They are denying us access to land - Local famers
One of the major eye-catching features along the highways leading into Abuja, Nigeria's federal capital city, is the number of large expanses of farmlands which the well-to-do in society acquire, fence and lock up.
The farms are, however left with little or no farming activity going on, on them.
Along Abuja-Keffi expressway in Nasarawa State, almost all the farmlands are fenced and under lock and key, with only some having some skeletal farming activities carried out in them by smallholder farmers (most of who apparently are on subsistent level). Many of the expansive farms, it was observed, have not had a tractor work on them for ages.
Some of the farms, especially those along the Abuja-Keffi-Jos road, are said to belong to serving and retired top military officers, top government functionaries and politicians.
Our correspondents who also travelled along the Abuja-Kaduna and Lokoja-Abuja highways saw many fenced and locked up farmlands on both sides of the road.
Most of the lands close to Garam community in Niger State, it was learnt were acquired for 'commercial' farming purposes.
The choice of the community may be partly because of its proximity to the Federal Capital Territory.
The lands were acquired and fenced by people who have huge financial muscle; but many of the farms have not witnessed any farming activity in the last 10 years.
In many cases, the communities where these lands are bought do not know the buyers because, according to a farmer, Iliyasu Ibrahim, who has a farm n ear one of the locked-up farms along Kaduna road, said the land was acquired through the village head.
But for some of the farmers, their grouse is that these large, hardly used farms rob them of the opportunity to have farms closer to their communities.
"Those large, locked up farmland owners are more interested in the land situated close to the roads. They entice our people with money to sell land to them.
"After they acquire them, you will not see any serious farming going on there; they just lock them up and go," a young man who gave his name as Yakubu Pai said in Kwali, Abuja.
A farmer in Garam, John Isa, said the practice whereby wealthy people go to community leaders to buy large parcels of land was denying local farmers access to farmland.
"My brother, for us to get farmland now, we have to go very far because virtually all the nearby lands have been acquired. And the farther you go, the higher the chances of you encountering herders," he said.
But the owner of one of the farmlands around Garam, Mr Stephen M. Ayuba, said he acquired the land in the community in anticipation of development, adding that he later started farming some crops on it.
"Most of the locked up farmlands you see may not be deliberate. Some acquired the land when they had money but because of the economic and security situations of the country, they had to abandon them.
"Imagine the kidnapping situation; imagine the cost of starting business at present, so all these count," he said.
Observers, however, opine that since land is a major valuable asset, people who anticipate development along major highways buy large parcels of land in anticipation of great profit in the near feature. They expect the land to fetch more money when they are sought after by companies for expansion or other purposes.
There are other economic reasons why people buy the lands, an agricultural expert, Dr Aliyu Samaila, said.
Dr Samaila, who is an agronomist based in Abuja, said purchasing land is the quickest way of "investing stolen funds" by public servants or politicians across the country.
Secondly, any time there is a road expansion, they are the first to be compensated and usually in millions, he said.
Experts, however, said those who buy land for well-conceived agricultural purposes actually invest time and money in it but could not contain other forces of the production which compel them to lock up such lands.
Golden Harvest contacted Dr Nyam Yusufu Leo, a former Regional Director, North-West, Agricultural Transformation Agenda, and the Director-General of new Kaduna State Livestock Regulatory Authority, the first of its kind in the country for his view on the land acquisition among the well-to-do.
Dr Leo said the economic recession has affected many of the farms as the market for a lot of agricultural produce became unstable, in addition to policy summersaults.
He painted a sad picture portraying situation where a farmer has gone into cultivation, having calculated all the cost of inputs and the expected guaranteed minimum price but only for the market end of the chain to become a nightmare.
"By the time you harvest and bag; put your profit margin, and take the produce/product to the market to sell and get money for another season, you find that the market cannot give you that. You end up suffering losses. You are forced to back out.
"Another thing is the attitude of our farm staff - the manager, tractor operators, sales outlets; they all become 'port rats'. By the time you invest, the operator steals your tractor injector, your diesel, or he runs the equipment in the night on some other farms and makes money. So he leaves you, instead, sourcing for more money for repair and replacement of parts.
"He brings all sorts of overhead costs for maintenance. Again, you now go to check the fertilizer you kept in the store under your farm manager. The day work is to be carried out, your farm becomes a sales depot for other neighbours who have been called to buy the input you have stocked, and that will show in the poor yield.
"The same thing happens in poultry, cattle and fishery. You stock your feeds but the farm manager will not feed the birds or animals. Even the eggs, the staff steal them. So the farmer is left alone to suffer all these losses from theft by staff. So you will find a well-conceived farm by a highly motivated owner locked up and the staff dismissed because of breach of trust by almost everybody," he said.
The Director-General of new Kaduna State Livestock Regulatory Authority, Dr Leo, also said the issue of insecurity in the country has forced some farmers to lock up their farms.