A group known as the Enugu State Graduate Farmers, has expressed dismay over the destruction of its 35,000 hectares of rice farm by herders in the state.
The farmland is at Ojoloko farm site at Umuiba, Nara, in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State.
Some of the farmers who spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Enugu, said all their investments in the farmland were destroyed by cattle.
They complained that the bank that lent them money was now after them for repayment.
‘After grazing, they set farm on fire’
Speaking to NAN on the development, the President, Enugu State Graduate Farmers, Patrick Mba, said that at every harvest, the herders would go to the farm, eat up their rice and set others on fire.
According to him, the farmers have lost billions of naira and up till now Sterling Bank is chasing some of them around because of inability to repay the loan they took.
“We are those farmers trained by the Enugu State Government during the tenure of former Governor Sullivan Chime.
“We started farming at Adani in Uzouwani Local Government Area, but when the farm was handed over to another company, we relocated to Nara where we have over 50, 000 hectares of land.
“We cultivated 35,000 hectares with rice both certified seed and paddy rice, since 2020 and in 2021, we borrowed money and did the farming, but when we were about to harvest, cows ate 80 per cent of the rice.
“They are in our farm on Sunday and Monday grazing and setting the rest on fire,” Mr Mba said.
He added that they did not confront them but reported the matter to the State Security Service, Amagunze Police Station, and also informed the commissioner of police and the Enugu State Government.
“We have once been invited for a meeting, but after the meeting the herders came back and did worse.
“We are appealing to the government to help us stop them from entering our farms as well as organisations to come to our aid as most have lost confidence in farming.
“Since 2020 that we started, we have lost all that we planted worth N1.5 billion, but this year experience was much,” he said.
Another farmer and leader of a farm cluster, Chukwudinka Ezeihu, described the attack as a total destruction, stressing that it has been devastating for them.
He explained that when they were expecting a quantum of yield from their rice they suffered to farm, they would wake up and see the farm destroyed by herders.
“This year alone, we have lost billions of naira. How do we pay people that invested their money in the business?
“When we sent out videos of the destruction early this January, I made a statement at the Amagunze Police Station where they gave us someone to mediate between the farmers and the herders.
He said that the herders agreed to compensate them for the destruction.
“How can they be telling somebody who had lost over N1 million that he is going to be paid N200,000 as compensation?” he asked.
Corroborating the claims, another farm cluster leader, Emeka Ugwuja, said, “If you go to the police there now, you will see five different complaints on the same issue. Most families are already leaving their houses.
“My own farm is valued at N10 million, they are negotiating to pay compensation of N500,000.
“Government should please chase those herders from the agrarian community as our means of livelihood have been affected,” he appealed.
‘What I saw was heartbreaking’
Chidike Ukoh, the founding president of the National Youths Empowerment Association, Africa, a civil society organisation, who inspected the level of destruction at the rice farm, said he received a call on the emergency situation of the farm.
He said Enugu graduates farmers were partners with them for over 12 years consistently.
“We have done some interventions for them and they are a wonderful and fantastic group.
“They told us that herders invaded their farms and destroyed it. I have visited the farm to see things for myself, the rice fields were burnt, (and) some packed rice were marched by cows, making it impossible to pick them.
“What I saw was heartbreaking as some rice heaps they cut waiting for threshing were set on fire. On getting there on Sunday, some rice were still burning,” Mr Ukoh said.
He added, “Our own interest is peace, mediation and sustained peace as a civil society organisation. Let the livestock and rice farmer coexist as nature provides and not one putting the other into indebtedness and suffering.
“Let there be security and with their action, the national food security by President Bola Tinubu will not be achieved”.
Leader of Hausa community speaks on the destruction
Abubakar Sambo, the Sarki Hausawa and leader of Hausa community in Enugu State, while saying that the issue of herders was a very complex one, described the situation as “very unfortunate”.
He said as the Hausa leader in the state, he has tried to maintain peaceful coexistence in Enugu and ensure that herders do not destroy farmland but where it happens, they should pay for damage.
Proffering solutions, Mr Sambo called for establishment of ranching to stop the animals from entering into farms.
“From the complaints I have received, the destruction is much, and it is saddening that people will cultivate and somebody will destroy it. We are doing our best to see that those involved pay compensation,” he said.
‘We’re doing our best’ – Police
Speaking on the matter, the divisional police officer in the area, who did not want his name mentioned in the story, told NAN that they were aware of the situation, adding that the division had visited the farmland several times.
“We are doing our best to curtail their activities which is becoming too much,” he said.
When contacted, the State’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Agro Industrialisation, Patrick Ubru, said he had been having meetings with Miyetti Allah on how to curb the menace, adding that the Enugu State Government had not rested on the matter.
He stated that attacks by herders was a national issue, stressing that it was heartbroken that after suffering, farmers would lose their rice to herders.
“Government is not resting, we are doing something. Governor Mbah has deployed security agencies everywhere to ensure that the state is secured,” Mr Ubru said.