By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

The crude and outdated practice of open grazing by itinerant Fulani herdsmen from the northern part of the country has continued to undermine the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), Business Hallmark investigation can reveal.
The ATA initiative focuses on the promotion of rice, cassava, oil palm, groundnut, soya beans, cotton, cashew, coconut and cocoa.

Investigation revealed that the sector has lost trillions of naira to incessant attacks on farmers and destruction of their farms by rampaging herdsmen and their cows.
Some agricultural economists who spoke to BH on the development put the value of loss recorded in the sector due to attacks by herdsmen at over N3 trillion.

For instance, out of the N3 trillion special intervention funds so far released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to revive the nation’s economy, N1.8trillion went to the agricultural sector.

It would be recalled that successive administrations in a bold move to address constraints experienced by farmers and MSMEs, especially in accessing funds for working capital, create jobs, expand the real sector and boost the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), had saddled the CBN with the role of funding and overseeing the schemes.
The schemes created under the CBN intervention policy are all sector-specific. They include those in the agriculture value chain – the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme; Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS); Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS).

Others are the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Fund and the Creative Industry Financing Initiative (Nollywood, Fashion, Music, etc); Real Sector Support Financing; Non-Oil Export Simulation Scheme; Intervention Fund for Manufacturing Refinancing and Restructuring Facilities of Banks’ Loans; Power and Airline Intervention Fund, among others.

However, BH findings revealed that while the ambitious programme has largely failed in most of the sectors, particularly that of agricultural sectot, with the blame traced to insecurity.

A data released by the apex bank which was obtained by BH, shows that only a small portion of the N1.8trillion loans given out to farmers and agro-allied processors as of December 31, 2020 have been repaid, with a large chunk of the facilities remaining outstanding.
The worst hit is the accelerated agric development sector, with 100 per cent of the disbursements to beneficiaries yet to be paid.
Sharing the same notoriety is the rice distribution facility segment with zero loans repayment.

Others laggards are AgriBusiness/SME Investment Scheme, 99.7 per cent outstanding; National Food Security Programme, 80.7 percent; Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, 76 per cent and the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative, 69.1 per cent.

However, Commercial Agric Credit Scheme is the only outlier with only 34.0 per cent outstanding loans to be paid.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), an organ of the United Nations, bandits, herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists have chased over 65,800 Borno farmers away from their farms and inputs.
While raising the alarm of impending food insecurity in Nigeria’s Northeast region, the Country Representative of FAO in Nigeria, Fred Kafeero, regretted that inaccessibility to improved seeds and fertilizers, resulted in food insecurity and poverty among the populace.
Kafeero said supporting rainy season farming was key to the entire insurgency affected region of Northeast, adding that farmers’ harvests contributed significantly to food security and income generation throughout the year.

“The latest CH analysis results projected that over four million people will be in need of food assistance between June and August, 2021,” he said, warning that there would be an increase of 19 per cent in food requirements.
Apart from Borno State, farmers in other northern states of Yobe, Adamawa, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and many others have tales of woes to recount.

The rage of herdsmen also transcends the North, with Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun in the South West, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia in South East, and Delta and Edo in South South not spared.
Many farmers’ apart from those who benefitted from CBN’s interventions, it was gathered, also lost over N1.2 trillion to rising insecurity.
For instance, farmers in Ekiti State are frustrated as cows have continued to invade their farms, destroying billions worth of farmlands and crops.

A maize and casavva farmer in the state, Tunde Afe, recounted the losses he incurred when herders led their cows to destroy his farm three times in the spate of one year.
“Parts of my cassava farm at Itapaji Ekiti were eaten up by cows two weeks ago. Farmers have stopped reporting to the police because nothing came out of all the reports made so far. The Fulani herdsmen are wreaking havoc in Ekiti. This is the third time they are destroying my farm,” Afe said.

Also, farmers in the state under the aegis of Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers’ Association of Nigeria, Ekiti State branch, said their farm, occupying over 60 hectares at Ago Aduloju forest along Ado–Ijan Road in Ado Ekiti were destroyed at the time the crop was ripe for harvest.

MAGPAMAN chairman in the state, Mr. John Omoyajowo, while describing their loss as huge, lamented that they financed the farm through loans from the Central Bank of Nigeria under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.
According to Omoyajowo, the farm is owned by the 327 farmers and members of MAGPAMAN approved by the CBN for the scheme. He disclosed that while the farmers cultivated 325 hectares in different locations, only one located at Ago Aduloju forest had good output as it was not affected by drought.

“Two weeks ago, we were happy that we would have a good harvest. But between Friday when we last visited the farm and Monday, we started crying as cows had destroyed everything.

“Insurance covers drought, but it does not cover farms consumed by cows. That is unfortunate. We have been clamouring on the issue of cattle menace, but insurance will not cover it because it is not regarded as a natural disaster.
“We take loans to farm but when it is time to harvest, there will be no harvest. This brings us to the bad book of the bank if we are not repaying the loans we took. We want to repay but with herdsmen and cattle menace, how do we pay?”, he demanded.

Another farmer in the state, Mr Kunle Jegede, lamented the insesant attacks on his farm by herdsmen and their cows, warning that the attacks, if not checked, could discourage investments in agriculture.

“Every day, the government says people should go to the farm. But with all that happened, I am dejected because the loan involved is a lot of money. And we have to repay.
“I saw it as a good and profitable business. That was why I decided to join the association. I have been practising farming on my own but when they introduced this scheme to me, I joined them especially in view of the yields. If you see the yields, you will know that the specie is a good one.’’

“My advice to the government is to stop open grazing and movements of cattle in the bush to prevent destruction of farms. If farmers do not take care, the herders will kill them. They have arms. It is only the government that can checkmate them,” Jegede advised.

Meanwhile, the CBN has maintained that anchor borrowers’ program intervention is recording huge disbursements. The CBN said it has undertaken about 36 such initiatives since 1962, about 25 currently ongoing, covering some major sectors of the economy, with focus on agriculture, manufacturing, health and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).