Farmers in crises-prone areas are finding it difficult to access their farmlands due to the spate of insecurity. Daily Trust Saturday reports their plight in some of the affected states with many of them saying there would be food crisis if nothing is done to tackle the situation.
In the last few weeks, security operatives have succeeded in reducing the excesses of criminals like the Boko Haram fighters in the North-East, and bandits and kidnappers in parts of the North-West and North-Central.
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However, the fear among farmers is that the rainy season is already here and many of the red spots are still not safe for farming activities.
In Katsina State, many villages have been deserted due to incessant attacks by bandits. A resident of Sheme in Faskari Local Government Area said, “Though I cannot give you the exact figure, about 100 villages have been deserted, of which some are being occupied by bandits and others burnt.
“In Ruwan Godiya ward alone, we have Shawu, Unguwar Goga, Yantuwaru, Gidan Dogo, Unguwar Nadaji, Hayin Najafa, Unguwar Baidu, Kanawa, Hitaru and Unguwar Haji villages. Some of them are currently occupied by the bandits, and even those that are not taken over by bandits, the villagers cannot go to their farms as they will be chased away,” he said.
He added that in ‘Yar Malamai ward also, farmers don’t attempt going to farms in villages like Mununu, Zari, Kuka Shida, Dogon Fako, Kibai, Bakarya, Liggel, Zarin Dudu and Zarin Kwari, for fear that they would be killed.
“Recently, the bandits were at Unguwar Duna, where they left with the remaining goats in the town,” he said.
Daily Trust Saturday also gathered that the western part of Kankara, especially Pawwa town, has become a safe entry and exit route for the gunmen, who come in from Zamfara State to launch attacks in the state.
The major crops in these villages are maize, millet, beans, guinea corn, sweet potatoes, cassava among others.
The story is the same in some villages in Jibia Local Government, where villagers said they were making efforts to return to their farms but bandits constantly terrorise them.
“Sometimes the bandits ask us to go back to our farms, but when we go, their youth collects whatever we have. When we call the leaders to complain, they claim they are not aware of who did it, but they will find out,” a resident in Jibia said.
Some internally displaced persons in Yobe are yet to access their farms for over six years.
Farmers, who make up the greater population of this area, have been forced to abandon their ancestral farmlands, especially those in villages under Gujba Local Government, which was one of the Boko Haram strongholds.
From January, the town suffered six different attacks, leading to loss of lives, injuries and destruction of properties, including schools, health facilities, houses and farm produce.
Most of these rural dwellers depend largely on farming and livestock as their major sources of livelihood. However, they now face a shortage of farm space in places other than their homes due to incessant conflicts in the North-East in recent years.
Speaking to Daily Trust Saturday, Bulama Zarabe, a large-scale farmer and community leader who migrated from Bulturam Kura in Gujba Local Government, said his farm was inaccessible.
Zarabe noted that one could only risk his life to return to the Bulturam Kura axis for farming.
He said, “My prayer is to see that we return to our domain so that people would continue their farming activities, but the location is still not safe because the insurgents are reported to regularly ply that route.
“To be frank, our current condition here is pathetic, only God knows what we have been losing since we lost access to our farms.
“Can you imagine a large-scale farmer who harvested more than 100 bags of guinea in the past not being able to go to farm for six years? While at home, we did not only eat, we sold and generated income, fed our livestock, all from our farm produce. That’s the only business we know.
“I can tell you now that we are forcefully plunged into hunger; we lack food and livestock. We now wait on non-governmental organisations to feed us because we can no longer produce what to eat.”
Another 67-year-old farmer from Bulturam Kura, Baba Dawamami, said his extended family relied on what the older children could bring home from the farms they were able to get in relatively peaceful zones.
“I have never been lazy like this in my life despite my old age. Even my children ate from my produce, with their families.
“We were the richest producers of guinea corn across bigger markets in the state in the last couple of years, but look at what insecurity has turned us into.
“What we are given here is just a piece of land by some good Samaritans, very small in size and not really fertile as ours. So the only thing we can produce here are three to five bags that we can finish within three months,” he lamented.
Kyari Konto Ali, who defied fear and returned to his farm in Bulturam Burin, also in Gujba Local Government Area, lamented the difficulty in accessing farmlands in Damaturu. Ali decided to return to Bulturam Burin because, to him, it was better to die making efforts than to allow hunger kill him.
“I know there are challenges along the routes, but I can’t continue begging for food. Another challenge we face is the flock of herders who are taking advantage of our absence and encroaching on our farms.
“We lost a lot last year. We got only seven bags when we returned to a farm we used to harvest nothing less than 50 bags annually,” he said.
He added that they intended to stay around their farms this time around, but they needed security presence to achieve that.
Apart from displaced persons who couldn’t go to their farms, some residents within the state capital are also finding it difficult to access theirs following the excavation of military trenches that covered Damaturu and environs.
Haruna Matari disclosed that the trenches, although meant for security, were dug through his 20 hectares, thus preventing him from accessing his farmlands for three years. He said the military had declared locations of the trenches as no-go-areas.
He said, “When the security situation significantly improved, they asked us to return to our farms, but it was impossible because our cows, vehicles and other machinery such as tractors could not cross the deep trenches.
“We expect the government to provide alternatives after tampering with our farms.”
Speaking with Daily Trust Saturday, displaced persons appealed to the government to provide them with farms and inputs in safe areas before the full return of normalcy in their areas.
Meanwhile, the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), in collaboration with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), has pledged to support 6,000 farmers in displaced communities with inputs, including seeds, chemicals and fertiliser.
The executive secretary of the SEMA, Dr Mohammed Goje, said the emergency project was intended to respond to the plight of 500 farmers from Gujba and Fika local government areas. He said about 40 per cent of the project would target women, who would be given improved seeds.
Many farmers in Zamfara State are also finding it difficult to go to their farms owing to rampant abductions and killings by suspected bandits.
For many years, dozens of residents, especially farmers, have been kidnapped and millions of naira paid in ransom for their freedom.
Daily Trust Saturday learnt that the abductions are more rampant around the Jangeme-Magami-Dansadau and Kawaye-Gobirawa-Wuya axis in Maru and Anka local government areas of the state.
In Kawaye district in Anka Local Government Area, about 12 villages have been deserted owing to the series of abductions by bandits in the last four years.
A farmer, Aliyu Muhammad Kawaye, told Daily Trust Saturday that some of the residents who fled their homes were taking shelter in his village before they were displaced by another attack.
“Residents abandoned their crops on farms and fled after suspected bandits and cattle rustlers slammed heavy levies on them as a precondition for peace,” he added.
According to him, most of the people affected were sorghum and millet farmers; hence production of food crops has been adversely affected as many farmlands have remained uncultivated for many years.
“From Daze to Dawan Jiya, Duhuwa and Gobirawa communities, uncultivated lands are a common sight. At the beginning of the rainy season in April and May this year, many farmers were either kidnapped or killed on their farms.
“This instilled fear in us and we decided to abandon the lands. These criminals are everywhere. The moment you go at least five kilometres away from your community you will see them. I fear a serious shortage of food, unless something is done to address the problem,” a farmer, Yunusa Muhammad said.
In Dansadau, a district with a very fertile land for crop farming, the story is the same. The criminals have slammed levies on many farming communities as a precondition to access their farms. Our correspondent learnt that most of the residents of these communities have fled.
“Some of these farmers have migrated to cities and towns, engaging in one form of business or another. For example, the youth engage in commercial motorcycle riding, popularly called okada in local parlance,” a farmer, Ali Kabir said.
Reacting to the development, the chairman the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Abdulhafiz Abdullahi Alkali, acknowledged the challenges and called for more measures to tackle them.
“In Zamfara State, there are five million hectares of cultivable lands and more than two million are uncultivated. In Tofa-Dansadau, more than 6,000 hectares cannot be accessed by majority of the farmers.
“There was a case of a farmer in a community who was kidnapped but freed after millions of naira was paid. That farmer could receive at least 10 trucks of fertiliser for onward distribution to small-scale farmers.
“He was kidnapped after some internal collaborators, including his family members, leaked information to criminals on how he received and distributed trucks of fertiliser to farmers,” he said.
Clearance activities by the military and sister agencies in Zamfara and Niger states have pushed bandits and other sundry criminals to neighbouring Kebbi State.
Findings revealed that farmers are having it tough accessing their farms as the hoodlums are constantly harassing or picking them for ransom.
John Mani, the head of vigilante in Zuru Emirate, said “Bandits from Zamfara and Niger states invaded some communities in Sakaba Local Government Area of Kebbi State and rustled five herds of cattle. In each herd there were 100 cattle. However, no life was lost as they only targeted cattle.”
Humanitarian crisis also looms in the state as over 16,000 households, including farmers, have been displaced in Zuru emirate following the activities of bandits in the last six months.
It is reported that over 20,000 farmers from 50 communities would not be able to engage in farming this year.
“Humanitarian crisis will be at its peak this year because majority of the displaced persons, who are predominantly farmers, will not be able to go to their farms. When food security is threatened you can understand the volume of crisis at hand,” Mani said.
When contacted, a farmer from Sakaba Local Government Area, Isiaku Mohammed, said with the heavy presence of security personnel in the area, farmers had started going back to their farms. He added that out of the displaced people, about 20 per cent had made attempts to return to their farms.
Another farmer who did not want his name in print said there would be a record decline in the production of food this year in Kebbi State. He noted that majority of farmers in Danko-Wasagu Local Government Area would hardly farm this year as the trauma of attacks had affected most of them.
In Borno State, most rural dwellers, who are predominantly farmers, reportedly fled their homes and sources of livelihood due to the spate of insurgency in various communities for over six years, especially in the northern part of the state.
Thousands of displaced persons have no access to their farms. They relied on handouts from government and interest groups until recently when authorities facilitated their return home.
To avoid attacks by insurgents, those who remained in their respective communities could not go to their farms.
A rice farmer in Zabarmari village, Mikailu Mohammed, said although his village was not dislodged by insurgency, for years, farmers were scared to cultivate their farms in distant locations.
“Dozens of our relatives were last year slaughtered in their paddy fields. This scared off most farmers.
“There is every indication that the attacks on farmers will stop because apart the insurgents’ incursion in December last year, which was immediately repelled by the military, this area is peaceful. Residents have started clearing their farms, with the intension of growing rice and maize, which are the major crops here, apart from vegetables,” he said.
He, however, said the attacks were unpredictable and called on both farmers and troops to intensify surveillance.
Another farmer, Malam Iliya Abdul said, “Most farmers have given up as a result of previous attacks on civilians by the insurgents, including the one in neighbouring Zabarmari. However, even though we do not get farm inputs from the government, authorities have encouraged and advised us to return home and cultivate our farms; and that is what we are doing. We grow cash and food crops,” he said.
Governor Babagana Umara Zulum recently visited Mulai and Dalwa communities in Konduga Local Government Area and also met with security forces to begin modalities for reopening of farmlands.
This was in compliance with Thursday’s directive to the military and other security agencies by President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Buhari, during his one-day visit to Borno said, “I have directed the Theatre Command of Operation Hadin Kai and other security agencies to work out modalities, together with the Borno State Government and associations of farmers on ways to increase safe access by farmers to their farms, forests and fishing grounds.”
In a related development, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) also flagged off the 2021 rainy season cultivation to help 63, 000 smallholder farmers in the North-East recently.
Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina), Shehu Umar (Gusau), Aliyu M. Hamagam (Birnin Kebbi), Misbahu Bashir (Maiduguri) & Ibrahim Saleh (Damaturu)