Maiduguri — The Boko Haram insurgency has negatively impacted on agricultural production on an immeasurable scale in Borno State, drastically reducing wet and dry season farming activities and harvests.
Farmers, who lamented the effects of the insurgency, observed that their only means of livelihood has for years remained threatened, considering the high agricultural outputs of the Lake Chad region's farming communities over the ages preceding the insurgency.
The challenges bedeviling farming - wet or dry season - affect virtually all farmers across the state as they are unable to go to their farms, only a few kilometers outside their communities. The outskirts are infested with the insurgents, who abduct and or slit the throat of any daring farmer.
The insurgents also burn down entire farms or harvest farm produce; seize and cart away harvested farm produce from farms; and scare farmers away with their presence at the outskirts, leaving ripe, about-to-be-harvested crops bare for quela birds to ravage.
"The damage and losses we have incurred over the years due to these challenges are unquantifiable," Alhaji Hassan Mohammed, chairman of the Zabarmari (one of the farming communities in Mafa Local Government Area) Rice Processors and Sellers Association, said.
"Yet, neither government nor any individual or organization has sympathized with us, especially when in 2018, Boko Haram burnt down majority of the rice fields in the over 10 farming communities I lead, and when quela birds, following the inability of farmers to guard or employ labourers to guard their farms for fear of the marauding insurgents, destroyed virtually all our crops in the just-ended 2019 cropping season," he complained.
"We usually guard or employ labourers to guard our farms at between N1000 and N1500 per night, but with the upsurge in the insurgency, no farmer or labourer dares go to any farm; so in the just-ended 2019 cropping season the destructive birds had their day on our farms as they ravaged them, leaving farmers with virtually nothing to harvest.
"Consequently, many farmers who used to harvest about a 1000 bags of rice could not harvest 20 bags. For example, Alhaji Audu Danyaya, who used to harvest over 1000 bags, was only able to harvest a paltry three bags.
The security outfit (Agro Rangers) launched by Governor Babagana Umara Zulum) to secure farmers and their farms has not been able to do much, because it can only patrol across farms on dry sections of the fields. The operatives cannot patrol across the Fadama (swampy) farms with their Hilux pickup vans.
"The insurgents take refuge on the smaller islands dotting the vast swampy fields, and that is where we the farmers and our labourers also take refuge to guard the fields against the birds; but nobody dares do that now because the insurgents have taken over; so the birds descend on our fields unchallenged," Alhaji Hassan complained sadly.
Alhaji Bello Kwashebe is one of the most prosperous farmers at Kwashebe, one of the over 10 farming communities.
He said: "During the 2018 harvest season, when the insurgents burnt virtually all our harvested produce heaped in the fields, I lost about 400 bags of rice; the produce of my 50-acre farm all burnt by those boys.
"We used to sell a part of the produce to pay our labourers, so I had to borrow N200,000 from a friend at Gamboru Market in Maiduguri to pay them because I had no rice to sell to do that.
"In the 2019 cropping season, I cultivated only 25 acres of that farm, where I could have harvested about 250 bags, but I only harvested a paltry 29 bags due to the Boko Haram resurgence which cleared the way for the destructive birds to feast on the fields.
"Consequently, I had to borrow money again to pay my labourers. I can tell you that I am now indebted to the tune of about N400,000 which accumulated over the last two years," he lamented.
"Between 2018 and 2019, Boko Haram have killed at least 30 farmers across our 10 farming communities," Alhaji Bello recalled, lamenting, "we risk our lives by going to our farms two to three kilometres away, but we are not secure.
"In spite of Boko Haram, you must go to your farm because you have nothing else to do to sustain your family," the husband of two wives and father of 18 children said."
They called on government to equip the agro rangers with more weapons and vehicles to patrol and secure farms throughout the two farming seasons.