As wet season farming activities kick off in some parts of the country, reports of kidnapping and attacks by criminal elements across the country are heightening farmers’ concerns.
Last season, farmers in parts of Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, Borno, Sokoto, Plateau, Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states, were unable to access their farms because of banditry activities and kidnappings.
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Some of these farmers had to abandon their crops or pay ransoms to harvest their crops. The situation created a fallout in the supply of grains, oil seed and even onions because most of the affected areas are the major production belts.
In Zamfara State, activities of bandits in many rural areas forced farmers out of their homes and farms. While farmers in many places were unable to till their lands, some who had done the initial work were unable to harvest due to consistent attacks by bandits. In some areas, Daily Trust Saturday learnt that levies were placed on farmers as a condition to harvest their crops.
The state, which prides itself in farming, was hitherto a major basket for stable foods, such as maize, sorghum, millet, beans and soybeans. However, for years, insecurity in rural areas is threatening Zamfara’s spot in the Nigerian food supply chain.
Some residents displaced by the attacks in Maradun and Maru local government areas said that like the previous year, they were unsure if they would return to the fields this year as some of their villages are longer accessible.
A resident of Magamin Diddi in Maradun Local Government, Mallam Ummaru, who said he usually got 100 stacks of millet and 30 stacks of sorghum from his farm, said he was unable to realise any appreciable yield last year.
“They (armed herdsmen) drove their cattle into our farms when the sorghum was sprouting and the beans were flowering. On some farms, not even the stalks were left behind.
“I did not get more than three stacks of millet and a little sorghum. I usually got three bags of processed beans, but this year, I could not get even one-tenth of that,” he said.
He, however, expressed hope that with the peace building effort of the state government and the deployment of adequate troops to the area, they would be able to go to farms this season.
Alhaji Samaila Isa, a farmer in Zamfara, told Daily Trust Saturday that the situation remained very critical for farmers in many parts of the state.
“We are not even talking about farms that are far any longer as those that are nearby are no more accessible. Before now, farmers avoided farms that located far away because of insecurity, but as we speak, even the ones close have also become dead-traps,” he said.
He lamented that despite government’s negotiations with the bandits, there is no much difference in many areas, adding that the bandits still operate the way they like; hence farmers are at the crossroads.
“Nobody is talking about farming here again because despite government’s efforts we still can’t access our farms. We are going to see a new chapter in poverty if all stakeholders do not come together to find a way out,” he said.
The situation during the last wet farming season affected food prices sharply. Lawali Ibrahim Kuchere, a grains dealer at the weekly Tsafe market, lamented the overshooting of prices, compared to what was obtainable last year.
He said prices on commodities such as beans, maize and millet had shot up by between 100 to 150 per cent, in comparison to what they were sold last year.
Kuchere attributed the sharp price change to the inability of farmers to produce as much as they usually did during the season.
“The prices were affected by the situation of the country. A lot of farmers were unable to farm due to insecurity. There are farmers who used to produce between 1,000 and 4,000 bags, but they were unable to do even a bag,” he said.
Another trader, Rayyanu Usaini, feared that prices may continue to go up due to high demand at a time of scarcity of produce.
In Niger State, tension is high among most farming communities. A farmer who wouldn’t want to be named said many of them would not go to farm this year except something seriously was done to protect them.
“Now, the bandits are even more angry and ruthless. They believe the farmers are the ones giving information about them to government forces.
“I am supposed to have planted my yams, but I can’t go there. Even in our houses we are not safe,’’ he said.
In Kaduna State, our correspondent reports that farmers in areas prone to insecurity have expressed concern over increasing security challenges and how it would affect this year’s farming season.
Kaduna’s security challenges mostly hover around four local government areas – Birnin Gwari, Chikun, Igabi and Giwa – which are predominantly farming communities.
Speaking with Daily Trust, Hussaini Umar, a farmer from Galadimawa in Giwa Local Government Area, said even though this is the right time for farmers to begin clearing their lands in anticipation of the farming season, it is not the case for most of them, whose farmlands have been seized by bandits.
Umar, however, said the recent deployment of soldiers attached to the Operation Puff Adar to Galadimawa had forced some of the bandits to retreat farther into the forest area, providing opportunities for some farmers who own lands not far from the town to access them.
“Those who have farms near the forest have given up. They no longer go to their farms because of abductions and killings by bandits. Some of the farmers dared the bandits few weeks ago and went to clear their lands, but they were chased out and warned never to come near the area again,” he said.
Jafaru Abdullahi, a farmer from Anaba in Igabi Local Government Area, said residents had been unable to return to their village since bandits attacked and sacked Anaba in February. Abdullahi, who used to farm rice, beans, maize and soybeans, said Anaba, a farming community, had been abandoned by residents.
“We had no choice but to leave our homes. We cannot farm because bandits have continued to attack us. We hope security agents would be stationed in our community so that we can return home and prepare for the farming season,” he said.
In Katsina State, farmers warned that the lingering attacks by bandits were a big threat to the farming season.
Farmers in the state who spoke with our correspondent expressed concern that the lingering banditry in their areas might pose a threat to the wet season crop productions.
The spate of attacks grossly affected last wet season farming, with many farms left unharvested in some parts of Faskari, Dandume and Sabuwa local governments.
Mohammed Yakubu, a farmer in Sabuwa Local Government Area said the lingering banditry in the area was worrisome and dangerous.
“Last year, we only cultivated our nearby small farms as we could not go far for the fear of the miscreants. There were instances when they told us that farming activities around Gamji, Tashar Bawa and Maganda areas could be done only with their approval,” he said.
He added that in the last harvest season, some large-scale farmers at Jiruwa, Maganda areas and villages along the Katsina-Kaduna border had to pay levies in lump sums to the bandits before they were allowed to harvest their crops.
Yakubu further said if something drastic was not done before wet season sets in, there were indications that what happened last season might be a child’s play, especially now that the bandits have become more desperate and savage in their attacks.
Another farmer in the area, Muntari Maibakko, said that barely two weeks ago, people were seen deserting their villages in droves after the abduction of 25 women and the murder of four men.
“Few weeks ago, bandits stormed Unguwar Bako, Kwarawa and Arewaci in Maibakko ward and rustled a large number of cattle and killed four men in the process. For now, what we are after here is not farming but the safety of our lives and property,’’ Maibakko said.
In Faskari Local Government Area, according to Umar Sani Yankara, those who relocated to Kano, Katsina, Zaria and other towns may hardly go back.
“Right from the last harvest season, people of Fitaru, Kuka Shidda, Gidan Najafa, Unguwar Goga and Unguwar Baidu relocated to various towns and cities. Some of them have pledged that even if peace is restored in the areas they may not go back. Some of us have put our farms on sale to raise money and leave, but there are no buyers. Farmlands are now cheap here as no one wants to come and mortgage his life,’’ Yankara said.
Some farmers’ union leaders urged the federal government to increase security surveillance in all the volatile areas to boost confidence.
While decorating the new service chiefs on March 21, President Muhammadu Buhari had challenged them to tackle insecurity in rural areas to enable farmers go back to farms.
Presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, quoted the president as saying securing the country before the rainy season would give farmers the confidence to go back to farm.
By: Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, Vincent A. Yusuf (Abuja), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna) & Mahmoud Idris (Katsina)