DEALING WITH GROWING CASES OF ABANDONED FARMLAND
The nation’s food feeds a population of 120 million and supports the livelihoods of over 80 million. Experts have expressed concerns as climate change-related events and insecurity on farmlands are impacting on livelihoods and contributing to greater risks of food insecurity. While restorative approaches have been advocated to address declining soil fertility, issues such as spiritual and cultural restrictions, are causing people to abandon farmlands in local communities.
For some months, farmers in Ugbenu Ajima community, Uzo-Uwani council area of Enugu State have been living in fear of incessant suspected herders on their crops as well as threat to their lives.
They are afraid to go to their farms for fear of herders’ attacks. The destructive activities of herdsmen in communities in Iboland are becoming worrisome. Hordes of cattle led by herders have invaded farmlands and destroyed crops of poor village farmers.
At the moment, there is hardly any community in Anambra State that is not complaining about the negative activities of herdsmen. Although most Anambra communities were used to herdsmen who graze their cows essentially in places that were not cultivated, the resurgence of herdsmen began when the Federal Government mooted the idea of establishing Fulani colonies in Ibo villages.
Most communities objected to it because of the peculiar nature of the Fulani who, they claim, once they are given a place to settle, would try to dominate the area and chase the original dwellers out. Following the refusal of most communities to donate their land for the establishment of the Fulani settlements, the herdsmen adopted another method – forcefully entry of farms.
From Ayamelum to Awka North; Ogbaru to Ihiala; Orumba to Anambra East and West, the story of Fulani herdsmen is the same. The activities of herdsmen have increased the number of abandoned farmlands.
Destructive activities of herdsmen in the North
Similarly, in the North, Borno State faces growing insecurity. Daily, the killings of farmers and other civilians have multiplied under the helpless watch of authorities.
In one instance, after Boko Haram members attacked villages in the Borno State, farmers were forced to flee. While Borno is the epicentre, Yobe and Adamawa states have also been ravaged. There has been reported abandonment of food production by farmers in the Northeast.
Most farmers, who used to produce food, are now beggars, famishing in refugee camps.
According to reports, no fewer than 78,000 farmers in Borno, Katsina, Taraba, Plateau states, among others in the North, have abandoned their farmland as a result of attacks by Boko Haram terrorists, bandits and herdsmen. The over eight-year losses of sorghum, maize, beans and groundnuts have reportedly depleted the food basket of the country and incomes of the displaced farmers.
Before Boko Haram insurgency
Before their displacement, the farmers engaged in wet and dry season farming and fishing; cultivated no fewer than 56,000 hectares of land and got an average of 1.5 metric tonnes of grains per hectare.
Speaking with a lead agronomist for Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN), Tijani Abdullahi, said insecurity is a real danger everybody should pay attention to and that the problem was manifesting itself in a huge food gap which would widen even more in the future.
According to him, insecurity threatening wheat production as farmers in Borno State have abandoned their farmland, thereby reducing national productivity.
He warned that the trend would continue as long as there was a “business as usual” attitude to taking insecurity.
The combination of dwindling farmland and a rapidly-increasing population – expected to reach 250 million in 2025, from 120 million – will make it harder for Nigeria to meet its food needs, analysts said.
They warned that climate change would further complicate the situation as soil degradation is a serious sustainability challenge in many states.
What experts say
Analysts believe abandoning farmlands will not only increase unemployment, but also affect the agricbusiness.
Speaking with an agric extension specialist, Dr Kehinde Adesina Thomas, maintained that along with insecurity, there were abandoned or derelict farmlands, often, an environmental liability, in need of remedy.
He said abandoned farmland was part of a larger issue of reclaiming environmentally damaged land, caused by overgrazing and mining.
Because of the increased cost of fertilising such farmlands, Thomas said they were abandoned as unprofitable. Thousands of acres of farmland have been abandoned because of soil degradation.
However, Thomas of Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ibadan, Oyo State added that proactive restoration programme could return them to agriculture.
He noted there were areas of the country with expanse of abandoned farm land, calling for mapping to identify land in need of restoration.
He stressed that mapping was an important tool in determining which areas to re-vegetate. He added farmers could make efforts to restore a farmland if a profitable use for it is demonstrated.
For experts, criteria for determining a land‘s potential for successful revegetation include soil type, water resources, topography, time since retirement, distance to natural seed sources, and land ownership.
The problem with sacred land
Thomas also added, however, that there are sacred land in Southwest and beyond which should not be used for farmlands.
According to him, the sacred forests are protected by traditional laws restraining individuals, families and communities from using biotic resources.
Notwithstanding, he explained that such areas play an important role in conserving biodiversity.
He said such places are said to be the abodes of rare, indigenous and endangered species of flora and fauna, the repositories of genetic diversity, home to medicinal plants, sanctuary for endangered flora and centres of seed dispersal, genetic reservoirs of tree species for forestry, and hotspots of biocultural diversity.
In most parts of the country, there are rich forests that had, until recently, escaped relatively untouched, but is rapidly opening to investors, wanting to use agriculture to bring prosperity to poorest regions in the country.
While there has been a renewed interest in farming, the Chairman Agriculture and Agro-Allied, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Afioluwa Mogaji, advised people to seek help to set up farms across the country. He has been mobilising Nigerians to become financially independent through farming and small scale businesses.
Nevertheless, he has been a witness to the cases of abandoned farmland.
He believes people are sometimes deceived to buy portions of culturally-protected forests, indigenous and community-conserved areas and sacred natural sites that are not good for farmlands. He noted that it is never profitable to use such land for agriculture or grazing.
According to him, such places are common and embedded within agricultural landscapes that are ‘lived-in’ by people for thousands of years. Sometimes, he said new farmers are ignorantly sold such places.
Though they play a role in conservation of biological diversity as they exist within farming communities, Mogaji warned new farmers against buying such areas for agriculture.
The result, according to him, is wasted investment, calling for spiritual due diligence, including seeking counsel from elders living close to such areas.
Common features on sacred land include restrictions on the cutting of trees, killing of birds and injuring nature carelessly. These cultural practices and prohibition mechanisms have informally enhanced ecosystem conservation and protection.
The Chairman, Ewebe FADAMA Users Cooperative Group, Alhaji Mufutau Oyelekan, has been farming for 15 years. He explained that though sacred land exists, they are not given out for farmers. As a safeguard, Oyelekan said that he does his farming inside government-granted concessions.
These days, population growth, poverty and lack of jobs are putting pressure on people who live around protected areas and driving them further into the forests.
Compounding the issue is that decades of farming have depleted the nutrients of Nigeria’s farmland. Unable to afford modern means of replenishing soil fertility, farmers shift deeper into formally protected areas where the soil is still rich.
But residents of these areas are still cautious in exploring new areas for farming. For instance, at Abini in Biase Local Government Area of Cross River State where Odim Akerot sacred forest is located, report said natives never enter the sacred forest, including the village head and elders. It was tagged ‘evil forest’ and so revered. In addition, owners of adjoining farmlands bordering the sacred forest ensure that they carry out zero clearing during the land preparation for agricultural activities to avert possible spreading of fire into the grove when the farm debris are burnt to avoid evil consequences.
Saving abandoned farmlands
In support of soil’s rehabilitation, Thomas and other experts encourage farmers to plant cover crops such as legumes to restore soil fertility and also protect against wind and water erosion, weeds, and moisture loss. There are so many restorative techniques deployed on a huge scale to breathe new life into barren and degraded landscapes across.
Across West Africa, permaculture movement is fast gaining ground among subsistence farmers and proponents of alternative agriculture. It combines agriculture” and culture” and advocates the three ethics of people care, earth care and fair share.
Experts said permaculture helps build resiliency among small-scale farmers and facilitate the creation of self-regenerative systems and communities with regard to energy, food, shelter and other needs, in harmony with nature.
Meanwhile, no fewer than 200,000 farmers are expected to be engaged under a regenerative agricultural intervention in 10 states. First of its kind in Nigeria, it would be piloted across Kano, Cross River, Jigawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Katsina, Kebbi, Benue, Niger and Plateau states.
The new technology enhances on-farm biodiversity and water storage capacity will enhance farmers’ productivity and food security in the country.
Anchored by Dantata Foods and Allied Products Company Limited, in partnership with RegenFarm Limited and the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office of the British Government under its Agricultural Sector Intervention (LINKS Project), the tripartite partnership aimed at increasing quality food production, enhancing export opportunities of Nigeria’s agricultural commodities and improve the soil fertility, nutrients content and organic matter.
Besides, the biotechnology will rescue Nigeria from the challenges of soil degradation through flooding, erosion and continued cultivation will reduce farmers’ productivity and low yield.
The Managing Director, RegenFarm Limited, Mr. Jason Haywarda, said Regenerative Agriculture would be an all-embracing opportunity for the agro-processing industry in the country.
Jason explained that the intervention would enhance small holder farmer out-growers productivity, boost profitability and resilience to climate change will be greatly enhanced.
On his part, the Chairman/Chief Executive Dantata Foods and Allied Company Limited Alhaji Tajudeen Aminu Dantata, said the deal had galvanised access to markets in UK and other parts of Europe for the organic commodities produced under the Regenerative Agriculture practices. He added that Dantata is involved in agricultural production, manufacturing and processing, besides the export and distribution of Agro allied products, as well as Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG).
“Dantata Foods have aggregated and monitored farmers in the aspect of livestock and animal husbandry. With all these achievements, the company wants to build a strong relationship with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stand out as a reliable implementing partner for farmers’ aggregation and agro-allied development projects,” he said.
The use of Regenerative Agriculture enhances on-farm biodiversity and water storage capacity, and, therefore, RegenFarm Platform offers a cross-over to other complimentary industries and sectors which are focused on, for example, conservation of wildlife and the retention of rainwater in the landscape to rehydrate arid landscapes. Across Nigeria, native agricultural practices such as crop rotation, no-till farming, agroforestry, intercropping and the use of heritage seeds have been integrated into regenerative agriculture.