Tackling Farmers-Herders Crisis to Boost Economic Growth

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James Emejo writes that the federal government must ensure that the funds appropriated for creation of grazing reserves in the 2019 budget in order to put an end to the current herders-farmers crisis, which continues to exact a huge toll on agriculture and the economy in general is well utilised for the purpose

A latest report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has it that the sum of about $13 billion was being lost annually to farmers- herders crisis, particularly in the Northern part of the country, with no end in sight.

It summarised that unless urgent and serious measures were taken, the crisis will continue to cause great setbacks in human and economic development of the country.

The agency said mediation and negotiation remained key to resolving the crisis.

But, it would not be the first time concerns had been raised over the past dangers of the continued menace of herdsmen in the country.

Apart from the hundreds of human lives that had been lost, thousands of farmlands had been destroyed with growing cases of intimidation, rape continuing in several parts of the country especially agrarian communities.

Only last year, the Statistician General of the Federation/Chief Executive, National Bureau of Statistics, Dr. Yemi Kale explained that clashes between farmers and herdsmen had dragged down the gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second quarter of 2018.

According to him, we have seen challenges in agriculture because of the clashes that are happening in different parts of the country. “Obviously, if people cannot go to the farms, it is going to be a problem. Agriculture is not just crop, when you destroyed a farmland or even cattle rearing is also part of agriculture, so the back and forth thing is affecting both crop production and livestock and agriculture is the biggest part of our GDP and that is slowing down the economy.”

The problem had further taken a toll on the economy in the first quarter of 2019 where the GDP growth contracted to 2.01 per cent from 2.38 per cent in the preceding quarter.

An analysis of Q1 economic performance showed that though agriculture contributed 21.91 per cent to growth, its share of real growth was less than the preceding quarter when it recorded 26.15 per cent. There is no doubt that the current security challenges continue to impact the outcomes in the sector.

Essentially, the increasing farmers-herders crisis is also said to be a major threat to food security.

Former Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, had further lamented that the present administration’s commitment for the country to attain food self-sufficiency by 2030 may be hampered by the lingering herders-farmers crises in some northern parts of the country.

He said, to avert a food crisis, state governments must collectively demonstrate seriousness in agriculture by committing at least five per cent of their budgets to agriculture, this way, the country would be able to upscale the agricultural production.

Similarly, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh had warned that there was no better time to solve the incessant clashes between herders and farmers, adding that the development had taken a huge toll on the economy.

Even though the herders argued that under the ECOWAS protocol, everyone is guaranteed rights to free movement, experts said the exercise of such rights must not be at the detriment of national security.

The federal government, had made some attempts to address the situation by suggesting the establishment of cattle ranches to curtail the movement of cattles which destroy farmlands, often leading to breakdown of law and order.

In February 2018, however, the federal government’s policy to create cattle colonies as a way of resolving the constant farmers- herders crisis was rejected by the House of Representatives.

The lawmakers however, rather settled for the establishment of grazing reserves to avert the continuing blood shed.

Even so, the planned establishment of the reserves came under attacks from some section of the public as some states governments including Benue, Ekiti and Taraba banned open grazing outrightly.

But, justifying the creation of the reserves as lasting solution, Ogbeh had said those who are criticising government’s good gesture towards the Fulani herders, in trying to provide grazing reserves for them were being unfair because government had also made several interventions to farmers under its new policy on agriculture, noting that herders constitute part of the agriculture plan of the present admiration.

However, there appears to be hope for an eventual resolution of the menace, which has prevented farmers from going to their farms for fears of being attacked by herders who are now armed to teeth and willing to counter any challenge by farmers in the course of grazing.

The federal has finally embraced the idea of providing grazing reserves for cattle to feed rather than going about in their destructive fashion on people’s farmlands.

Government’s commitment was demonstrated in the 2019 budget of continuity of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, which earmarked the sum of N2.27 billion for the development of the National Grazing Reserves.

Ogbeh had said the federal government had the intention to soon commence the reconstruction of grazing reserves across the country.

According to him, the reconstruction of the grazing reserves had become necessary due to farmers-herders conflicts, adding that they also have economic influence to reduce the high unemployment rate in the country.

The minister said: “The grazing reserves will help in solving these problems. We are not going to any state that is not interested and we are not going to collect anyone’s land”, an apparent response to criticisms by state that it was a plot to take over their lands under such pretext.

He called on individuals who had the interest and ability to build grazing reserves to join efforts assuring that the government would support such individual.

However, Lokpobiri had stressed that to avert a food crisis, state governments must collectively demonstrate seriousness in agriculture by committing at least five per cent of their budgets to agriculture, this way, the country would be able to upscale the agricultural production.

He said: “The prolonged crisis, especially in the North-eastern part and other parts of the country that have experienced incessant clashes of herders and farmers is also an issue of concern.”

He said achieving food security entails that all Nigerians see and treat agriculture as serious business and not as mere programme.

According to him, the country must take advantage of its rapidly growing population to invest seriously in agriculture, while the private sector takes the lead in the project, with the government providing the enabling environment, “because government has proven to be bad business manager.”

According to the minister, if Nigeria is able to feed itself, it would have been able to solve the issue of hunger and malnutrition in the black race and by extension Africa, which is, “a bold step in guaranteeing food for all in the world.”

However, it remains to be seen how the Buhari administration utilises the appropriation in the budget to liberate the country, particularly farmers from the claws of death and wanton destruction arising from the activities the activities of marauding herders across the country in the interest of humanity and economy.