The Enugu State Graduate Farmers (ESGF) recently voiced their dismay over the extensive destruction of their 35,000-hectare rice farm by herdsmen at the Ojoloko Farm Site in Umuiba, Nara, Enugu State.
Speaking during an interview with the media, the distressed farmers shared their harrowing experiences, revealing that not only were their investments obliterated, but they are now facing mounting pressure from the bank for repayment.
President of ESGF, Mr Patrick Mba, provided insights into the recurrent nature of the attacks. He detailed how, during every harvest, herders would infiltrate the farm, consuming substantial portions of the rice crop and setting the remaining produce ablaze. The financial toll on ESGF is staggering, amounting to losses reaching billions of naira. Mr Mba disclosed that Sterling Bank is now actively pursuing repayment from some farmers due to the devastating impact on their agricultural endeavors.
The president, Mr Mba, highlighted the group’s origins, tracing its roots to the tenure of former Governor Sullivan Chime, where farmers were initially trained by the Enugu State Government. Following the relocation of the farm from Adani in Uzouwani LGA to Nara, ESGF found itself managing over 50,000 hectares of land. Despite their efforts, the herder-related setbacks have been substantial, especially in the cultivation of 35,000 hectares of rice since 2020. In 2021, the group borrowed funds for farming, only to witness 80% of their rice crop devoured by cattle just before the anticipated harvest.
Mr Mba reported that despite not confronting the herders directly, they diligently reported the incidents to security agencies such as the DSS, Amagunze Police Station, the Commissioner of Police, and the Enugu State Government. However, the problem persists.
“To address this, Mr Mba proposed the establishment of a committee under the Ministry of Agriculture, collaborating with the Ministry of Innovation and Digital Economy to create mechanisms for accurate farmer identification. He stressed that without such measures, government support cannot effectively reach genuine farmers”.
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, responded to the predicament, promising stringent measures during both dry and wet seasons for rice, maize, and cassava farming. The aim is to ensure the transparent distribution of agro-inputs to authentic farmers. Kyari underscored the necessity of collaboration with states, local governments, traditional rulers, NGOs, and relevant ministries, departments, and agencies to achieve this objective.
However, other farmers, including Dr Chukwudinka Ezeihu and Mr Emeka Ugwuja, described the impact of the attacks as total devastation, resulting in losses reaching billions of naira. They elaborated on their struggle to repay those who invested in the agricultural business. Negotiations for compensation with the herders were deemed insufficient, further exacerbating the financial strain on the affected farmers.
Chief Chidike Ukoh, from the National Youths Empowerment Association, personally inspected the level of destruction at the rice farm. He emphasized the need for peaceful coexistence between livestock and rice farmers and lamented the heartbreaking scenes witnessed on the farm.
Alhaji Abubakar Sambo, the Sarki Hausawa and leader of the Hausa community in Enugu State, acknowledged the complexity of the herders’ issue and deemed the situation very unfortunate. Sambo, acting as a mediator, called for the establishment of ranching to prevent livestock from entering farms and recommended adequate control of cattle by herders. On the matter of setting farmland on fire, he clarified that such actions were not part of the engagement he was involved in, emphasizing that anyone could set a farm ablaze, even hunters.
While addressing the situation, the Divisional Police Officer in the area assured that they were aware of the ongoing issue and actively working to curtail the activities of herdsmen, acknowledging that it has become a significant concern.
Furthermore, the State Commissioner for Agriculture and Agro Industrialization, Mr Patrick Ubru, revealed ongoing meetings with Miyetti Allah to discuss potential solutions. He reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing the issue, acknowledging that herdsmen attacks on farmlands were a national problem. Mr Ubru emphasized the government’s proactive measures, with Governor Mbah deploying security agencies throughout the state to ensure security.