The emergence of insecurity in different forms has become a major threat to Nigeria’s food security in recent months.
Many farmers in rural Abuja communities and across the different regions of the country have been deprived of access to their farmlands for fear of either being kidnapped for ransom, or being attacked or killed by herders.
“Insecurity has affected my farming activities badly,” said Esonu Udeala, who farms orange-fleshed sweet potato along Kubwa Road in Abuja.
Mr Udeala, 58, lamented that herdsmen’s invasion of farms has affected his farming activities seriously and that he could not commence farming early this year.
“I had to wait until everybody else was planting before I could do my best to avoid my farm being attracted to cows,” he said.
The farmer who has been into active cultivation for 13 years, said the delay he witnessed this year would mean he can only expect harvest by August, because he started planting around June 5. Last year he started harvesting around July 15.
“However, this particular farm was eaten up by cows on 2nd December right in my presence. An attempt to stop them was about to cause serious problems when we let them eat up the farm. That made me not to farm in an open place again,” he said.
Angered by how things turned out for him last year after the invasion of his farm by cattle, he said he had to move to Nasarawa State, where he leased a fenced four hectares land he is trying to work on.
“Farming under a state of insecurity is costlier than other times. Now I have to rent land at N50,000 per hectare. This calls for support as every other factor of production has gone up,” he lamented, adding that these experiences have caused huge setbacks to his farming activities this year.
Of several factors that have affected Nigeria’s food production lately, widespread attacks on farms by herders and other criminals have been perhaps the most devastating, experts say. It has caused the prices of all classes of food to increase at an unprecedented scale.
More farmers lament
Mr Udeala is one of several farmers in the federal capital territory whose livelihood has come under threat from grazing activities, putting them in perpetual clashes with herders.
“I can no longer visit my five hectares farmland located at Gaube community of Kuje due to increased rate of kidnappings,” said Daniel Okafor, the National President Potato Farmers Association of Nigeria (POFAN).
Mr Okafor told PREMIUM TIMES that he could no longer pay frequent visits to his farm along the Kuje route due to reports of kidnappings and insecurity and that they adopted a strategy of going to the farm only on Kuje market days when the roads would be busy.
He said this has reduced their output significantly but remained the best option for them to safeguard their lives.
“It reduced our output last year coupled with Covid-19 pandemic. This we are doing the same to save our lives. This year we are battling with the climate change problem,” Mr Okafor said.
Asked if he can take this reporter to the farm he abandoned at Kuje, he said our reporter must sign a written agreement before he will embark on such a trip if anything happens on the way.
“In the agreement, you should state that you will be taking complete care of my family if anything happens to me,” he added.
In Sofo Toge community, along the Airport Road, Festus Chukwu, who grows vegetables and potatoes in commercial quantities to feed his family, told PREMIUM TIMES of Nigeria that they have not experienced any form of kidnappings due to the presence of security men along the axis of his farm, but that his business has “been hit by the invasion of cattle herders” in recent months.
“Our problem here has been the invasion of our farms by herdsmen, nothing like kidnapping here. We don’t have such things happening here,” he said.
Aderibigbe Isaac-Taiwo, the chairman of Pegi community in Kuje, explained to this newspaper when contacted that with the increasing rate of insecurity they are currently experiencing, Kuje can no longer be referred to as the food basket of the FCT because farmers are finding it difficult to access their farms for fear of being kidnapped or killed.
Mr Isaac-Taiwo lamented that farmers do not have access to any form of relief materials that could aid their activities towards making them the best.
Simon Irtwange, the national president of the Association of Yam Farmers, Processors, and Marketers, said many agricultural activities happen around Abuja suburban communities but that most of these activities have stopped due to insecurity.
“People are a little bit scared to visit their farms,” the professor of agriculture engineering added. He said the state of insecurity had left farmers with no option but to be farming closer to their houses for fear of being attacked by bandits.
As a result of this, Mr Irtwange said they are urging their farmers to plant into empty cement bags along the corridors of their homes.
“We are asking our farmers to buy cement bags, fill them with topsoil, irrigate and plant within their compounds, and a lot of them are putting this into practice already,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said the long-term impact of insecurity on the agricultural value chain is that it will lead to a significant rise in the prices of food items, which is already manifesting.
Great potential, weak intervention
Nigeria’s large expanse of arable land has the potential for farmers to support the growth of a wide range of crops in large quantities, which could help boost the country’s food supply and agricultural exports. But experts have posited that the perennial crisis between the farmers and herders has helped to stall that potential.
Nigeria has for years grappled with attacks on farmers in the country’s north and central regions, with thousands of lives being lost in the last few years.
In recent months, herders’ violence that gripped some parts of the South-south, South-east, South-west, and even the middle belt regions have created a significant shock to many farmers, pushing a large chunk of them away from cultivating their farmlands.
The aftermath of this has clearly translated into a significant spike in the country’s prices of essential food commodities.
While these subsists, farmers are complaining about the lack of attention from the government.
“It is a whole mirage of problems,” Mr Isaac-Taiwo added, stating that if the government could provide adequate security and grants such as subsidized essential farm inputs like fertilizers, tractors among others, to farmers, the crime rate will reduce.”
Mr Okafor said the government should do the needful and review the security approach considering the population growth rate.
When contacted, Theodore Ogaziechi, director of information, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the ministry has been distributing relief packages to farmers to help boost food production across the country since the pandemic hits.
However, he declined to speak further when asked how the ministry supports farmers affected by insecurity so far?
“I have told you that we have been supporting farmers through input distribution; what else do you want me to say?” he said and hung up the phone on our reporter.
Calls and text messages to Mariam Yusuf, the FCT police public relations officer, were not answered.