Due to its readily available expanse of arable land and a willing workforce, Nigeria’s Benue State is aptly regarded as the food basket of the nation. But the constant bloody dispute between local farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the state may be threatening this status. In January 2018, about one hundred people were killed in Benue by cattle herdsmen.
This caused outraged Nigerians to call for sweeping changes in the handling of the herdsmen crisis. But despite the government’s promises to restore peace in the state, the situation remains volatile. Now with the farming season steadily approaching and the farmers scared to return to their farms, concerns are raised as to how Nigeria’s food output in 2018 will fare.
Benue State plays a vital role in Nigeria’s agriculture sector. Many of the country’s staple foods and commercial crops such as tomatoes, rice, cotton, yam, cassava and maize are produced there. Most, if not all of the farming activities in Benue State take place in secluded villages where Fulani herdsmen and farmers often clash due to the destruction of farmlands by the herders’ livestock. This generational dispute has lasted throughout much of Nigeria’s independence, but it may now affect the nation more than ever.
Conflict fuels famine
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, conflicts lead to decreased food security. This, in turn, results in other problems such as famine and even deaths. In the Sky Journal for Food and Science, using the Boko Haram crisis to establish the relationship between insecurity and food shortages, the authours pointed out how the activities of the insurgent group have affected farming activities in Northern Nigeria. Now seeing as the activities of the Fulani herdsmen are almost similar to that of Boko Haram, and also bearing in mind that they are widely regarded as terrorists even by international observers, it suffices to say that their acts of terror indeed has the potential to disturb farming activities in the state, thereby leading to food shortages.
According to Fatai Razaq Adewale, an Agricultural Economist, the farmers-herdsmen crisis in Benue State has the potential to cause an overall [negative] effect on Nigeria’s food production this year. However, he pointed out that said impact can be avoided should the government make concerted efforts towards ending the crisis and restoring peace in the affected places. But even in the absence of the government’s ability to end the crisis, Adewale believed that the problem can still be offset, especially since many other Northern Nigeria states account for a bulk of the cash and food crops produced annually in the country.
Food Production in 2018 may be low
The National Bureau of Statistics indicates that Nigeria’s agricultural sector contributed 29.15% to the country’s nominal GDP by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, for the year 2018 are however, there are no available economic indices to appraise the agriculture sector’s performance just yet. But that notwithstanding, the ongoing farmers-herdsmen crisis gives cause to worry that there may indeed be a decline in this year’s performance compared to last year. Therefore bearing in mind this security challenge in the state has so far taken a more serious undertone, and also considering the fact that the threat of Boko Haram still persists in many North Eastern states where agriculture thrives, the likelihood of a decline in food production exists.
Is Nigeria gearing up for its potential loss?
A sharp rise in food prices can significantly affect household consumption and nutrition, particularly in developing economies, where food accounts for a larger share of family budgets than in developed countries.
A decline in Nigeria’s agricultural output in 2018 could among other things result in millions of dollars worth of foreign exchange earnings being lost. Nigeria announced plans to begin yam exportation to the United Kingdom. Yam is one of the many food crops produced in large quantities by Benue farmers, therefore, the state may be one of its major suppliers. Unfortunately, the farmers-herdsmen crisis may cause a stall(or even halt the exportation) because yam produces for this year may be poor. Therefore, Nigeria loses money and a potential business opportunity.
Another way a likely decline in food production may affect the economy is the hike in food prices. This is where average Nigerian families stand the risk of being directly affected. This is because the prices of foodstuff in the market increase when the amount of food produced is low.