A group known as the Enugu State Graduate Farmers (ESGF), has expressed dismay over the destruction of its 35,000 hectares of rice farm by herdsmen in the state.
The farmland is located 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.
Speaking to NAN on the development, the President of ESGF, Mr Patrick Mba, noted that at every harvest, the herders would go to the farm, eat up their rice and set others on fire.
According to him, ESGF has lost billions of naira and uptill now Sterling Bank is chasing some of them around because they are owing them.
“We are those farmers trained by Enugu State Government during the tenure of former Gov. Sullivan Chime.
“We started farming at Adani in Uzouwani LGA but when the farm was handed over to another company, we relocated to Nara where we are presently having 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 are 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,” Mba said.
He added that they did not confront them but reported the matter to security agencies like the DSS, Amagunze Police Station, even informed the Commissioner of Police and the Enugu State Government.
“We have been once invited for a meeting but after the meeting the herders came back and did worst.
“We are appealing to 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 we started, we have lost all that we planted worth N1.5 billion but this year’s experience was much,” he said.
Another farmer and Leader of a Farm Cluster, Dr Chukwudinka Ezeihu, described the attack as a total destruction, stressing they were currently in a state of devastation.
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 herdsmen.
“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 farmers and herdsmen.
He said that the herdsmen 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 what they said, another farm cluster leader, Mr 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 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 had been affected,” he appealed.
Chief Chidike Ukoh, the founding President of the National Youths Empowerment Association (NEYA), 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 wonderful and fantastic group.
“They told us that herders invaded their farms and destroyed it which are not natural causes but by human exercises.
“I have visited the farm to see things for myself, the rice fields were burnt, 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,” Ukoh said.
He added that, “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, national food security by President Bola Tinubu will not be achieved”.
Alhaji Abubakar Sambo, the Sarki Hausawa and leader of Hausa community in Enugu State, while noting that the issue of herders was a very complex one, described the situation as “very unfortunate”.
According to him, as the Hausa Leader in the state, I make sure there is peaceful coexistence in Enugu and ensure that rearers do not destroy farmland but where it happens, they should pay for damage.
Proffering solutions, Sambo called for establishment of ranching to resist the animals from entering into farms as well as adequate controlling of cattles by herders.
On issue of setting farmland on fire, the Hausa Leader said, his engagement was not part of burning, stressing that anybody can set farm ablaze even the hunters.
“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”.
Speaking on the matter, the Divisional Police Officer in the area, who pleaded anonymity, told NAN that they were aware of the situation, adding that the division had visited the farmland severally.
“We are doing our best to curtail their activities which is becoming too much,” he said.
When contacted, the State Commissioner for Agriculture and Agro Industrialization, Mr Patrick Ubru, said he had been having meetings with Miyetti Allah on how to curb the menace, adding that the State Government had not rested on the matter.
He stated that herdsmen attack was a national issue, stressing that it was heartbroken that after suffering, farmers would lose their rice to herders.
“Government is not resting but we are doing something as Gov. Mbah deployed security agencies everywhere to ensure that the state is secured,” Ubru said.