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

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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.


WHEN Samuel Odey planted cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes, green peas, carrot, and other vegetable crops in January 2021, he envisaged the usual three planting seasons, which he usually does yearly on his farm in Zarazum in Jos East local government area of Plateau state.

But in February, when the crops were in the process of maturing, his farm was invaded by the Fulani herders whose cows ate all his crops, leaving him with little to fall back on.

“This year, my farm witnessed the brutality of the Fulani herders,” he narrated with a mournful gaze as he stared into the near-empty farmland.

“I started irrigation farming in January, and my farm was destroyed in February,” he continued.

“I had to plant again after the loss, and after re-planting, the farm was attacked by a disease which devoured about half of the farm. The Fulani herdsmen again destroyed a part of the farm which survived.


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How herder-farmer crisis in Benue threatens food production in Nigeria


These destructions, according to Odey, were carried out as the herders marched their cows into the farm, stomping the crops and eating the ones they could.

“Most of the time, when they come to give their cows water to drink at the dam close to where I farm, they matched on our crops, ate our crops, as they walked across the farm, instead of taking the footpath.”

The cows apprehended by the residents
The cows apprehended by the residents

Over N1.5 million, the capital he invested for this year’s planting season, went down the drain, thus ending Odey’s hope to return to the farm for the year.

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“My production rate before the attacks has been good,” he recalled. “For my cucumber, I harvest nothing less than 300 bags. But after the invasions on my farm this year, I only got 50 bags.”

“For the tomatoes, there was nothing to salvage because I lost everything. The price of fertilizers, chemicals, insecticides, and other things I used, including labourers’ wages, was a total loss for me. I cannot bring myself to go back to the farm because I do not want to remember the loss and the pains these Fulani herdsmen have caused my family and me.”

Martin Agbo Audu-Doma, a retired civil servant, turned farmer no longer goes to his farm, which is located in the Doma local government area of Nasarawa state.

The farm, his lifelong wealth creation venture, could no longer support him following repeated herders’ attacks. Before the crisis, his five-hectare farmland hosted yam, guinea corn, maize, benni seeds (sesame) and melon plantations.

“I have stopped planting because there is no point going to the farm to plant only to have your crops destroyed by cows and their owners. One would struggle, even to the point of borrowing loans from the bank only for some cows to come from nowhere and eat them up or destroy the ones that they cannot eat,” he recounted his ordeals.

“The destruction of my farm has always been carried out at nights. I go home and come back in the morning to see the destroyed crops,” he narrated sadly.

Audu-Doma is one among the many farmers in the state who could no longer return to their farms due to the increasing attacks by herders.

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Nigeria’s Benue Valley, which comprises Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states, has been suffering the scourge of herder-farmer’s crisis, leaving most residents with pains, agony, and sad tales to tell.

The herder-farmer’s conflict, which became more intense this year, had begun threatening Nigeria’s food security. The affected states primarily produce most of Nigeria’s staple food, such as yam, maize, guinea corn, millet, and vegetables.

A research report titled “Trends and Dynamics of Conflict between Farmers and Pastoralists in Nigeria’s Benue Valley” released by Zinariya Consults in March 2021 stated that no fewer than 2,539 persons were killed in 654 attacks in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Taraba states while over 300,000 were displaced between 2017 and May 2020 across the four states.

The report showed that 176,000 people were displaced in Benue, 100,000 in Plateau, 100,000 in Nasarawa and 19,000 in Taraba – all due to the surge of attacks and counter-attacks by the herders and farmers in those states. The conflict involves contests over land and water as access to water and grazing have become more competitive, it added.

 

Millionaire farmers now unable to feed their families

With 250 hectares of farmland fully cultivated with maize, guinea corn, yam, rice, benniseed, acha, and millet, Williams Audu’s effort to create wealth placed him among large-scale farmers in Nasarawa state. But his efforts ended in ruins as the herder-farmer’s crisis ravaged his rural community, turning him into an internally displaced person in a nearby refugee settlement.

A leader of Nyamadaga community in Keena local government area of the state, Williams spoke to The Nation at the LEA Pilot Primary School in Kadarko North. The school has become his temporary abode, alongside other members of his communities.

“They were killing and condemning us when we stayed in the village, and that is why we had to run away. We had to leave all we had because we needed a safe place to stay”, he recollected.

“On my part, I have about 250 hectares of land, but I cannot go there now because the Fulanis are settled there. When you go to Nyamadaga, Fulani has taken over the whole place. I cannot dream of going there except I have a death wish”, Williams said with a sad face.

He recapped with nostalgia: “For rice, I produce up to 100 bags per season, and I do two seasons every year; for benniseed, I produce about 80 bags, and others are like that too.” Before, the herdsmen allegedly took over his farmlands after ransacking his community.

a rice farm destroyed.the legs of the cows could be seen
A rice farm destroyed the legs of the cows could be seen

“I had so much money to spend then, but now, I have to search for food by working for people to feed myself and my family. My children could no longer go to school”, he added.

Another large-scale farmer, Adamu Hoss, hails from Riyam village of Tahoss Community in Riyom local government area of Plateau state. Annually, he makes about N900,000 from his farm produce.

But after trying to salvage the remaining cucumber and corn that was destroyed by cows, according to him, “I could not get crops that were worth N50,000.”

“I can no longer afford to keep my children in school because there is no money to pay their fees and purchase some basic things they need in school. Feeding has become a big problem in my family because if I do not farm, how can I bring food home or get money to buy food?” he asked hypothetically.

For Dawon Kwon, his major plantations of maize, millet, cabbage, and tomatoes attracted buyers from far and near in the recent past.

“Before, I used to get one pick-up vehicle each for my maize and millet crops. I sell these crops for about N500,000 to N600,000 annually when I harvest them. I planted this one (while showing this reporter round his farm), and they came to destroy it”, he narrated.

“I don’t know how I will cope for the rest of the year and next year; I don’t know how I will feed my children. Even if I want to plant next year, I cannot afford to buy fertilizer which is about N20,000 per bag, and this hardship is just too much to cope with”, Dawon added.

 

Empty stalls on market days

The Doma farmers’ market, domiciled in Doma local government area of Nasarawa state, plays host to traders and consumers from the length and breadth of the country. Known for its sweet yams, good millets, among other farm produce, buyers and sellers converged at the market every Wednesday of the week.

However, reverse is the case these days. Although this reporter couldn’t visit the area on a market day, residents said the market is usually very scanty in recent times as farmers no longer have crops to bring to the market to sell.

Audu-Doma could not hesitate to link the dwindling volume of produce in the market to the herder-farmer crisis, saying the food crisis looms.

“In the past, when you come to Doma market on Wednesday and see the volume of farm produce that will be sold, you will wonder whether it was humans who farmed the produce or robots. You will see trailers from the north, the east and the south to buy yams, millet and other crops, but now, it is different.”

“Doma market is no longer functioning like before. I was there during the last market day, and it was virtually empty. All the vehicles that usually come to buy goods no longer come.

“No place produces yam like Doma. But if you go there now, you cannot find yams for sale because nobody farms yams anymore. After you have planted, these Fulani herders will come and remove the seedlings and use it to feed their cows.”

The situation is not also different at Kadarko Market, located in Keana local government area of the state.

Residents said farmers in communities that made up the local government area could no longer grow crops massively due to constant herdsmen invasion of their farms. Thus, buyers began to desert the market, as they were often disappointed when they patronized the market, only to discover that there was no produce to buy.

Prices of food skyrocket

In the same vein, Plateau state is known for its large vegetable plantations, especially cabbage, carrot, cucumber, spinach, and tomatoes, among others.

But a walk through the Jos Terminus Market in the Plateau state capital showed an increase in prices of foodstuffs, especially the vegetables and staple foods consumed by most Nigerians.

Traders interviewed affirmed that with as low as N300, one could buy all the ingredients needed for coleslaw, also known as Salad. They said currently, a medium-sized cabbage sells for N200 with plenty “abeg ma” in the market.

“For ten tubers of yams, the price now ranges between N3,000 to N5,000; this was about N1,500 to N1,800 earlier in the year. Whereas, maize which sold for N180 – N200 per mudu (that is, a common unit of measure in which foodstuff is sold in markets across northern Nigeria) in January, now sells for N300 per mudu,” Mrs Anne Barau, a trader in the market told this reporter.

Hadiza Musa, another trader in the Tomatoes section of the market, shared the same opinion with Mrs. Barau.

According to her, the cost of tomatoes and other vegetables are high; as such, we always explain to customers why the tomatoes, pepper or onions they bought for N200 yesterday are being sold for N300 the next day.

“For now, a basket of tomatoes is N5,000, but last month, it was sold for as high as N9,000 to N10,000. In contrast, a bag of onions is between N30,000 to N32,000.

“Cucumber goes for N8,000 – N9,000 depending on the bag; cabbage is N8,000 to N9,000 per bag; green pepper is sold between N12,000 to N13,500 per bag while a bag of Irish potatoes goes for N18,000 to N20,000.  These were sold at lower rates last month. Most of them increased by 20 to 30 per cent”, she said.

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