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Fulani Herdsmen Vs Farmers: New threat to economic stability

The growing activities of some rampaging Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the country, particularly in the North Central Nigeria’s region of Plateau, Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states, could pose potential threat to sectors’ development, including agriculture, mining, industries, among others.

If not nipped in the bud, the nation’s economy could witness another long-drawn shock, that may be worse than the recession the country just exited.

Indeed, dark clouds again shroud Nigeria’s once predictable and certain future with an uprise in the Fulani herdsmen’s menace.

Although clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers have been on-going for decades, especially in the northern parts of the country, the nationwide spread of the herdsmen to other regions other than the north in recent times is as a result of unfavourable weather patterns which have resulted in acute water scarcity and droughts in a few northern states, tsetse-fly infestation, dry pastures/grass and leaching.

Searching for suitable pastures and water for their cattle, herdsmen, usually, but not solely of the Fulani stock, from the far northern parts of the country move their herds, mostly on foot, through different states across the country often stopping at designated points to drop off some of their stock at cattle markets, to fulfill the beef supply needs of local consumers.

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The nomadic pastoral herdsmen while moving their livestock en mass, from location to location, in search of grazing pasture, often move into local communities or farms along the way, and their cattle trampling on, and eat up crops and grass, destroying the livelihood of farm owners in the process, thereby creating a friction that has resulted to reported cases of clashes and violence.

A report from market intelligence and communications consulting firm, SBM Intelligence indicates that an escalation in the number of attacks by herdsmen has been recorded from the early days of December 2017.

The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association supplied the intelligence firm with a list of 52 persons killed at Kikan, Kwadomti and Shefaran villages of Numan L.G.A. on Tuesday, 21st November, 2017, a date prior to the escalated attacks.

Benue communities were reported to have been brutally attacked on New Year ’s Day by suspected Fulani herdsmen after they invaded parts of the Guma and Logo local government areas of the state. The attacks, which spilled over to Tuesday, 2nd January, came on the heels of the implementation of the anti-open grazing law, which the Fulani herdsmen considered detrimental to their means of livelihood.

Following the rising spate of attacks, a number of, states including Ekiti, Benue and Taraba, passed anti-grazing laws as a measure to curb these pastoral clashes, but their suggested punitive measures have been largely ineffective, except in Ekiti, where the measures have at least seen attacks go to nearly zero.

Nigerians have however condemned the Federal Governments parochial reaction to control the looming disaster. Many Nigerians have called for justice and the proscription of the Fulani herdsmen. President Muhammadu Buhari has so far ordered the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to relocate to Benue State to quell the festering killings by herdsmen in Guma and Logo local government areas in Benue State, and a handful of arrest have been made, but at the cost of properties and precious lives, military and police men’s lives inclusive. Many communities however believe that they are left with little choice than to resort to self-help as the proliferation, and spread of these incidents is yet to abate.

The economic impact of the strife is multi-faceted. First, the cattle industry is underperforming. It contributed 1.58 percent to Nigeria’s GDP as at Q3 2017, as against crop production that contributed 22.19 per cent. Maybe, if farmers knew some of their produce could be traded with the herdsmen for acceptable payment, there would be the incentive to provide quality feeds to the herders’ cattle, improving the meat and milk yields. However, because violence, and not commerce is the means of exchange, the farmers are more incentivised to even poison crops they know the cattle will feed on, destroying value for both the farmers and the herders alike.
According to a 2014 analysis, the Nigerian cattle market generates only US$6.8 billion of a potential US$20bn per year due to local strife and the inability of the government to fully recognise the industry. In an economy in need of diversification, ramping up national agricultural production will necessarily require a resolution to this conflict.
A second level of this is the fact that the violence decimates communities that would have been potential markets for the herders. Many communities in the affected regions have emptied out, creating a refugee situation that has increased the strain on government coffers. Coupled with refugees from the Boko Haram crisis, and the newly developing displacements from the English speaking regions of Cameroon, Nigeria stands the risk of having even elevated numbers of displaced people within its borders. Apart from the security risk this portends, the impact on funding for such agencies as NEMA, NAPTIP and their state equivalents is significant.

Perhaps an even bigger threat is to Nigeria’s food security. 25 per cent of Nigeria’s population has been pegged by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO as severely insecure in their September 2017 report. Cattle is a source of beef and the security threatens the ability to get them to their markets in the south.

Most of the communities in the Middle-Belt where the attacks have taken place are in the much vaunted ‘food basket’ of the country. The Middle-Belt has traditionally been one of Nigeria’s most agriculturally productive regions. Crops such as yam, cassava, rice, soy beans and guinea corn, amongst others which are grown in the rich soils hold the key to Nigeria’s quest for self-sustainability in food production. It will therefore not be an exaggeration to note that the current pastoral conflict raging across key Middle-Belt states probably has more economic implications to the country than the conflict in North Eastern Nigeria.
Many have not planted or harvested for as much as seven years since 2011 due to the ongoing violence.

A lot of the produce from the north that goes to the densely populated south such as pepper, tomatoes and grains pass through this region as well. As more and more communities abandon farming and take up arms, the impact on supply of these foods and meat to the south will reflect even more on the price and food inflation will continue to rise.

Socially, an effect will also be that youths used to getting their sustenance through violence take a longer time to return to being productive, creating a situation where there are able bodied youths unable to work because they lack the core skills that would be normally incidental to their livelihood.

Furthermore, as numerous farming communities have been displaced, unemployment which was already an issue has escalated along with declining food production. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations estimates that the number of food insecure people in Nigeria stood at about 11 million as at August 2017, with the number projected to increase in the short term. This scenario holds worrying implications on economic, social and security-related fronts.

The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri, stated in 2016 that Nigeria spends about ₦6.6 trillion a year on food importation, an amount which dwarfed the 2016 national budget of ₦6.06 trillion. With the current efforts to improve the country’s food production and reduce the import bill, perhaps the most important measure is being overlooked, which is getting Middle-Belt farmers back to work.

Other countries have disarmed groups in the past, and it is time for Nigeria to do so, and also to take really seriously, the challenge of climate change which is squeezing various groups into limited land. Nigeria’s green wall project appears to have stalled. Waiting until the herdsmen are capable of taking on entire military formations like Boko Haram have been doing, or worse, until other groups get their own access to military grade weapons, is not a solution.

Adesola Afolabi

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