Food security in Nigeria
The current spate of killings by Fulani herdsmen and the rampaging Boko Haram insurgency is posing serious risk to government’s efforts to ensure food security and Nigeria’s capacity to attract investors in the agricultural sector. Frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in different parts of the country; Benue, Nassarawa, Ekiti, Delta, Kaduna, Ebonyi, among others, are undermining farm activities, as farmers in many areas stay away from farms for fear of attack. In the North Eastern states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno, for instance, where the Boko Haram insurgency has been most rife, over the past four years, farmers are no longer able to go to their farms or grow crops for fear of attacks by the dreaded Boko Haram sect who kill, destroy their crops or harvest them to feed their flock of fighters. Many rural farmers have been displaced, while others have been restricted from going to their farms because of checks and heavy military approach being adopted by the government in fighting terrorism.
While the Boko Haram insurgency is taking its toll in the North East, Fulani herdsmen are on the loose, destroying farmlands in North Central Nigeria, killing farmers and their families and burning their villages and farm produce for sports or in revenge attacks. Many investors who were persuaded to invest in agriculture and had farms in the North Central part of the country are reporting the carnage being done to their farms by Fulani herdsmen who not only destroy their farmlands, but also kidnap farm workers for ransom in the region. The government, which is always preaching economic diversification and agriculture as the future of Nigeria outside oil meanwhile, looks on unperturbed by the excesses and atrocities of the herdsmen.
In the south, kidnappers are turning to local farm workers whom they regularly whisk away to later demand ransom from farm owners. BusinessDay investigation in Lagos, for example, show that a few investors, some of whom were encouraged to return to Nigeria from overseas by the Federal Government’s campaign to focus on agriculture as the next economic growth driver; are reappraising their decision, as they lament frequent payment of ransom to kidnappers to rescue workers abducted from their farms around Egansoyindo, Ketu and Igbodu in Epe. According to findings, farm workers engaged in poultry, piggery, fishery, crops and vegetables, including watermelon, are moving out of farm settlements, leaving them desolate as fear spreads over the activities of kidnappers.
Most of the entrepreneurs who went into farming to ensure food security and create jobs are now reappraising their continued involvement in commercial agriculture. Although, the Lagos State House of Assembly recently passed a law authorising death penalty for kidnappers but so far nobody has been successfully prosecuted. Soon, their activities will lead to the abandonment of commercial agriculture in the state.
We urge both the state and federal governments to take seriously the issue of food security and ensure that both local and commercial farmers are able to go about their activities without fear of attacks by Boko Haram, rampaging Fulani herdsmen and, in the case of the south, Kidnappers. The government must also explore the option of ranching cattle to stem the tide of herdsmen/farmer clashes. The current system where herdsmen move their cattle around the country, beyond the conflicts it engenders, has been adjudged by experts to be inefficient and leads to needless loss of cattle and significant loss of value in terms of quality of milk and meat production capacity. In many ways, Nigeria remains, perhaps, one of the few countries in the world where cattle rearers move cattle over thousands of kilometres on foot in search of food and water and to the market.
The time for the government to act is now. We cannot be mouthing the platitude of ‘diversification’ of the economy and continue to do nothing but hope on oil prices to rebound and expect anything to change in the country. Most importantly, government action will ensure peace and security in the country, which is increasingly becoming a mirage by the day.
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