The 2017 budget does not seem to provide the solutions to the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen, indicating that the government is probably paying lip service to its plan for food sufficiency. Damilola Oyedele writes
One of the biggest security challenges Nigeria has been grappling with in recent times is the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen. A long term effect, aside the increasing number of deaths, destruction of farmlands and properties, sometimes of entire villages in reprisal attacks, is the threat to food security.
Several states of the federation have been experiencing continuous attacks, particularly Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Taraba and there have also been pockets of reported clashes in Ekiti, Ondo, Delta, Abia and others in the South. According to reports, at least 1, 269 persons were killed by the rampaging herdsmen in Benue State alone, between April 2013 and July 2016. On February 29, 2016, the herdsmen, armed with guns, allegedly attacked several Agatu villages, murdering about 500 villagers, and displacing several thousands.
Southern Kaduna has been in the news for a while now due to recurring clashes between both farmers and the herdsmen, with hundreds losing their lives, and property worth millions destroyed. About 800 persons, including women and children, have allegedly died in the Southern Kaduna crises in recent months.
Fulani herdsmen have also been under attack, with reprisal killings on them, and killing of their cattle, which is their source of livelihood. For instance, in both Kaduna and Benue, Fulani leaders have accused local communities of killing their cattle, and attacking their people.
The major causes of the clash is the need by the herdsmen to feed and water their cattle, and because of the effects of climate change, and the activities of Boko Haram in the North-east, the herders have to move Southwards. As climate change caused more desertification in Northern Nigeria, and watering grounds disappearing with 95 per cent of Lake Chad drying up, nomads were forced to move Southwards to find foliage and water for the cattle.
According to the Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN), about 15 per cent of land in the North-east became a no-go area for the nomads due to activities of Boko Haram.
Unfortunately, farmlands in the South were the casualties of the movement of the cattle, as the manner of indiscriminate movement, has led to the destruction of whole farmlands, sometimes, close to harvest, and pollution of waters with cattle faeces. The development has given rise to the constant clashes between the herdsmen and farmers.
Ranching Vs grazing argument
Several experts and stakeholders have since proffered solutions to the crises, with the major arguments bordering around ranching versus creation of grazing routes. Ranching is being suggested as the most viable option to check indiscriminate grazing of cattle. They argue that to create grazing routes, which some sections of the society have advocated for, would cause fresh clashes over land ownership. Proponents of ranching argue that the method is adopted by developed countries involved in animal husbandry, and would address the problems of foliage and water for cattle, in addition to ensuring basic necessities and infrastructure required by herdsmen.
The proponents of grazing however argue that Nigeria used to have grazing routes in the pre-independence era, and this can be recreated to ensure adequate sustenance for the cattle. This would be done by appropriation and preservation of land in different parts of the country, and establishment of a national grazing reserve commission.
Recently, Taraba State Governor, Mr. Darius Ishaku, and his Benue counterpart, Mr. Samuel Ortom, at a meeting to solve the constant communal clashes along their joint borders, advocated that ranching be embraced to solve the clashes.
“The trend all over the world is ranching. Moving cattle from one place to another is not encouraged all over the world. We will agree with one another to give land for ranching and I am already discussing with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to get about eight special grasses to be planted at Mambilla. Machines would cut the grasses when they are matured and they will be put in bales to sell to ranches. It makes cattle grow faster, bigger and healthier. It would be another source of revenue for Taraba,” Ishaku said.
Ortom, who has long been an advocate of ranching said grazing routes are no longer feasible due to population explosion.
“We must understand that ranching cannot be done overnight. We are setting up machinery to collaborate with the federal government to establish ranches. We must support the herdsmen to establish ranches so that we can have lasting peace in our country because the land is no longer there,” he said at the meeting.
The 2017 budget
Despite the arguments, the 2017 budget with its proposal of N82 billion to the agricultural sector, does not make any provision for ranching development, while the sum of N1.4 billion was proposed for the establishment of the National Grazing Reserves Development Commission.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Agricultural Services, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno, in an interview with THISDAY, noted that the 1.7 per cent allocation to the sector is an improvement in recent years, even though it falls short of the minimum 10 per cent requirement by the Maputo Declaration for all African countries.
He also emphasised that ranching remains a major solution to the constant clashes apart from the proposed grazing reserves.
“When we say ranching, you have veterinary facilities there, the grasses, and conducive atmosphere for fattening and better quantity of milk production. It is not in the budget, but we can, as National Assembly, use our powers of appropriation to allocate money for it, because it is very important. It is an important means of averting the clashes,” he said.
Monguno also noted that the transportation of live cattle to distant places affects the quality of the meat and milk production of the cattle, and called for investment in cold store haulage of cattle and its products.
He further disclosed to THISDAY, that the planned importation of special grass from Brazil was discouraged to allow the National Animal Production and Research Institute, which has the mandate for development for local pasture, develop grass species that can withstand local climate.
In the same vein, Hon. Dickson Tarkgihir who is the sponsor of the Ranching Bill, said animals cannot be allowed to roam around in the name of grazing.
“Cattle rearing is a business, it is done in other climes, developed countries do not leave animals to roam around in the name of grazing. The cattle owner is doing business just like the farmer. People who are interested in ranching should acquire lands, and rear their cattle safely, so that the person who wants to farm, can also have access to his land unhindered, and do his farming,” he said.
The lawmaker from Benue, one of the states mostly affected by the conflict said farmlands are assets, particularly for agrarian Nigerians, which should be protected if the government is serious about economic diversification and food sufficiency.
“Agriculture remains the easiest way to diversify and make profit almost immediately, especially when farmers are given certain inputs. For solid minerals, you need to make massive investments in infrastructure, before you make gains,” he added.
Echoing Governor Ortom, Tarkgihir said to force citizens to surrender their lands, would result in fresh crises, adding that grazing is an outdated model towards cattle rearing.
Speaking on the lack of provision for ranching in the 2017 budget, the lawmaker disclosed that he is already in talks with the leadership of the National Assembly to invite the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, on the matter. “To be invited before the budget is passed, to explain what solutions his ministry is working on to resolve the clashes. If it comes to it, the National Assembly can make provisions, if it requires funding for that particular item,” he told THISDAY.
On his part, Chairman of the House Committee on Climate Change, Hon. Sam Onuigbo, representing Ikwuano/Umuahia North/Umuahia South Federal Constituency, in an exclusive interview he granted THISDAY in Lagos, noted that it was time to focus on the impact of climate change which he attributed to the constant herdsmen/farmers clashes across the country.
“We have a responsibility as a nation to act fast to arrest this situation,” he said. “Today, we have come to some kind of agreement that we must be proactive in containing the negative effects of climate change, and where possible, go ahead to take advantage of the opportunities that abound.
“That is why we came up with the National Policy on Climate Change which is to guide the different sectors affected by climate change, so that each sector is able to prepare to face the impending threats and, where possible, to benefit from the problems. For example, if we want to grow a green economy, we will have to invest in solar and hydro energy.
“We encourage each sector to do a sectoral variability assessment, for each sector to know how variable they are. When they do this, they have a scientific basis for taking action, for moving ahead. But if this is not done, we continue to move in the dark. That’s why we encourage different sectors to do this and get prepared.”
It is clear that if the clashes are not addressed, whatever efforts the country makes at attaining food sufficiency, would come to naught.