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Insecurity drives big-time farmers away

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By Abraham Adekunle

Key individuals trying to boost agricultural output in Nigeria are giving up.

Food insecurity in Nigeria began to heighten as insecurity in the country increased, especially in the North Central zone known as the Middle Belt. Because of this situation, the United Nations agency, World Food Programme (WFP), has revealed that one in eight Nigerians face acute hunger as of April 2023. The World Bank has also reported on food security in the country that at least 64 million people in the country are risk of emergency and food nutritional assistance caused by inflation, insecurity and climate change.

One of the major factors in this crisis is the farmer-herder clash that has been ongoing for decades but which has resurfaced with renewed vigor since the start of the Buhari administration. For instance, Benue State, whose motto is “the food basket of the nation,” has been subjected to communal clash in such a large scale that entire communities were displaced and reoccupied by bandits and killer herdsmen. Since the upscale in insecurity, many farmers have abandoned their farms with some losing it entirely for fear of being killed or kidnapped.

Successful rice farmer recounts threat to his and his workers’ lives.

A specific case is relayed by Mr. Rotimi Williams, one of Nigeria’s most successful rice farmers seven years ago. However, the problem of insecurity has rendered his land idle. In 2012, he left his career as a banker for agriculture. The media described him as the second-largest producer of rice in Nigeria, with thriving farms across the north. But the threat to his life and those of his workers grew exponentially. He said that his car had once been shot at on his way back from the farm, and there had been kidnap attempts too.

Particularly in the past three years, a sharp rise in insecurity has caused the kidnapping of hundreds of people for ransom. These kidnappers target harmless staff of well-to-do agricultural ventures and force them to either stop or reduce their operation. According to a Nigerian security tracking website, more than 350 farmers were kidnapped or killed in the 12 months up to June 2022 alone. The majority of these attacks took place in the north, where some of the country’s largest farms reside.

Techni Seeds founder lost 300 farms due to insecurity.

In January 2022, GB Foods, a tomato-processing plant in the north-western state of Kebbi, was attacked by armed gunmen known as bandits. The media had described this multi-million-dollar factor as Nigeria’s second-largest food processing plant when it launched in 2020. However, bandits tried to kidnap some of the factory workers, and while they failed, the factory has been out of operation since then. Although that is not the fate of Sahel Capital, an agricultural investment firm, the managing partner of the firm, Mezuo Nwuneli, said that his workers require armed security to go to the farm. On one of Sahel Capital farms, a security officer was killed during a kidnapping attempt. “They used to be comfortable working till 10pm but because of the attacks, they don’t feel safe to work late. In other parts of the world, you can run a farm 24/7,” he said.

During the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, Femi Adesina was appointed minister of agriculture, and the industry saw great improvements. However, all the progress he made before leaving for the African Development Bank seems to be insignificant as the UN now predicts that nearly 25 million Nigerians are at risk of facing hunger between June and August 2023. This is unsurprising as Stella Thomas, the founder of Techni Seeds, said that her seed-producing research company lost about 300 farms of “out growers.” They were forced by the insecurity to drop out of the network of supervised farms.

No security equals no agriculture, says Rotimi Williams.

Meanwhile, Mr. Williams who used to enjoy spending months at a time on his farm, organizing barbecues for the farmers at the end of a hard day’s work, complete with a stereo and loud music, is preparing to move his rice production to other West African countries such as the Gambia and Senegal. His current calculations show that transportation costs would make it unprofitable for him to supply rice to Nigeria from those countries, and he predicts that the rising food inflation in Nigeria will only get worse if the government continues to slack in its handling of security.

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