• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Insecurity: Farmers pay N140m to bandits in four years

The Oyo State Government has trained 165 youth and women farmers on cultivation, pest control and processing of improved varieties of three staple crops.

Farmers in the North-West region paid N139.5 million to bandits as levies within a period of four years (2020-2023), a new report has said.

The report, titled ‘Levies or Lives – The Dilemma Of Farmers In Northern Nigeria’ by SBM Intelligence, an Africa-focused geopolitical research firm, said a total of N224.9 million was imposed by the bandits and that farmers paid levies before they could access their farmlands.

“All these make things difficult for those who depend on agriculture for their livelihood and worsen food availability and affordability in the country. Across the north in the past four years, militants have made a fortune through various levies imposed on agrarian communities running into millions, which have exacerbated food insecurity and made people poorer,” the report said.

It said the rise in banditry and armed attacks has disrupted livelihoods and essential service distribution across the Northwest region such as Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and parts of Jigawa.

“For farmers in these areas, working on their farms poses a dual risk: either they attempt to harvest their crops with hopes of earning a living, or they pay hefty ransoms to save themselves from abductors,” it said.

For more than a decade, Nigeria’s internal security crises have intensified, slowing down economic growth, particularly the agriculture sector. Also notable is the kidnapping and murder of people by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North and the lingering conflict between herders and farmers in north-central Nigeria.

The latest Global Peace Index ranked Nigeria among the top 20 least peaceful countries in the world.

“The decade-long crisis spells woes on agrarian communities, with locals witnessing more terror attacks than ever. This has spiked the cost of living in the region as food prices in the Northwest experienced a panic surge, worsening the challenge of food affordability in the region,” authors of the SBM report said.

They said farmers say they have completely abandoned some parts of their farms because of these bandits. “Farming is losing its appeal to farmers due to heavy taxation by bandits who charge levies based on harvest volume thereby increasing the financial burden on farmers.”

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that the headline inflation rate rose for the 13th consecutive time in January this year to 29.90 percent from 28.92 percent in the previous month.

Food inflation, which constitutes 50 percent of the inflation rate, rose to 35.41 percent from 33.93 percent.

Last year, Africa’s biggest economy grew at the slowest pace in three years as its Gross Domestic Product growth fell to 2.74 percent from 3.10 percent in 2022.

The agricultural sector, a major contributor to the country’s GDP, slowed to 1.88 percent from 2.13 percent.

“Kidandan, Galadimawa Kerawa, Sabon Layi, Sabon Birni and Ruma communities in Kaduna have been significantly impacted as residents have reported paying substantial sums ranging from N70,000 to N100,000 to bandits for permission to farm, with additional payments required for harvesting,” the SBM report said.

“Those who resist these demands face severe consequences, including abduction, murder, or confiscation of their produce. In some instances, bandits bring their cattle to graze on the remaining crops, further exacerbating the situation by destroying potential seedlings,” it added.

The strategic communications consulting firm also revealed that farmers may be compelled to offer a portion of their farm produce as payment in kind.

The report said: “The presence of bandits, especially along the Galadimawa axis, has made it difficult for farmers to safely venture into nearby bushes during the dry season, hindering their ability to harvest their crops.

“The only option many had was to use whatever savings they had left to pay the bandits so they could be allowed to harvest their produce.”

According to the report, the escalating extortion tactics employed by bandits, particularly the pre-harvest fees, are poised to exacerbate inflation rates.

“Unlike imposing a fixed rate, bandits charge levies based on harvest volume, increasing the financial burden on farmers striving to break even,” it said.

Rising inflation and sluggish growth in Africa’s most populous nation increased the number of poor people to 104 million in 2023 from 89.8 million at the start of the year, according to the World Bank.

SBM said Nigeria is now at a critical point, where urgent action is required to address the root causes of instability and prevent a worsening food crisis.

“While the government is eager to stabilise volatile areas, support victims and resettle the displaced, it must also prioritise nipping the looming food crisis in the bud,” it added.