end food inflation – Farmers tell FG

Farmers faceoff with fulani

As the Federal Government battles to tame food inflation and the worsening cost of living crisis in the country, Nigerians have urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to first chase away killer herdsmen that have scared away farmers from their farms through their murderous activities.

Across the country, many big-time farmers have abandoned their farms as cases of kidnapping and unprovoked killings became a daily affair, perpetrated by AK-47 wielding herdsmen.

Since 2015, cases of abduction, rape and murder have become widespread in the country. The nation’s forests and bushes have been invaded by herders who unleash mayhem on people.

Farmers attribute the high cost of food items partly to the high level of insecurity in the country. They strongly believe that had the farmers not been driven away from their farmlands, the cost of food items would not be as high as it is currently.

The country is facing a persistent food crisis as the prices of commodities skyrocket on a daily basis. Many Nigerians have attributed the crisis to the activities of gun-wielding herdsmen, who have made farmers abandon their fields.

The high cast of food items

The country’s food inflation rate rose from 33.93percent in December to 35.41percent in January. This is according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) report for January.

According to the 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition World report, the number of Nigerians who are food insecure has increased by 133 percent in three years. It jumped from 63.8 million people between 2014 and 2016 to 148.7 million people between 2020 and 2022.

A medium-sized sliced bread priced at N750 in January 2023 has seen a 33 percent increase, now sold at N1,000. The cost of a piece of egg doubled from N100 to N200, and the cost of a crate of eggs rose from N2,200 to N3,500 within the same period.

Also, foreign parboiled rice in a 50 kg bag ranges between N70,000 and N77,000, compared to N34,000 to N36,000 last year. Local parboiled rice in a 50 kg bag now sells for N55,000 to N65,000, up from N30,000 to N34,000 in January 2023.

A derica of beans has surged from N450 to N1,100, and a 25-litre container of vegetable oil is now priced at N45,000, a significant increase from N22,000 last year. A paint of garri has doubled in price, reaching N2,000 from N1,000 in the same period last year.

Experts have linked the food crisis to lingering insecurity, particularly the invasion of farmlands herdsmen in the country.

“The population of smallholder farmers who have been displaced from either their communities or farmlands is impacting production. But I will expand by saying banditry, farmer and herdsmen clashes, land and boundary disputes, kidnapping for ransom,” Abiodun Olorundero, a managing partner at Prasinos Farms, said on the connection between herdsmen activities and the food crisis.

Olorundero also identified low investment in agriculture, over-reliance on the north by the south, climate change, economic instability, and the forex issue, among others, as causes of food inflation in Nigeria.

The clash between farmers and herdsmen has been a major challenge facing the country over the years. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the unending conflict, particularly in the north-central and some parts of the southern regions.

For instance, more than 140 people were reportedly killed during a clash between farmers and herdsmen in Plateau State in December 2023.

The unending clash between AK-47 wielding herdsmen coupled with the barbaric attacks by terrorists and bandits has made farmers abandon their farmlands, leading to a food crisis across the country.

“Farmers are displaced from their farms, fear of going to produce, and farmers are impoverished,” Olorundero spoke on the effects of the crisis on farmers.

To address this issue, the Southern Governors’ Forum in 2021 banned open grazing across the region. The then governor of Benue, Samuel Ortom, also prohibited herdsmen from grazing in his state.

Some states also established local vigilantes and other security outfits to tackle the crisis. For instance, the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), codenamed Operation Amotekun, was established in the Southwest.

The anti-open grazing policy and local security outfits haven’t done much to solve this challenge as gun-wielding herdsmen continue to torment farmers on their farmlands.

“They are far from being effective, as those causing the unrest are either more powerful or motivated than the farmers and security agents.

If the government were doing enough, then we wouldn’t have daily reports. There needs to be ward-to-ward recruitment and empowerment of local policing across the board,” Olorundero said of the effectiveness of government measures to address the issue.

He recommended the registration and provision of identification cards to cattle herders and dispute resolution strategies to address the crisis.

Olorundero also called for the provision of ranches by the authorities and tight border security to stop “foreign bad eggs from encroaching on our territory.”

The Federal Government had a few days ago directed the release of 42,000 metric tons of assorted food items from both the strategic reserves and the Rice Miller Association of Nigeria as a short-term response to the rising food shortage in the country.

President Tinubu had also a few days ago, through the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Koyode Egbetokun; Director-General of State Security Service, Yusuf Bishi, and the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu to work with state governors to immediately check the activities of those hoarding food items with the intention to smuggle them out or make extra profits from the resulting scarcity.

Although the moves were in the right direction,

farmers, who spoke with BusinessDay urged the Tinubu administration not to shy away from the real issue.

Farmers in Delta State, for instance, have decried the activities of headers in their communities, saying it has largely contributed to the high cost of staple foods in the market.

In Oshimili South Local Government Area, the state capital, the activities of herdsmen have been wreaking havoc in the land.

According to Ugochi Akani, “I have stopped going to farm for long because the headers occupied the farms.

They rape our women and destroy our crop. I’ve decided to keep off from farming in order to save my life.

“Personally, I have lost over N2 million as a result of these cattle rearers. It’s not that the cattle destroy our crops, the headers themselves do.

“I could remember a man that planted watermelon worth of N500,000 in his farm but these headers used their cutlasses to cut the crops into pieces.

“The area I’m talking about is right in the capital of Delta State. We rent farmlands in Achara-Ibusa and we are scared of cultivating there. Even in the Federal College of Education, the money we spent in renting acres of land just wasted and nobody comes to your rescue.

“Unless the Federal Government end the siege by these headers in our communities, no amount of intervention in the food sector of the economy would end the food inflation that we are currently witnessing in the country.”

Akani, who said she is from Ebonyi State, added: “We used to have them in Ebonyi State but today, they have left our farms and lands. That is why the people of the state are now enjoying peace.”

Princess Nrimuigwe, another farmer cum petty trader from Imo State in the South East who was in Asaba on a visit to a relation, said: “In the past, our community never recorded the negative activities of the headers.

“Today, they have occupied our farmlands, rape our women who go to farm. As a result, we either go in groups or keep off from the farmlands. Some of our people are also being kidnapped by the herdsmen who are always armed with AK-47.

“Our village leaders have advised us to keep off from the farms as they are meeting with the state government over the issue. Our only source of getting staple foods are from Owerri markets as we no longer harvest our own crops to sell and make money for the survival of our families And because everybody is now going to the market to but the available food items which they could have ordinarily harvested from their farms if they were allowed to cultivate their lands, that’s why we are having high cost of food items. The way I see things, it would grow worse,” she said.

‘I abandoned my farm when I was kidnapped three times’

Jude Onyevadi, a priest cum farmer, had blamed the political leaders for not having the will to end the menace of the herders despite the Anti-Open Grazing Law passed by the Delta State House of Assembly.

“The herders said they would first occupy our bushes and farmers to make it uncomfortable for us to escape when they will begin to attack our cities and nothing has been done over the threat,” lamented Onyebadi who has stopped going to farm since he was kidnapped the third time.

“The herders’ activities are a threat to food security. My farms in Iselle-Uku in Aniocha LGA of Delta State used to produce the majority of pineapple and corn that were sold in Delta and Onitsha markets but today, we no longer harvest because we no longer go to farm.”

Recently, the Delta State Assembly under the leadership of Emomotimo Guwor, passed a motion mandating the State Governor, Sherrif Oborevwori to collaborate with the Federal Government to end the herdsmen activities in the state.

“We hope that the directive by the President, directing the Police IGP, the DG of the SSS, and the NSA to collaborate with state governors would yield any dividend,” an Asaba-based farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Forest rangers will smoke out the killers

A community leader in Ondo State who spoke on condition of anonymity said that he was happy with President Tinubu’s plan to establish state police and forest rangers.

He said: “I understood very well what that means; it means that the state governors will now take responsibility of the security in their domain. It will no longer be a case where the police commissioner in a state would seek permission from the Inspector General of Police before taking action.

“It will also mean that the forest rangers will smoke out those dangerous boys that have invaded the bushes and forests across the country. I just hope that those behind this plan will have the political will to drive it. It will mean providing the right equipment for those going to police the forest and being able to allow the law protect those to be recruited to do the job. If you are going to face a youth with AK-47, you should have a more sophisticated gun. Again, it should not be like what we have been seeing since 2015 where the killers would be arrested and an ‘order comes from above’ either to release them or bring them to Abuja. If these things are tidied up, I see the insecurity situation trending downwards,” he said.