Surge in attacks on Nigerian farmers undermines food reserves

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A SURGE in attacks on Nigerian farmers is having a knock-on effect on the West African nation’s food reserves.

Stocks have declined to less than 30,000 tonnes — a fraction of what the country of 200-million people requires, according to the All Farmers Association of Nigeria. Growing insecurity is making it difficult to augment those supplies, Kabir Ibrahim, the group’s president, said.

Food growers are being assailed on at least three fronts. The latest attack took place on November 27, when alleged Islamist insurgents killed dozens of subsistence rice growers in the northeastern state of Borno, where an insurgency has raged for more than a decade.

The violence is compounding production challenges stemming from factors such as climate change and the coronavirus pandemic that have placed northeastern Nigeria at risk of famine, the UN warned in November. Parts of the population in northeast Nigeria are already facing ‘critical hunger,’ it said.

Suleiman Haruna, director in the department of strategic grain reserves at Nigeria’s agriculture ministry, did not answer requests for comment.

In addition to the Islamist attacks, food production is being destabilised by a long-running conflict between crop growers and northern cattle herders, who are being forced by desertification to seek grazing pasture further south.

‘This worrying trend poses food security risks to millions of Nigerians,’ said Ibrahim, whose group represents most of the nation’s 12 million farmers. ‘It is now exceedingly difficult to get the farmers to readily go to their farms in several parts of the country.’

In grain-producing states such as Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna, armed bandits extort harvest fees from farmers before allowing them to reap crops. Similar demands are made on farmers in the states of Katsina and Kaduna, where they face being kidnapped if they fail to pay the ransoms that average about 1 million naira ($3,000) in cash or 40 percent of their produce.

Fuelling inflation

‘There are even places where they take over the farm,’ said Alhaji Nuhu Dansadau, a farmer in Zamfara. ‘For instance if you have produced 200 bags of corn, they will instruct you to go and sell 30 or 50 bags and bring the money to them.’

The attacks are fuelling food inflation. Costs started increasing in 2019, when the government shut its borders to curb smuggling of rice and other products. Food prices rose 17.4 percent in October from a year earlier — the biggest increase in three years.

‘The continued increase in food and core inflation was attributed to the persistence of insecurity across the country,’ the central bank’s monetary policy committee said on November 24.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s efforts to help Nigeria achieve food self-sufficiency are also being undermined. Since 2015, Buhari has implemented measures to promote local production, including increasing taxes on imported grains, blocking food importers’ requests for foreign currency, and establishing a 200bn naira intervention fund for rice growers.

Nigeria is the world’s second-largest importer of rice after China, according to the US department of agriculture.

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