Nigeria: Pastoralist-Farmer Conflict a Threat to Food Security as Inflation Spikes


Tuesday, February 02, 2021  / 5:31 PM / By Funsho Idowu, Proshare Research / Header Image Credit: The Guardian Nigeria

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Nigeria could suffer a major food blowback in 2021 as the fisticuffs between pastoralists and farmers morph into regional theatres of conflict with regions of the Southwest and Southeast raising their heckles over what they see as the highhandedness of the federal government in resolving the matter of Fulani herdsmen encroaching on private farmlands in the southern part of the country.


With the food inflation rate spiking to 19.56% in December 2020, analysts believe that the country cannot afford an all-out outbreak of regional conflict if the economy is to recover from a debilitating COVID-19-induced health pandemic overlayed with economic dislocation. The obvious build-up of ethnic animosity, according to local economists, must be nipped in the bud to avoid disruptions to food value chains and the destruction of property and lives.   


Slash and Burn: The Making of A Food Crisis

Food insecurity in Nigeria has been heightened by factors such as the poor funding of sustainable food policies, constrained mechanized agriculture, poor rural infrastructure, and rising communal conflict. COVID-19 pandemic also worsened the situation as we saw Nigeria's food inflation rise from 18.30% in November to 19.56% in December 2020 (see chart 1 below).

Chart 1Food Inflation Index( Jan - Dec 2020)

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The violent clashes between herders and farmers in the country are gradually snowballing into an existential conflict over resources which may only get worse without an equitable and fair intervention by the federal government. The claim that cattle herders as their side businesses abduct individuals and demand ransoms or rape women and men and move around with assault rifles have been photographed and recorded without a firm government pronouncement or action condemning the action. This lack of intervention by the government has given sop to the rumours of a supposed 'Fulani' agenda. Without a frontal action that stops cattle herders from carrying assault weapons and destroying pastoralists' farms the dark road to  Somalia appears to loom large on the horizon. Political economists have called on the federal government to move swiftly to enforce ranching and stop the outdated practice of migrant cattle rearing. For a country with an estimated population of 200m people, the consequences of not finding an equitable resolution of the problem could be dire.


For example, on Sunday, January 31st, 2020, Fulani Herdsmen stormed the Ibarapa area of Oyo State, seized hectares of farmlands at Ayete, cut down cocoa trees, and burned down cashew plantations that were ready for harvesting. The herdsmen mounted a no cross zone on the villages and farms seized, depriving the peasant farmers access to their sources of livelihoods.


Spooking Commodities Export

At a time the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) plans to bring to life the Nigerian Commodity Exchange (NCX), allowing farmlands to be wantonly destroyed and farmer's income disrupted, the whole idea of an NCX falls flat on its face.  The recent agrarian clashes come at a time when Nigeria is seeking to diversify its economy, promote small-scale farming productivity, and provide budgetary support to the food crop sub-sector. A swathe of cocoa plantations in the country lies in the South-Western zone of the country in states such as Ogun, Osun, and Oyo.


As an oil-dependent economy, Nigeria is adversely affected by a slump in global oil prices, this has prompted the country to seek to revive its agricultural sector, notably its cash crops. Nigeria is currently the fifth-largest cocoa producer in the world with a total output of approximately 300,000 tonnes.


Nigeria is also one of the largest producers of raw cashew nuts in shells worldwide with a yearly export volume of at least $167 million US dollars and untapped yearly potentials of over $115.8 million US dollars. In 2017 alone, cashew nuts exporters in Nigeria exported over 220,000 tonnes of cashew nuts. The vast global demand for cashew nuts in Nigeria by international buyers makes venturing into the export of cashew nuts from the country a lucrative business.


However, if the pastoralists-herders conflicts are allowed to fester there would be a massive reduction in Nigeria's export earnings and torch economic growth.


Operation Amotekun: Right Idea, Wrong Execution

The Amotekun security outfit set up by the Southwest states has represented a right strategic move to curb errant security breeches to the regions farming and urban communities but suffers from operational confusion, poor training, and inadequate infrastructure.  A year after being inaugurated the outfit has still to plant roots among Southwestern communities and provide the widely-expected security cover based on local intelligence and grass-root mobilization.


To fight insecurity, ensure farmgate crop protection, and support farmers in gaining unfettered access to their farms the national security architecture needs to be revisited to provide optimal security for both cattle herders and pastoralists within the confines of global best practices and civil governance norms.

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