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How Herders’ Exodus Is Affecting Benue’s Economy…

Two weeks after the enforcement of the Open Grazing Law in Benue State, herders who do not want or wish to comply with the law have continued to move to neighbouring states in order to find pasture for their animals.

On the other hand however, the herders willing to comply with the law have said they were counting losses on daily basis as they contended with the economic challenges now facing their individual households.

For Mohammed Haruna Jakiri, who breeds cattle in Makurdi and is the Vice Chairman of the National Butchers Union (NBU) in Benue State, these are certainly not the best of times for his business as the effect of the law has caused him tremendous economic hardship.

“I’m being affected seriously in terms of buying and selling cattle. Since some of the Fulani herders left the state over their inability to settle for the new law, the prices of cows have skyrocketed.

“We now travel to Nasarawa State where most of the herders have relocated to in order to buy cows at costly prices as against the cheaper rates the animals were purchased in Benue State before the enforcement of the law. This is besides the cost of transportation shuttling between the two states,” he said.

Jakiri further disclosed that they bought grass and chaff to feed their cows and as such the price of meat had significantly been affected in a manner that they could hardly make gains.

He said a cow which sold for N120, 000 before the law now sold for at least N150, 000, while the ones which were formerly bought at N150, 000 were now sold at a minimum of N180, 000.

He lamented that the worst situation bedeviling his business which he was born into over 40 years ago in Benue State was scarcity of grass as the people they bought from often claimed that someone else had paid in advance.

“We normally bought grass from the natives, but now some of them no longer sell to us. According to them, Governor Samuel Ortom had booked in advance and bought all the grasses to feed his cows. So it has become difficult for us to obtain grass even with money in our hands,” Jakiri lamented.

Jakiri, who appealed passionately to the government to come to their aid by relaxing the stringent condition of the law to allow them some hours in the day to find pasture for their flocks, also decried the high cost of chaff.

He explained: “We are facing serious challenges but we are law abiding citizens who are willing to cooperate with the government. We voted massively for this government and want the administration to succeed. However, let truth be told, between the November 1, 2017, commencement of the implementation of the law and now, I have spent so much money on daily basis to buy feed for my flock.

“Rice chaff which was freely obtained from rice mills has steadily risen from N1, 500 per bag to N3, 000. Our cows are starving as a result of this. On Monday, three of our cows died in their pen as a result of starvation and we had to dash them out to the natives. As we speak, all types of chaff, be it from maize, guinea corn, soybean and rice are sold at very high prices,” he said.

One Abdullahi, a herder too, worried by the high cost of feed, said armed robbers were waylaying them along the highway during their trips to buy animals from Nasarawa State. He said this had also compounded their problem and economic woes.

He said the only good news at the moment was the advantage of their pens which were situated close to the River Benue which gave them the opportunity to drive the cows to drink water at 12:00 noon on daily basis, after which the animals were returned to their sheds.

Corroborating what Abdullahi said, the Benue State Public Relations Officer of Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Alhaji Umaru Sariki Naira, affirmed that they were indeed counting regular losses since the law was enforced.

Naira posited that: “At this Wadata axis of the river bank, we have a minimum of 100 cows and we spend at least N120, 000 daily on feed, transportation and other logistics. We also pay taxes for buying, bringing the animals into the state, slaughtering and selling. These taxes, including veterinary fee for each cow, range from N200 to N500.”
According to him, the local government authorities also showed up to collect revenue, adding that the same practice obtained to his colleagues operating at the Makurdi Modern Market.

Therefore, he appealed to the government to do everything within its power to ensure a win-win provision of the law as at the moment, in his estimation, those of them dealing in cattle business appeared cheated because their business was no longer making profit while the farmers were gaining.

“We are appealing to the government to assist us because we are law abiding citizens who are ever willing to obey the law. The government should take a second look at the law to enable it benefit us also as in a win-win situation.

“We are citizens of Benue State because we were born here in Makurdi. As we speak, my children were driven away from school a few days ago because of my failure to pay their fees. We will enjoy the law if government grants us the permission to graze at least between two and three kilometres away from the pens,” Naira pleaded.

Also, the Special Assistant to the Governor on Herdsmen Matters, Alhaji Shehu Tambaya, admitted that the herders remaining in the state had been complaining about high cost of fodder.
Tambaya noted that the exodus of the pastoralists had contributed to the increasing prices of livestock, emphasising that the law had, however, improved security in the state as farmers could now go to sleep, as well as go to their farms without fear.

He added that, “It is, however, not the same with the herders who are lamenting high cost of feed. Today, a cow that was sold for N80, 000 now goes for as much as N120, 000. This is because their owners are buying water and fodder to feed the animals.”

The governor’s aide stressed that the law was positively affecting the economy of the state and improving security of farmers who now farmed without fear, while on the other hand, price of meat had gone up as a result of the same law, even as he concluded that peace was more worthwhile than the temporal discomfort of the cattle rearers.

A rice farmer in Adikpo-Kwande area of the state, Toom Avershima, posited that the development had impacted positively on the economy of the state as farmers were now easily harvesting their crops and selling same in to make more profit.

“The level of this year’s yield has increased within this short while since there are no cows to trample or destroy our harvest any longer. We are also selling chaff to the herders. This means more money for us, and we are happy about it,” he said.
Another farmer in the rural community of Agatu, Dele Agogo, told our correspondent that the farmers in the area were happy more than ever since the law came into effect as they were harvesting their crops and planting fresh ones without trespass from herders and their animals.

Agogo, however, said that in his locality, the farmers were yet to derive economic advantage in terms of selling produce and chaff, but that they were happy for the mere fact they could freely harvest their crops this season.
Similarly, the state Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr. Aondona Hembe Kuhe, said the law was the best thing to happen to farmers because previously at this time of the year, the herders usually attacked farmers who were harvesting their crops.

“But now, nobody is tampering with their produce. Also, the produce is moved to the market without hindrance, and I can say that production level this year will be quite higher. This means availability of more food for consumers and enhanced income for farmers,” Kuhe concluded.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in the state, James Anbua, has insisted that the law provided a win-win level ground of all concerned in the interest of peace, security and income generation.
He contended that despite the increasing price of meat, consumers were getting value for their money, while farmers’ income was enhanced through the feed which they provided to the cattle breeders who in turn hiked the prices of their animals.

Anbua maintained that, “The law is a win-win for everyone. Farms are already yielding results. We are estimating more harvest this year than in previous years when farmers could hardly harvest their crops due to conflicts occasioned by herders’ invasion.

“Herders too will increase their economic fortune. They will get healthier animals and sell for higher prices because their cows no longer wander about. They will get more nutrients from the feed-by products of crops reserved for them by farmers. So the animals will be more nourished to attract better income for their owners and consumers will have the best meat,” he said.

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