Rising Attacks on Nigerian Farmers Hit Nation’s Food Reserves

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 metric tons — 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 in a Dec. 1 interview.

Food growers are being assailed on at least three fronts. The latest attack took place on Nov. 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 United Nations warned last month. 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, didn’t answer six calls and a text message seeking comment.

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

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“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 like Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna, armed bandits extort so-called harvest fees from farmers before allowing them to reap their 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% of their produce.

“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.”

Food Costs

The attacks are fueling 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% 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 Nov. 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 200 billion-naira ($511-million) intervention fund for rice growers. Nigeria is the world’s second-largest importer of rice after China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nigerian army spokesman Sagir Musa didn’t answer calls seeking comment, and calls to Defense Minister Bashir Salihi Magashi didn’t connect.

— With assistance by Dulue Mbachu

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