Levies of lives – The dilemma of farmers in Northern Nigeria

4th March 2024

Nigeria’s food insecurity is rapidly becoming an epidemic due to a combination of factors such as worsening security challenges, rising farmer-herder clashes, the impact of climate change, inadequate government responses and structural vulnerabilities within the Nigerian system. Additionally, the increased frequency of targeted attacks on farmers and farming communities by armed bandits has intensified the threats to Nigeria’s food security. Farmers in the Northeast risk being killed by terrorists- a situation that is increasing humanitarian emergencies in the region.

In the Northwest, bandits are having a field day, with more than 2,600 civilians killed in 2021 alone. States like Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and parts of Jigawa remain particularly affected. Working on their farms poses a dual risk for farmers in these areas: either they attempt to harvest their crops with hopes of earning a living, or they pay hefty ransoms to save themselves from abductors. This has spiked the cost of living in the region as food prices surge, worsening the food affordability challenge.

In recent years, a concerning trend has emerged in some communities affected by banditry in Nigeria. Farmers are now forced to pay levies to bandits to access their farmlands and harvest their crops. Residents in affected areas reported paying substantial sums ranging from ₦70,000 to ₦100,000 to bandits for permission to farm, with additional payments required for harvesting. Some go as far as collecting a certain percentage of the harvest, confiscating farmers’ lands, and forcefully co-opting villagers to cultivate the lands, harvest, and sell the farm produce. Those who resist these demands face severe consequences, including abduction, murder or confiscation of their produce. On the other hand, Ansaru militants in certain areas, like eastern Birnin Gwari, reduced bandit interference, allowing farmers to cultivate more land and increase harvests.

Although there was a slight increase in the 2023 harvest compared to previous years, the activities of bandits could have improved the expected impact on food prices. Farmers explained that they had to factor in the various sums paid to bandits when setting the prices of their produce. This effect extends beyond Nigeria, as traders in Zinder and Maradi markets in Niger Republic have also raised prices to reflect the challenges faced by Nigerian farmers. The escalating financial burden caused by bandit activities may drive many local farmers to abandon farming for alternative livelihoods. This raises concerns about a potential food crisis in the country.

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