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The Year Was Blessed For Farmers, But Terrorists Stole It All 

In Nigeria's Katsina State, farmers had hoped to outsmart terrorists by planting early. In this way, they could harvest before the latter got wind of it. But things did not go according to plan. The terror group were right on time.

The 2023 rains had renewed Bara’u Abdulmutallib’s hope of a bumper harvest. He had planted bean seeds with great expectations after 50 to 55 days. And for some weeks, it seemed it was going to be met. 

“Everyone knows that this year’s rain is blessed,” the 41-year-old said. 

But his hope and that of other farmers in Dungun Mu’azu in Sabuwa, a local government area of Katsina State in northwestern Nigeria, has now been shattered. 

Towards the end of the rainy season, farmers like Abdulmutallib started planting beans. Unfortunately, terrorists encroached on their farms with cattle that ate almost everything. 

But, as far as Abdulmutallib is concerned, his loss is not as great compared to the more financially buoyant farmers who harvest at least 7,000 bags of beans yearly. They have now become less ambitious and plant sparingly. So they harvest 1,000 or less for fear of terrorists.  

Katsina is one of the states in North West Nigeria that is plagued by terrorism. Terrorists kidnap for ransom, rape, injure and sometimes kill residents, especially in rural areas, which are predominantly agrarian. 

Residents of Sabuwa, which is at least 264 km away from Katsina, the state capital, have lived with this insecurity for more than eight years. And this intensifies by the day. 

Sowing the seed

Abdulmutallib recalled that the planting was not seamless too. The terrorists did not allow the farmers access to their lands until some representatives of the farmers negotiated with them. Affluent farmers would often ask some elders in the community to meet the herders on their behalf. 

The negotiation is mostly done in exchange for grains, seeds and money. Poor and small-scale farmers who could not negotiate with the terrorists were left to their own fate. 

There were times when the terrorists attacked the poor farmers while they were farming. They emerged with guns and surrounded them. This has happened several times. If they were lucky, the terrorists would herd them to their own farmlands to work for them. 

“If the terrorist is kind, he will give you food and release you when you have been forced to work on their farms,” Abdulmutallib revealed.

Cultivation in Dungun Mu’azu.  A majority of the crops are grain-based including beans, rice, corn, soya beans and also vegetables. There are  over 250 estimated individual cropping units and farmlands in plots around the locality. Imagery: Google earth.  Illustrated by Mansir Muhammed.

Arbitrary seizure 

At the beginning of 2023, Abdulmutallib’s friends lost their farmlands. They had gone to clear it in preparation for planting. But then they were met by terrorists who boldly told them they had claimed ownership of their farms. Powerless, the friends had forfeited their farmlands.

These events have occurred several times in their village, including neighbouring Dungun Mu’azu, Marabar Maigora, and Dankolo. Sometimes, people’s farms were seized after they had finished planting.  

“In the first stage of farming every year, which is clearing, these terrorists go to farmlands to abduct anyone. A ransom must be paid before one gets released,” Hassan Adamu, a 32-year-old farmer, said. “Any person who protests gets killed.” 

Adamu, who recalled how he started farming when he was about 10 years old, said farmers and herders used to live peacefully together. Then, his grandfather used to give him a portion of the family land to cultivate. That peace is no more. 

Terrorists have since made life miserable for the farmers. They maim, kill and collect ransom when the locals do not bow to their demands. They are armed and operate from isolated areas, HumAngle gathered.

“Recently, they killed a farmer. They met him on his farm working and demanded money. He went home and brought the amount so that they could leave him to continue farming. They collected the money and tried to abduct him. While he was resisting, some of the terrorists used a dagger to decapitate him,” Adamu said. 

Premature harvest

During the rice harvest, terrorists came in hundreds to ransack farms, carted away the grains, and left remnants for the legitimate owners of the farms. They did the same when it was harvest time for soya beans and corn. 

When the farmers were close to starting the harvest of millet and white beans, they thought the terrorists would not return. But this time around, they even came with cows. That caused some farmers to start harvesting prematurely. 

Two weeks ago, Abdulmutallib had to harvest the beans he planted before it was time. As a result, he only got one bag against the five to six bags he normally gets. “I don’t think it can be used. I can only leave it to Allah,” he said, adding that they had experienced this in the past, but 2023 saw an increase in terror activities in the area.

This year, the farmers had hoped to outsmart the terrorists by planting early. In this way, they could harvest before the gangs got wind of it. But things did not go according to plan. The terror group were right on time. 

“If I have somewhere to go, I will stop farming in Dungun Mu’azu,” Abdulmutallib said. On their way to the farm, many have been attacked and their seedlings snatched from them.

Harbinger of food crisis?

Farmers are incurring huge losses, HumAngle learned – from seedlings to pesticides to cost of labour. Some spent over ₦350,000 (about $443), Abdulmutallib said. One, for instance, was preparing for harvest the next day, but on that night herders brought their cows to graze and everything was lost. The little that was left could not be consumed by humans except for animals.

This sort of experience was the reason many farmers refused to cultivate their lands in 2023. “I also know a farmer in this village that used to produce 5,000 to 7,000 bags of maize but has now stopped,” he said. “If you group all the farmers of this community into three, only one got what they expected. When the cows encroach on our farms, they don’t care about the weeds; they eat the beans.”  

Abdumutallib said in the two farmlands he cultivated alongside his elder brother, they spent at least ₦300,000.

Adamu, on the other hand, surmised that if they were to calculate what he and other farmers lost in the village as a result of the encroachment this year alone, it would be in millions. Then, farmers who gleaned could neither consume nor sell the grains.  

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Mahdi Garba

Mahdi Garba covers development, security, conflict, climate & disinformation at HumAngle. He heads the Humanitarian Desk at HumAngle. He tweets regularly @MahdiGarba.

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