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Cattle forces farmers out of farmlands, as hunger looms in Nigeria’s Benue Valley (Part two)

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By Justina ASISHANA

Several hectares of farmlands have been allegedly destroyed by herdsmen in 2021 in some states in Nigeria’s north-central region. Plateau, Nasarawa and Benue are the worst-hit states by the herder-farmer crisis. In this report, Justina ASISHANA spoke with farmers affected by the crisis and examined how it threatens food security in the country.


Farms in ruins

Cabbage, rice, tomatoes and maize are the major crops planted in Riyam village of Tahoss community in Riyom local government area of Plateau state.

This reporter visited at least five farms in the village, most of which lay in ruins as they have been stomped upon and allegedly eaten by cows. Residents said one of the farms – a cabbage plantation – was attacked days before the reporter’s visit. They claimed the affected farm was transplanted from the nursery bed to the main bed for maturity, adding that it would have matured in two months, but for the herders’ invasion.

Monday Andrew and John Danjuma, whose farms were destroyed were brave enough to apprehend the cows who caused the damage while their herders took to their heels.

The farmers, alongside Adamu Dalobo, the village head of Riyam, reported the matter to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) station nearby. The Police, according to the trio, asked them to release the cows to the Fulani herders and report back to the station the following day to enable them to resolve the issue amicably.

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“The money I invested in farming this year is about N100,000, and yet, I do not see myself making any harvest this year because just look at the crops I transplanted; they came yesterday and ate them all. These cows have brought me down. What will I produce? What will I sell? How will I recover my money?” Andrew, whose cabbage farm was stomped by the cows, lamented.


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Narrating their ordeal, Dalobo said all farms owned by residents of the community had been destroyed by Fulani herders who allowed their cows to graze on their farms.

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“This year, my people have nothing to harvest from their farms as these herders have destroyed all their crops. All the maize were destroyed, rice, millet, cabbage, tomatoes and all the traditional crops they planted have been destroyed.

“They come at night to destroy the crops. I do not know when the Fulanis have started rearing cows at night. Now, they do night rearing, which we have never seen or heard before unless it is intentional and deliberately done to cripple us financially.

“After destroying the farms and there is nothing left for the cows to feed on, the herders have taken to destroying our gardens at home,” he said sadly.

He lamented that even when the farmers apprehended the invading cows, the Police often asked them to release the cows to their herders and come back for discussion. According to him, nothing comes out of such effort as the herders became fiercer in destroying their source of livelihood – farming – after each discussion.

Is it a one-sided clash?

Most farmers who spoke to this reporter in Nasarawa and Plateau states believe that the perennial herder-farmer crisis is one-sided.

The farmers unanimously noted that they are disadvantaged, adding that they don’t go to farms with guns, daggers or machetes. They claimed that they are peaceful people who are only concerned with contributing their quota to food production in the country.

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“In these attacks, the farmers are on the disadvantaged side because you would not find any farmer with a Dane gun while some of these herders go about with AK-47. They also carry sharp daggers, which they used in threatening one if you dare confront them for allowing their cows destroy your crops,” Audu-Doma said.

For Williams, “a Tiv man does not move about with a gun; we move with hoes and cutlasses when going to the farm, but these Fulani herders move about with guns and sharp daggers to kill and terrorize us. From most of the attacks I have witnessed, they have sophisticated weapons.

Williams and one of the IDPs who is to old to go out
Williams and one of the IDPs who is to old to go out

“They come into your farm, with their cows matching and eating the crops. Sometimes, they clear the land for their cows to feed, but you dare not go there and question them; else, they will attack you with their daggers or machetes or shoot you. Two of our youths were attacked recently because they tried to prevent the Fulani herders from destroying their crops. They shot one of them and used a machete on the other and left him for dead, but luckily he survived and is currently recovering in the hospital”.

Audu-Doma and Williams believe that the clash is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Fulani herders to create a crisis between the farmers and herders continually.

“When people harvested benniseed and leave it to dry, the Fulani herdsmen do come to push the benniseed down because they know that once the benniseed is dried and it drops on the sand, it is very challenging to pick them and this, makes it useless for the farmer; that is a deliberate act,” Audu-Doma explained.

The duo were not the only ones with such belief. Plateau-based Odey, among other farmers interviewed, also shared the same opinion.

“There is nothing like a clash; it is just one-sided attacks because you do not see farmers going to their farms with guns. But these herders move around with weapons like guns and cutlasses. So, people cannot approach them to talk or confront them due to the fear of being attacked or getting killed,” Odey spoke succinctly.

They all lamented that they bore the brunt of the losses, mostly as Fulani herders often threaten and forcefully make farmers pay compensation for cows killed if they dared retaliate over the destruction of their farms.

The farmers unanimously affirmed that they were often treated unjustly and differently when the herders’ cows destroyed their farms. “Most times, they do not pay any compensation. And if the security agents tried to force them to pay, they often pay an amount that won’t equal the capital invested on the farms. Even some herders go back to the farms to destroy them completely after paying such compensation,” they alleged.

Impact on Food Security

Data released by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics on December 15, 2021, show that prices of food commodities are increasing geometrically in the market. This may not be unconnected with the rising insecurity, including herder-farmer’s hostilities reported in the North Central region of the country, known for its large production of food commodities.

The farmers who spoke with this reporter noted sadly that the impact of the herder-farmer crisis is famine and hunger next year if drastic steps are not taken to mitigate the situation.

“When you talk about food production, mark my words, there will be hunger next year because of these attacks. The fear of going to farms and the shortage of rainfall this year have led to a drastic reduction in food production. So, unless the government takes steps in addressing this, no doubt, the hunger next year will be increased by 70 per cent”, Odey opined.

Dalobo’s argument too is similar to Odey’s thoughts. “These attacks will end up putting Nigerians in hunger; because in my community, we produce a lot, but this year, there was little harvested. This would make food scarce in the country because we no longer supply farm produce to other parts of the country, unlike before,” he said with a mix of pessimism and empathy.

Similarly, Comrade Peter Ahemba noted that Nigeria may likely suffer famine in the coming year.

“The clashes between herders and farmers have affected food production because Nasarawa is one of the states that produce foods in large scale in the country. Benue is often described as the food basket of the nation, but I will tell you that Benue owns the foods. So, if anything is affecting Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau states, then we don’t need to be told that there will be problems in terms of food production in Nigeria and there is going to be hunger in the land,” said Ahemba, who presided over Tiv Development Association – a socio-cultural pressure group in Nasarawa state.

Both Nasarawa and Plateau state governments also acknowledged that the crisis have impacted food production in the states negatively.

Alhaji Nuhu Usman Bunu, the Permanent Secretary of Nasarawa State Ministry of Agriculture, said. However, he can’t provide current food production figures in the state; he confirmed that the quantum of farm produce grown across the state has reduced drastically.

Nasarawa state Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agric
Nasarawa state Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agric

“In North-Central states, the attacks have affected food production especially during planting and harvesting. The price of food is very high now because of this. If the farmers do not farm, there would be no food production; therefore, there would be scarcity which will lead to hunger eventually,” he said briefly.

According to Hosea Finangwai, the Commissioner of Agriculture in Plateau State, people are afraid and abandoning their lands.

“Farmlands are being abandoned and not utilized for agricultural farming. It is affecting farming activities, increasing the cost of food and discouraging the youths from going into agriculture,” he lamented.

Governments intervene to address the crisis

Both Nasarawa and Plateau state governments have, over time, intensified efforts aimed at addressing the perennial herder-farmer crisis, culminating in the signing of peace pacts, reports show.

Bunu said that there had been relative peace in Nasarawa state in recent times due to several government’s interventions put in place to ensure peace between the two groups.

“Government has taken measures to ensure peace in the state for farmers to farm and herders to do their job without molestation or attacks.

“There have been consultative meetings between opinion leaders of the farmers and herders’ groups to agree and look at the causes of the clashes to find a lasting solution. We are also looking at the drafting of agro-rangers to farms to help guide farmers during planting, harvesting and transportation of agricultural produce as we believe that this will prevent attacks,” he added.

In the neighbouring Plateau state, Finangwai confirmed that the state government is adopting the agro-rangers policy to mitigate the herder-farmer crisis challenges.

“The pilot scheme of the agro-rangers programme was flagged off two years ago in Bokkos local government area. He stated that the government intends to spread it to the other local government areas,” he stated.

He confirmed that the state government has also set up an inter-religious committee to sit down with all religious leaders to sensitize and educate them on the need for peaceful co-existence.

In addition, he said the government is considering setting up a Peace Building Agency. He noted that there is a law against land grabbing and land encroachment in the state, which is punishable to every offender.

Meanwhile, most of the farmers in Nasarawa state interviewed by this reporter acknowledged the state government’s efforts in suing for peace among the farmers and herders.

But their counterparts in Plateau state opined that the state government is doing too little to nothing to curtail the attacks and invasions on farms by herders.

This reporter observed that the majority of the farmers in Plateau state, especially from Plateau East senatorial district, have become despondent on the crisis to the extent that they declined to speak when asked for comments regarding attacks on their farms. They claimed that they have been talking to many people, including the media and civil societies. “Yet, nothing comes out of such efforts; even the government is yet to address our challenges,” they opined.

Will the National Livestock Transformation Programme solve the crisis?

The National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP) was launched in 2019 by the Nigerian government to curtail the movement of cattle, boost livestock production and quell the herder-farmer conflict in the country. The plan will be implemented in seven pilot states of Adamawa, Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara.

President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration came up with the plan following a wave of violence between herders and farmers, notably a surge in related violence which affected rural primarily dwellers in 2018.

The federal government said it has committed 80 per cent funding of the transformation proposals submitted by participating states and has taken preliminary steps toward putting the plan into practice, including providing technical support to help states prepare for implementation, such as help with field surveys and site mapping.

The programme has a ten-year plan with the target that by the end of 2028, there will be at least 119 ranches operating in all participating states, with over two million jobs created in the livestock production, processing and marketing chains.

Some state governments have allocated the sites they intend to use as grazing reserves.

For instance, in Plateau state, the government has designated the Wase and Garga grazing reserves as areas where herders and livestock can settle. Also, in Nasarawa, the state government has selected eight sites in seven local government areas: Awe, Keana, Doma, Mankwar, Konva, Gitata, Kurudu and Loko for the programme.

It would be recalled that the NLTP was launched in Nasarawa state on August 5, 2021. At the event, the state governor, Abdullahi Sule, expressed optimism that the plan, when implemented, would end the herder-farmer crisis in the state.

For Finangwai, he expressed optimism that the Plateau state government is committed to ensuring that the programme limits movement of herders from one place to another, which often leads to their cows entering into farms and destroying crops.

He noted that the NLTP, alongside other state government interventions, would bring an end to the crisis between the two groups in the state.

“The ranching system, especially this programme of the federal government, will be the best solution. It will make everyone be at peace and prevent the Fulani herders from encroaching peoples’ land and destroying crops worth millions of Naira”, Odey said.

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