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Insecurity and restriction of movement (lockdown) have become major challenges that smallholder women farmers in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State have to contend with.
Prior to the restriction of movement occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic, the women farmers had insecurity to deal with. The imposition of the lockdown was somewhat akin to adding salt to an open sour.
“This year has not been easy for us. I don’t know how farmers will cope with the current situation in which this year’s farming period has a great deal of encumbrances. How are we going to engage in farm work amid insecurity, insurgency and government lockdown?” Aisha Garba, a small-scale rice farmer in Gusoko community in Shiroro Local Government Area lamented.
Aisha decried a situation in which acute shortage of food awaits not only people in Shiroro Local Government Area but also those in Niger State and Nigeria as a whole; even as she explained that the issue of insecurity has affected the community economically. She added that the lockdown has further made the situation worse for the farmers.
Shiroro Local Government Area can be likened to the basket of food produce in Niger state and the local government area is well known for production of yam, rice and cassava which is used for garri.
Nevertheless, in the past three years, Shiroro Local Government Area has become the epicentre of armed banditry, cattle rustling, kidnapping and wanton killings. A once-peaceful and prosperous local government has been reduced to a mere killing field.
The attacks, which began like child’s play around 2015 has metamorphosed into reoccurring tragedy, as women are raped, children forced to become orphans, able-bodied youths killed, villages sacked and destroyed, cattle rustled, farm produce destroyed, properties stolen and people kidnapped for ransom.
As at April 2020, over 97 communities in eight wards have experienced one or more bandits’ attacks.
For women farmers in the local government area, it is no longer easy to farm in a peaceful atmosphere, especially with the combination of insecurity and the lockdown, which is part of government’s measures to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, which has further worsened their economic situation and ability of women to go to their farms to cultivate their crops.
In Gusoko community, Aisha Garba, a small-scale rice farmer, explained that the situation of farming this year is terrible as a lot of women farmers can no longer go to their farms because of the apprehension of being attacked or raped by bandits.
“Farming this year will be terrible because our lives are not safe because of insecurity. Up till this moment, our people are still afraid to go back to their homes in order to farm in their communities because the bandits always come in their numbers to attack them.
“Engaging in farming this year is risky because not all our farmers are going back to their farms as their lives are at risk. We are all afraid. We even received a message from them (the bandits) that our people should go back and farm and that when they farm, they (the bandits) are still coming back next year. The source of this information is unknown. Our people are afraid to go back to till the land.
“So, for now, we do not know what will happen next year because not all people are going back to farm this year. Some of our people in these affected communities have left the communities entirely; some have left the state and have gone to another state to stay,” she said.
Aisha further lamented that they have lost most of their rice, soya beans and sorghum crops which were stored as seedlings for the next planting season that is supposed to begin this month, adding that the bandits have invaded their storage facilities and carted away everything while those they could not cart away were destroyed.
Aisha, who sells her farm produce directly to buyers at the Shiroro Market lamented that during the restriction of movement by government, she had to sell her produce at a very low price because she needed money to buy other essentials.
When the restriction of movement began in Niger State, two days were given as window period for people to move. However, it was then increased to three days.
She, nonetheless confessed that market business is low but the prices of the commodities are upbeat even though they are still not safe at the market as the unexpected could happen.
“The market business is low except for the commodity whose prices are going higher and higher. Some of the women have not been able to convey their products to the market because of insecurity and lockdown. Even if they are in the market, you will hear ‘they are coming’ and everybody will start running. It has affected a lot of our communities. It is affecting us seriously.
“People increase the small commodities that they were able to bring to the market, because they do not know when next they will come to the market to sell. A module of groundnut costs over N500 which have never happened before. The prices are rising steeply.
“Personally, my own produce was sold at a very low price because I took it to the market when I needed money during the lockdown period and the prices were low at that time. So, I sold it out at a giveaway price because I needed the money and there is nothing I could have done.”
While on the farm, you have to be extra vigilant observant – Mairo Nuhu
“In Shiroro Local Government Area, it is very difficult to farm this period because as one bends down to farm, and one hears a noise, one has to turn, one has to be extra vigilant about the happenings around one when one is farming,” said Mairo Nuhu, the Shiroro Coordinator for Small Scale Women Farmers’ Organisation of Nigeria (SWOFON).
Mairo, who is a rice, yam and sorghum farmer, said it is becoming increasingly difficult for women and men to farm in the area during this period, observing that “we are farming in insecure times.”
She revealed that many women, along with their husbands, had been attacked while farming, even as she noted that some of the women farmers have been raped, while others have been forcefully turned into wives of the bandits.
“They come in their numbers, on 50 or 40 motorcycles, and each carries three people fully armed. Sometimes they won’t touch the women, they will just kill the man, even if it is in the compound, they will follow the men and kill them and if they look around the women and see the one that fascinates them, the woman becomes their wife. So, all these are things that we are experiencing,” she said.
She said that these incessant attacks have greatly affected the output and sales of their farm produce as the bandits target the storage and take the farm produce they desire any time they attack villages.
“These attacks have affected our storage. If you store your food for the next farming season, the bandits will pick the best one and the rest. No seedlings, no food to eat, no place to farm, no place to sleep.
“We don’t know from where we will get help. Farming this period is very risky. ”
Mairo said the lockdown has further increased their sufferings as before now, they could go out to transact business and farm despite the fear of bandits but these days, there is no freedom to move anywhere until the window period approved by the government for people to go out and stock up their homes.”
‘We spend a lot feeding Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)’
The women farmers also lamented that despite the fact that they cannot go to the farm nor do business, they spend more on food now than before; some of them expressed fear of not having enough seedlings to plant during the planting season because they have been eating some of the seedlings saved for planting.
Mairo said: “We still have Internally Displaced People in the town. They are in Kuta Primary School. If you see where they sleep and what they eat, you pity them. Some of them squat with relations and we spend more on food just to support these people. ”
One of the women farmers, Madam Habiba said: “Our village is filled with many displaced people. We now cook up to 20 modules because we have to feed those who have been homeless as a result of insecurity. ”
Aisha said: “Our own food security is threatened because we have to accommodate these IDPs. Some of our people who were affected by the insecurity have to be accommodated in our houses.”
Appeal for security
The women farmers have called on government at all levels to provide security for the local government council. They lamented that previous appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears as they have not seen any improvement in the security situation in the council despite the promises and media hype that has been done about curtailing the activities of bandits.
“Government should come to our aid. If you sell your cattle or farm produce and they hear about you, they will waylay you and collect the money. If you prove stubborn, they will shoot you. The money is gone, the cow or produce is gone and one’s life is wasted,” Mairo said.
Aisha wants the government to fish out the informants and deal with them.
“For a long time, we have been calling on the government to come to our aid as a result of insecurity that has affected our economic situation.
“We have informants from within that feed the bandits who come to attack us with information.”
Informants are our problem in eradicating the bandits – Niger Government
On the plight of the people, Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, stated that security agencies have been trying to overrun the bandits but their efforts are being sabotaged by informants who divulge the strategies of the security agencies and their movement to the bandits.
The governor said the issue of banditry in Shiroro Local Government Area and the neighbouring councils is a source of concern for the state, especially as the areas are known for farm produce, which bring in revenue to the state.
“This is a very serious challenge to us because the bandits are working with some highly-placed members of the affected communities who give them vital information thereby aiding them from been tactically isolated and overrun.
“The state has been confronted with serial security threats in recent times and government will not be deterred by the unpatriotic activities of such saboteurs but will do everything possible to bring an end to crime and criminality in the state.”
Bello urged the people to support the government in the fight against the bandits by reporting people they suspect to be aiding the bandits and to also provide useful information to the security agencies in order to trace their movements and checkmate their nefarious activities.”