The conflicts between farmers and herdsmen have shot food prices beyond the reach the ordinary Nigerian. In this piece, ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR writes on the need to salvage the situation
There is no denying the fact that incessant violent conflicts between nomadic herders from northern Nigeria and sedentary farming communities in various parts of the country, particularly in the central and southern regions, have increased dramatically, with armed herders becoming one of the deadliest threats to farmers.
The surge in attacks on farmers is no doubt having a chain reaction on Nigeria’s food reserves. It is not an exaggeration to say that reports on farmers/herders crisis from various agrarian communities are, by each passing day, triggering anxiety in concerned Nigerians, and generating a situation of less supply and more demand of foodstuff across markets, leading to increase in prices of foods to the detriment of consumers.
Concerned by the threat of looming food crisis due to unprecedented increase in prices, not few consumers are calling on the government to address the crisis, to make foods cheaper and more available across markets.
Farmers’ cry for help
Similarly, Nigerian farmers, under the umbrella of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, have, for the umpteenth time, called on the government to address the herders/farmers conflict, to bring the prices of foodstuff across markets down.
Unarguably, the incessant increase in food prices over the recent years is increasingly becoming worrisome as a result of the negative outcomes, especially on the poor who spend a large share of their incomes on food. This volatility in food prices has led to more malnutrition and food insecurity among the poor, negative impact on trade balance, low investment and possible social unrest as witnessed in the #EndSARS debacle of October 2020.
In as much as the sudden and large increases in food prices have been attributed to many factors, which include the recent closure of Nigeria’s borders, the frequent clashes between herders and farmers have remained more explanatory and convincing that it is majorly contributing to food scarcity and spiralling increase in prices of home-grown foods.
Bloomberg, in a feature in December 2020, asserted that the rising attacks on Nigerian farmers led to stocks declining to less than 30,000 metric tonnes, a fraction of what the country of 200 million people requires. It added in the report that the attacks were fuelling inflation, and that prices of foods started increasing in 2019, when the government shut its borders to curb smuggling of rice and other products. It stated that food prices rose by 17.4 per cent in October from a year earlier, which, according to the news platform, was the biggest increase in three years.
In the same vein, as gathered from a recent survey on looming food crisis in the country, not few Nigerians are daily groaning over food insecurity, even as traders across the states have linked the skyrocketing food prices to banditry, high cost of transportation and poor harvest. The survey carried out across a wide spectrum of markets in the country showed that about 70 per cent increment in the prices of foodstuff were especially in the grains, with the worst-hit being rice, millet and maize, known as foods for Nigerians. For instance, the measure of rice which hitherto cost N300, now swings between N400 and N500, while a measure of maize, which was sold for N70, now goes for N250. A measure of palm oil, which initially cost N200, now goes for N500. A bag of semolina jumped from N1,550 to N3,500.
According to Amnesty International, the Nigerian authorities’ failure to investigate communal clashes and bring perpetrators to justice has fuelled a bloody escalation in the conflict between farmers and herders across the country, resulting in at least 3,641 deaths in the past three years and the displacement of thousands more.
In one its reports, ‘Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders’, AI found that 57 per cent of the 3,641 recorded deaths occurred in 2018. Security forces were often positioned close to the attacks, which lasted hours and sometimes days, yet were slow to act. In some cases, security forces had prior warning of an imminent raid but did nothing to stop or prevent the killings, looting and burning of homes.
To buttress the fact that the incessant conflicts between farmers and herders is of concern to every Nigerian, and has in that light been threatening food security and affordability, a national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, recent told President Muhammadu Buhari what to do about the lingering crisis. According to him, the destruction of crops or seizure of property of an innocent farmer or herder is an act of criminality. On that note, he urged Buhari, his party man, to convene an emergency meeting of stakeholders to address the crisis, with state governors, senior security officials, representatives of herders and farmers, along with traditional rulers and religious leaders in attendance.
He explained that the agenda for the meeting would be to hammer out a set of working principles to resolve the crisis.
“To accomplish this goal, wise policy must include the following elements: maintaining reasonable and effective law enforcement presence in affected areas; helping the herders’ transition to more sedentary but more profitable methods of cattle-rearing; unoccupied public land can be fenced into grazing areas or ranches and leased to herders on a very low-cost, nominal basis,” he added.
Economist, Edmund Chukwuamaiwe, said farmers in the South West could no longer work at their full capacity due to the ruinous activities of herdsmen and their “everywhere grazing” system.
He added, “The situation has instilled fear in the farmers that they no longer go to farm as they ought to. Do you know what that means? Looming food crises and increase in prices of foodstuff! However, if the government committedly resolve the crisis, the situation can be brought to an end, even if gradually.”
All hope not lost
Gideon Bamisaye said, “The response from Nigeria’s federal and state authorities, so far, has been inadequate. It is very obvious that they have done little to address the issue of herders/farmers’ crisis. Federal security and law enforcement agencies have established neither early warning nor rapid response mechanisms, even as no herder has been arrested and prosecuted for perpetrating violence against farmers. I believe if the issue is dispassionately and unbiasedly addressed, the prices of foodstuff will crash.”
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