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Between farmers and herdsmen

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The disruption of farming activities arising from the conflict among farmers and herders is already hurting food security. As the crisis escalates, scores of farmers have continued to count their losses. As a result of this situation, stakeholders have canvassed concrete measures in resolving the lingering impasse, through the introduction of innovative business models that will promote the livestock value chain. DANIEL ESSIET reports.

These are not cheery times for farmers as a result of the incessant conflicts with cattle herders. Clashes between the two groups have resulted in the death of more than 10,000 people in the last decade, almost 4,000 of them in the last two years alone.

Lives have been made miserable for farmers throughout the country. While there have been infinite tensions in many states in the East and South geo-political zones; leading to farmers leaving their farms for areas where they feel they will be free from attacks. Thousands of farmers have been displaced from their farms in the Middle Belt.

Due to the bewildering nature of the conflicts, critical stakeholders have called for quick actions to map the risk management strategies in tracking various categories of the challenge.

For analysts, the damage done to human lives remains huge. Apart from deaths resulting from such conflicts, ACAPS, an international non-profit, non-governmental project providing independent, groundbreaking humanitarian analyses estimated that over 62,000 people have been displaced in Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Plateau states where the conflicts have fettered.

Governor of Benue State, Mr Samuel Ortom said herdsmen/farmers’ conflict in the state alone led to economic costs to the tune of over N400 million flowing from the destruction of property.

Notable farmers, such as Kolawole Adeniji, the founder of Niji Farms, said there was a need to pursue change. He noted that the farming landscape in most areas has become difficult to navigate. He said herdsmen keep making the scenario dreadful for farmers who go to their farms unprotected.

Adeniji operates the largest cassava farm located in Ilero, Kajola Local Government Area of Oyo State. He has witnessed all manner of predicaments. He has never seen a crisis as impacting as the farmers-herders’ conflict.

Adeniji related a pathetic story: “I have a group of investors who spent N50 million on a cassava farm. They used a lot of money to clear the land and planted cassava on the farm. After planting, they managed it to a certain growth stage and the rain began. The road to the farm became muddy and unmotorable.

Within a short period, the investors could not visit the farm; the herders deployed their cattle and ravaged the entire farm. The people could not harvest anything. They took loans to cultivate the farm. They have not been able to repay it because of the losses caused by the activities of the herdsmen. They were using Oshun River Basin facilities at Apoje sub-basin.”

Adeniji maintained that herdsmen were threatening farmers’ safety.

He also said farmers spend a fortune protecting their fields from herdsmen. The presence of the herdsmen, he added, impedes farmers’ ability to farm because it is too dangerous for them to work alone without being protected.

The Country Manager, Harvest plus Nigeria, Dr Paul Ilona,  said: “There is this belief that grasses are created by God and free for anybody. That is not true.”

We are battling a low level of education and a cattle rearing system that has become religious and tribal in orientation. To some herdsmen, it is like something that makes them happy to go in and destroy people’s farms when in reality it is not so. Unless we understand the fundamentals and why we are beginning to have these crises, we will not solve the problem. Ilona said in the past herdsmen were not sedentary in South.

His words: “They moved to the South as soon as they see that the rains have reduced from around October. They move to the South around that time because they will find enough grasses for their cattle to feed. When the rains returned in the North they moved to their bases and wait until October again.”

Vital issues ignored.

The attacks of herdsmen have made farming financially unstable. Increasingly, crop destruction caused by the activities of herdsmen has undermined farmers’ earning potential and created widespread farm insecurity.

Rotimi Williams owns Kereksuk Rice. The common problems for him were fluctuating prices, uncertain weather patterns and rising labour rates that can hit the bottom line. That keeps him working out strategies on how to see a return on investment. But the farmer-herder conflict which has become Nigeria’s gravest security challenge, claiming lives than the Boko Haram insurgency and displaced hundreds of thousands has threatened his farm business.

He had to relocate from Nasarawa to Plateau State following an increasing attack from herdsmen. Until recently, he operated one of the largest commercial rice farms in Nigeria.

Williams told The Nation that he had to freeze production on his farm due to attacks on his farm in Nasarawa State.

His compatriot, Adeniji said it was unacceptable that hundreds of people were allowed to die from preventable death caused by farmers’- herders’ conflict, even as he called on the government to make a clear and firm commitment to ensure the full protection of farmers.

He noted that it was necessary to reaffirm the importance of food producers as the key actors and drivers of local food systems, urging the government to take steps to protect them.

Ilona emphasised that interventions which support livelihoods and food security would contribute to peace within the sector.

Stakeholders’ response

At a National Summit on Conflict Resolution, organised by both The Nation Newspapers and TV Continental (TVC) in Abuja recently, former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, called on the government to foster long-lasting solutions to curb the herdsmen-farmers conflict.

Ribadu revealed that politicians have taken advantage of the crisis to score political points. He also added that contrary to insinuation, President Muhammadu Buhari has nothing to do with the crisis and that he remained neutral in the conflict.

Ribadu participated as a mediator in the peacebuilding efforts in Plateau State.

He clarified that the nomadic herdsmen are victims of neglect and exclusion, which aggravated their suffering and deny them their basic rights as Nigerians.

“Fulani are the most de-tribalised people you can find; they don’t care about tribe or religion. They can live with anybody provided they have pasture,” he said.

He said over the years, Nigeria has failed to capture nomadism and resettle nomads as it has been done in many countries. “This is an old problem around the world from America to Asia and here in Africa. There were nomads in America but with right policies, they were settled,” he said.

A don, Prof. Daniel Musa Gwary of the Department of Crop Protection, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Maiduguri, Borno State suggested that addressing environmental factors that were driving herdsmen migration to the South and establishment of grazing reserves in consenting states by the Federal government is major solutions to the perennial farmers/herders conflict.

Gwary said the solution to the lingering conflict is for the Federal Government to improve livestock production and management to minimise contacts and friction among herders and farmers.

A farmer told The Nation that the government prioritised the lives of cattle not minding the destruction done to farmers’ crops and livelihoods without consequence. He noted that the government’s seeming preference for herdsmen over poor farmers revealed ethnic bias. He questioned: “Why is it so hard for the government to take action on the issue since they have seen the damage farmers experience from their attacks.”

Time to face the challenge

For stakeholders, addressing the complex farmers’ herdsmen conflict requires implementing multi-faceted approaches that are locally appropriate. Some of the farmers and communities experiencing severe herdsmen crop-raiding are taking steps to protect their farms. The approaches involved vigilante, police patrol and use of deterrent non-palatable crops. Field guarding has increased farm protection and reduced damage to crops within perimeter fences.

Adeniji told The Nation he engaged some security personnel to watch the farm and report their threats to the police.

A farmer said he planted ‘special security flowers’ which can cause harm to cattle trying to invade his farm.

Ilona said the current developments are depressing and that farmers must make compromises to serve the nation’s interests.

To prevent conflict, William said the government should consider making better use of prevention and early warning systems. In late June, he launched Resolute 4.0, a pilot mobile phone app that aims at reducing the clashes among herders and farmers in the Bassa area of Plateau State by mapping farm boundaries and grazing routes.

The Programme Coordinator, Farmers’ Development Union (FADU), Elder Victor Olowe said securing grass and water are major concerns for most herdsmen and urbanisation and drought has made things worse.

He said FADU started a programme themed: Do Not Harm project to encourage farmers to allow herdsmen opportunity to graze in some portions of farms in the Southwest. The co-operative approach, according to Olowe, enables herdsmen to produce healthy cattle and farmers to farm in peace and earn incomes from their harvests.

Ranching to the rescue

The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Institute of Animal Science, Prof. Eustace Iyayi talked about ranching and how it helped farmers to produce quality beef on their ranches. He explained that successful cattle rearing is about feeding grass and hay and raising the type of cattle that can thrive on that diet and their landscape.

He said what the industry has to imbibe is the philosophy of raising cattle on forages. The Managing Director, Chanan Elo’a Integrated Farm Limited, Udeme Etuk, said Nigeria cannot boast of the healthiest cattle herds and wholesome beef products because of the nomadic way of raising animals.

According to him, there was no better method for getting beef cattle off to a good start than fresh air, clean water and the individual attention which a ranch provides.

For former Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ilorin, Prof. Abiodun Adeloye, the starting point is for the industry to try different cattle breeding systems, document solutions and then seek to promote the successful models to industry and government for greater investment.

The challenge of large-scale ranches

While the establishment of ranches and grazing lands has been promoted as a simple way out of the herdsmen/farmers clashes, Adeloye does not support large- scale operations.

According to him, the constraints of land space are going to be a challenge as ranches require huge pastoral lands.

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