Beyond the issue of environmental pollution, public disturbance and other dastardly acts linked with the activities of herdsmen, their actions have left frustration, as farmers have continued to count their losses.
Several farmlands invaded by herdsmen and their cattle are in ruins, while farmers are in debts.
In Ekiti State, the story of Pastor Salami Oluwafemi Abayomi, Managing Director, Homsa Nigeria Limited, an agro-processing factory based in Ayede-Ekiti, is pathetic, as his 55 hectares cassava plantation, worth N23 million was destroyed, together with farms in his neighbourhood.
His ordeal, he said, started in 2014, when he cultivated cassava farm around Yemeran, in Ikole Local Government area and Ijede farm settlement, which fall under Oye local government of Ekiti State. However, in early December 2015, when the cassava was due for harvest, he received telephone call from his staff that herdsmen have invaded the farm.
“Based on my experience the first thing I did was to ensure my staff reported the issue to the police, which they did at Oye Police Station, after which they followed up to the farm and took pictures.
“At first, the cattle just plucked the cassava leaves; I felt if it is the leaves alone, once there is rainfall it would sprout out again. I called the attention of the Permanent Secretary and Commissioner of Agriculture, who told me to document my claims. The shocker to us was that they revisited the farm. They came in larger nubers and started uprooting the cassavas and cut them into piece,” he said.
Salami told The Guardian that after he mobilised the Police with N15,000 the police met the herdsmen and their cattle in the farm, they were in their hundreds.
“Immediately they spotted the police, they took off. At a time, they even sent the cows in our direction and the Police refused to shoot, so that it is not interpreted as malicious damage.”
He noted that at the time, a committee was set up by the ministry of agriculture and through pictures they were able to identify the cattle that wreaked the havoc, but unfortunately, the Police that informed him that the culprits reside in Oke-Apo, with a promise to go into action, refused to make any arrest.
In February this year, he wrote another petition appealing for action but was asked to write directly to the Commissioner of Police, which he said took him; “another two months to collect my request for police report. Eventually, police report came out in August since February.”
Salami said though the actual loss he made is N23m, but the multiplier effect meant he lost N23m that could have been his turnover in 2016. “The emotional cost of it is another thing, it took me eight months to get report from the Police. They were just pushing me from one place to another, apart from that we shut down my factory because the workforce -young men and women peeling cassava were out of work. We distorted the cassava value-chain in that neighbourhood. Though we have started operation skeletally, but we can hardly produce one tonne of cassava per day, unlike then when we did 10 tonnes per day.
“By virtue of that we were unable to meet up with our obligations to a lot of our service providers. We were forced to downsize when there was no work for our staff to do, a lot of them do not have any form of livelihood any more.”
As a way out, he noted that as a practical farmer who has experienced serial herdsmen attacks, setting up of Task Force or Marshalls is not solution, but cordoning off routes of the herdsmen into the state.
“A holistic security network is essential. Of course, Police is not the solution because they’ll always complain that the place is far. Government should deploy resources to combat this menace. A lot of commercial farmers in Ekiti State cannot not survive the attacks, which was why the governor took that proactive measure. You’ll see women crying, the painful thing is that nobody has taken that step to ask how many hectares were destroyed? I am talking about Ekiti State and I know other parts of the country have their experiences.
“This is like an emergency situation, when virus destroyed tomatoes, it was a national disaster. Cattle should be kept in ranches. I have lost N23m with a turnover that would have made it N50m, especially with price of cassava that has galloped. Its a matter of national emergency, government should as a matter of urgency do something as compensation for victims like me, we are many, I took money from bank and I need to pay back.”
Relating his own experience, Managing Director, Crest Agro Products Limited, Lokoja, Kogi State, Dele Ogunlade, said their farm is located in a volatile area in the middle belt of the country, when it comes to issues of kidnapping and armed robbery by herdsmen.
“Twice, they kidnapped our workers and they are still very much active in that area. From time to time they invade our farms, we have been able to control that effectively in the last few months by involving the Police. For every cattle we arrest, we take to the police station and the Police dealt with them appropriately and got refund for the damages they cause. That has kept them at bay for sometime, but we know its temporary because this group of people also burn down 52 hectares of our farm earlier in the year and they are all around us here.”
He noted that since their first staff was kidnapped, the farm has been engaging the services of the Police on their farms, on the road and anywhere their personnel goes, to void any kidnap attempt.
So far, according to him, a minimum of N100, 000 is expended weekly to engage the Police, which are having serious impact on their income. He revealed that they had a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, who lined up government’s plans to control excesses of the herdsmen, with a special training for 10,000 Civil Defense Corps to specialise in protection of farms.
He stated that small-scale farmers are seriously affected by the development, noting that they have incurred serious losses considering the 52 hectares of farmlands burnt down by the herdsmen and “we are expecting to harvest 25 tonnes per hectare at a value of N15, 000 per tonne, that’s quite a huge amount that was total loss to us.