Nigerian farmers and agricultural scientists have expressed optimism that food production will receive a boost as the southern governors have declared a ban on open cattle grazing in the regions.
For decades, open grazing of cattle has led to violent clashes between farmers and herders as the system encourages destruction of crops despite intense labour and resources invested on farms. Harvest-Plus Nigeria describes open grazing as 18th Century agriculture which cannot work in the 21st Century Nigeria.
The escalation of such clashes in Benue State in the second half of the last decade forced the state lawmakers to ban open grazing of cattle with a law taking effect from November 1, 2018.
Oyo State government, among others, was also forced to enact a law in 2019 following frequent clashes between farmers and herders, which led to loss of lives and properties in the state.
From the north central zone to other zones in the south, clashes emanating from herders and farmers have escalated, and joined to the clashes are kidnapping, banditry and killings.
Cumulatively, the clashes and other vices attributed to herders have depleted food production and availability. International Crisis Group (ICG), in its May 4, 2021 report, said violence between herders and farmers in Nigeria had grown deadlier over the past decade.
It attributed the intensity of clashes to climatic change, high population growth, environmental degradation, Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and organised crime (including massive cattle rustling) in the North West.
It said the situation had forced large numbers of pastoralists in the north to migrate south in search of pasture and water, and this, in turn, had triggered disputes with sedentary crop farmers, leading to loss of lives and properties.
In another report, more than 8,000 people were killed in the last decade, with over 200,000 internally displaced and about 60,000 fleeing into Niger Republic.
With the ban, however, stakeholders are optimistic that farmers will go back to farm and this will increase food production, especially in the southern parts of the country.
The Provost, Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology (FCAH&PT), Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr Olatunde Owosibo, explained to The Guardian that the ban on open grazing would go a long way to encourage farming in the southern part of the country because “the farmers and intending farmers would have courage to go back to farm without fear of loss of revenue.”
“The second implication,” he added, “is that since more people will be in farming business, more food will be available, thereby enhancing food security and alleviating poverty. And the problem of protracted farmer/herder problem will be resolved.”
The animal scientist said the problem of insecurity and banditry could be reduced if feedlot system of cattle production is encouraged to improve productivity in the beef and milk value chains.
Another poultry and feed-mill investor, Mr Segun Shewoniku, who is the chairman, Answer Industries Ltd in Ijebu-Ode, expressed the view that the ban is a positive development for the southern farmers.
He said: “The ultimate expectation is an increase in food production. But initially, most commercial farmers may want to take their time before a re-lunch because of fear of policy change in view of past experiences on the part of the government.”
Shewoniku added that except the government is persuaded, nothing positive in the immediate should be expected. He added that “farmers at subsistence level are expected to launch out first, and this effort will bring some relief to local food prices. It’s expected that poultry farmers too may likely get to breathe a sigh of relief about this time next year” because maize and soya beans might become cheaper.
Again, Country Director, Harvest Plus Nigeria, Paul Ilona, said definitely, farming would have a boost because the demand for cassava stems had increased compared to last year.
“I think farmers are beginning to see an enabling environment which can make them take a risk. Don’t forget that farming is a business, and in any business, you analyse your risks. The fact that most farmers have seen cattle damage as a risk has discouraged them from more investments.
“But now that they are getting a green light, by the consensus that there should be no more open grazing in the southern states, farmers have the encouragement to want to come back to farming,” he said.
He disclosed that in the last one month, the demand for cassava stems had significantly increased, and most farmers were thinking of coming back to farming.
Equally, he advised that the banning should not be seen as an attempt to punish anybody or group.
“Nigeria in the 21th century must learn to adopt more technologically sound approaches to driving agriculture and income generation.
“I don’t clearly want to accept that one facet of agriculture should become a challenge to other facets of agriculture. I would rather see a scenario where there is complete value chain and the by-product from one sector becomes a raw material to the other sector,” Ilona said.
Ilona disclosed that over 100 hectares of Vitamin-A cassava planting materials that would have been used by farmers this year were lost to herders down south.
“We lost all that to cattle herdsmen. So, the direction should be how to find a way to symbiotic relationship between the herder and the farmer,” he said.
He blamed the judiciary and the law enforcement agencies for impunity of herders, “because, if the farmer knows that he can get redress, and herder knows that if he does something wrong and is arrested, he will pay for it, the nonsense will go down.”