Nigeria's Kaduna State Government has given companies like Olam access to large hectares of farmlands, a development some peasant farmers say has succeeded in relegating them to the background.
Land grabbing by rich farmers threatens smallholders
By Abubakar Sadiq Mohd
Agriculture has remained the oldest occupation and the most reliable means of survival by rural dwellers, especially in the north. It is also considered the earliest and most viable occupation that provides human basic needs. However, in recent times, the rich have found interest in farming, an attempt, which peasant farmers say, is to hijack an occupation that was once the forte of the poor.
Malam Shehu Sani Mai Kunda is one of many farmers who lost their source of livelihood when the farm they relied on was recently sold. The farmer, a resident of Sabon Layi in Tudun Wada community of Zaria, said for 16 years, he and other farmers had free access to farmland owned by a Zaria-based business tycoon, in Dakace village along the Zaria-Jos Road.
However, things fell apart recently when they were asked to vacate the farmland after the death of their benefactor. A wealthy individual had approached the new owners who inherited the tycoon’s land with an irresistible offer, to buy the land for a hatchery.
“The land is vast and about 50 people relied on it annually to farm freely, and we cultivated a variety of crops,” Kunda, who said majority of the farmers have now been rendered jobless, explained. “The farmland was our means of livelihood and source of income for close to two decades, but suddenly, it was taken over from last year, because it was sold to a rich man,” he said.
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Unlike Kunda and others who farmed for free in the last two decades, Malam Aminu Mohammed pays commission on farmlands he uses after every harvest season. But the land has also been sold to an influential person who is planning to use it for fish farming, animal husbandry and cattle grazing among other things.
“I am afraid that when elites and the rich continue to take over farmlands, the poor may subsequently become a liability to the society and the nation as a whole,” Mohammed said, expressing anger that the rich and mighty are not only encroaching into farming as an occupation, but their wealth makes it possible for them to succeed at the expense of peasant farmers.
Mutawakkilu Yusuf, another farmer from Rafin Yashi village, in the western part of Zaria, said the proliferation of wealthy individuals who are taking over farmlands in villages is on the increase and becoming a source of concern. According to him, it almost seems like ‘land grabbing’ even though the rich buy the lands from willing owners. “The land owners who sell to the rich are left with nothing to do after selling the lands also,” he said.
“Very soon, peasant farmers may vacate farming activities as they may not be able to retain farmlands due to attractive prices being offered by rich men for lands,” he said. He expressed concern that poor farmers are now being subjected to ordinary workers on the farmlands owned by the rich, adding that they will thereafter rely on the stipends paid to them as allowance for their services on the farms.
“Now, from Madaci junction in Gwargwaje to Rafin Yashi which is a distance of about 30 kilometres, there are hundreds of farms that have been bought over by the rich who live in towns and cities, while the original owners of the lands are now reduced to labourers in the farms,” he said.
“I honestly consider this trend as a threat to food security and by extension, another way of chasing rural dwellers into urban migration in search of greener pasture, while those who may choose to remain in the village will have no means of survival,” Yusuf said, while observing that the dominance of the rich and elite in agricultural activities has a direct effect on the rise in the price of farm inputs and implements that has pushed peasant farmers out of business.
He noted that the skyrocketing prices of assorted fertilizer, seedlings, herbicides and pesticides can be attributed to the increasing number of wealthy individuals joining the occupation, whom he said were not mindful of the prices associated with farm inputs.
But government policies continue to disagree with farmers such as Mutawakkilu Yusuf and Malam Shehu Sani Mai Kunda by encouraging companies and wealthy individuals to invest in the abundant agricultural potentials of Kaduna State. The Kaduna State Government, through its domestic direct and foreign direct investment has already attracted a number of companies to invest in the agricultural sector, with a view to growing the state’s economy and providing job opportunities for its teeming youths.
On arrival, these companies were given access to large hectares of farmlands to conduct their agricultural processing or milling activities, a development some peasant farmers say has succeeded in relegated them to the background.
Others, such as Alhaji Salisu Nuhu Mai Masara, however disagree and say the coming of the rich into agriculture is a blessing to the country. He says only the rich have the resources to embrace the modern technological system of farming that can feed the nation and improve the country’s revenue generation for export.
Daily Trust findings revealed that large companies such as Olam feeds and hatchery, situated along Abuja-Kaduna expressway occupies 825 hectares of farmlands in Chikpiri Gabas village of Chikun LGA. Others are Damau Milk Farm in Kubau LGA which occupies 6,000 hectares of land while Tomato Jos company occupies 3,000 hectares of farmlands in Kangimi village of Igabi LGA.
Prof. Adọ Yusuf, an Agricultural Scientist at the Institute for Agricultural Research, ABU Zaria, argues that Nigeria has abundant farmlands with about 56% yet to be used, therefore feels the concerns of the peasant farmers are out of place.
He said though many rich Nigerians have gone into agriculture and were therefore purchasing lands; in reality, there was no cause for alarm.
“The only fear farmers may have is the fact that most of the farmlands purchased by the rich are located in the urban areas instead of the hinterlands where there are abundant and untapped lands due to fear of insecurity,” he said.
“And these rich people buy these lands in urban areas because of easy access to good roads for the transportation of farm implements and technology, as they mostly engage in mechanized systems of farming. It is also easier to transport the harvested produce to the market without incurring high cost,” he further said.
Prof Yusuf, a soil fertility expert, however said the peasant farmers may be scared of the development as they are continuously being pushed into the deep forest and hinterlands to access farmlands due to the high cost of lands closer to cities. He said when the government subsidies the prices of farm input and implements to make farming activities more accessible and affordable, such growing concerns by peasant farmers will be allayed.
Another agriculturalist with the faculty of Agronomy at the Institute for Agricultural Research, ABU, Zaria, Prof. Salihu Adamu Dadari, who is also a large-scale farmer, said the engagement of more hands into farming activity translates into availability of food, food security and development of the nation’s economy. Dadari noted that the resultant implications on the peasant farmers may not be so severe because of the abundance of virgin lands deep in the forests.