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Tinubu’s agric policy and farmer-herder conflicts

As Nigeria awaits the inauguration of President Ahmad Bola Tinubu come May 29, there are high expectations that some of his economic policies, even though…

As Nigeria awaits the inauguration of President Ahmad Bola Tinubu come May 29, there are high expectations that some of his economic policies, even though well thought out, may heighten the existing conflict, particularly among farmers and herders, that is manifesting in several states in the northern part of the country as a result of climate change, desertification, and the poorly thought-out agricultural policies by the federal and various state governments over the years.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign document tagged “APC Renewed Hope 2023” spells out the priorities that the incoming administration would adopt as a matter of urgency, which include agricultural reforms that will increase the arable land under cultivation from 35 per cent to 65 per cent in four years.

To achieve this objective, the administration will prioritise large-scale land clearing to develop a plan to open uncultivated land to both small and large-scale farming and vertically integrated agricultural businesses.

Under the “Farm Nigeria Project,” it will begin with a special focus on the 11 river basins throughout the country with the aim of making more arable land available for agriculture and creating productive partnerships between locals, small, and medium-sized farmers with both international businesses and development agencies based on the premise that the aggregation and economics of scale will enable farmers to take advantage of modern farming techniques and equipment as well as to better prepare their crops for exportation.

Livestock production, which contributes about 36 per cent of the GDP in agriculture, had no mention at all in the 4-page document on agriculture; meaning that whoever designed this policy document is heavily biased towards agronomy, which over the years has been a contributing factor to the unnecessary conflicts that we see in the agricultural subsector of the Nigerian economy.

For instance, the federal government’s FADAMA dry season programme that sought to increase food production in the dry season around river banks denied livestock owners access to traditional watering points thereby resulting in clashes between farmers and herders in several river banks and basins in the country. 

The confiscation of free range areas that were meant for the grazing of animals during the rainy and the dry seasons for agricultural purposes also meant that those in the livestock value chain are slowly and gradually denied their traditional occupational areas. It is estimated that 70 per cent of Northern Nigerian states are being severely affected by increased desertification, which increases the chances of conflicts in addition to the climate change we see and the massive destruction of our forest resources all across the states thereby making land degradation a fundamental insecurity that we are breeding.

It is a well-known fact now that the world over, fight over access to diminishing water resources and cultivable land are the major sources of conflict. Therefore, any agricultural policy must be well thought-out by all stakeholders instead of a clumsily put together document that does not take into account variables in the agricultural subsector. 

Any vibrant agricultural sector reform must adopt climate-smart agricultural practices, including the adoption of an integrated approach to managing landscapes of crop lands, rangelands, forests, and fisheries, that addresses the interlinks between the need for food security and mitigation of the challenges of climate change. 

It is now necessary for any new, incoming administration to establish a Ministry for Livestock Resources to address the broader needs of the industry particularly the creation of additional research institutes for beef, dairy, and pasture production as a strategy for expanding funding and enacting policies and programmes for the development of the sector at all levels of government.

Also, to achieve food sufficiency, Nigeria must make it a deliberate policy to invest in soil improvement, tree planting, overhunting, tree cutting, and the unrestricted movement of herds of cattle across fragile lands. The nonchalant attitude of both the federal and state governments over the years can be seen in the low-budgetary allocation to this critical sector of the remediation of the environment over the years.

While Nigeria has signed the United Nations strategic plan 2020 to 2024, which identifies land restoration as the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity laws, there is little to show that the country is on course to achieving this objective.

To further achieve agricultural self-sufficiency, there is a need to strengthen peace-building interventions at all levels among farmers and herders by adopting early warning and early response mechanisms that will include the adoption of alternative dispute resolution and the training of community leaders and other community gatekeepers on techniques of mediation.

The politicisation of farmer-herder conflicts and the media stigmatisation of the Fulbe in particular will not help the country achieve its agricultural potential. So also is the need to strengthen the process for more effective dispensation of justice and handling of various litigations relating to violent crimes and other perpetrators of violent conflicts.

The high level of poverty in most rural areas, the  lack of access to education will continue to increase without adequate measures to increase the productivity of the land by increasing land coverage to retain moisture and its fertility.

The massive increase in land clearing will, instead of increasing prosperity, only ensure more and more land is wasted through mass clearing without recourse to the emerging climatic changes, population increase, and competition for the resources it endangers.

It is time for the APC to go back to the drawing board and rethink its agricultural policy for the good of all. The farmer-herder conflicts we are having in the North West and North Central have to do with the poor management of the land resources that are being distorted by government policies that do not take sufficient interest in the various stakeholders in a holistic way that will ensure each sector benefits maximally.


Toro works with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders of Nigeria (MACBAN) Wuse Zone 5 Abuja


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