Farming should be safe, but in Nigeria it can be deadly.
Thousands of Nigerian farmers are murdered each year, according to human-right groups such as Amnesty International-and all we want to do is protect our land so that we can grow the crops our families need and our country requires.
As a rice farmer in Nigeria, I’ve seen this problem up close-and I’m trying to solve it with technology.
That won’t be easy: At the heart of the problem is a vexing conflict over resources, as nomads from the north increasingly move south into Nigeria’s fertile Middle Belt, creating tension between the farmers who grow grain, fruit and vegetables there with the herdsman in search of grazing land for their cattle.
The Middle Belt is home to some of the richest farmland in Africa, but we fail to realize its full potential for dozens of reasons, including an inadequate infrastructure, a lack of investment, and systems of production that have yet to enter the 21st century.
Worst of all, however, is the violence that comes when an irresistible force meets an immovable object.
The irresistible force is made up of Fulani herders. Each winter, during the dry season, they leave the Sahel region of Africa in search of new grazing pastures. They bring their cattle into Nigeria’s agricultural zones. That’s where they meet the immovable object of Nigerian farmers.
Clashes are inevitable.
Many people outside of Nigeria interpret the broader conflict as primarily religious. The Fulani are Muslim and most of the farmers in this part of Nigeria are Christian. While it’s true that the fighting can take on religious dimensions-we’ve witnessed radical Islamic groups such as Boko Haram terrorizing Christians-it really comes down to a quarrel over access to the limited resource of land.
Climate change has made the tensions even worse. Because the grasslands of the Sahel are turning more arid, the Fulani are driving their cattle further south and staying longer than they once did.
And the deepest cause of all may be poverty, which people in the developed world often fail to understand. They wonder why anybody would battle to the death over access to fish ponds, which is a routine occurrence in the struggles between farmers and herders. The truth is that the rich don’t want to die-but the poor have nothing to live for, and they’re more willing to risk or even lose their lives.
Whatever the sources of the mayhem, Nigerians must find creative ways to stop it. We can’t achieve genuine food security unless we reduce the violence.
That’s why I worked with a partner to create and launched last year, Resolute 4.0, a think tank and now, a mobile-phone app that aims to keep farmers safe. Resolute 4.0 means conflict resolution using tools associated with the digital revolution, often described as the fourth revolution of the industrial era, following the revolutions of steam, electricity, and electronics. The focus of Resolute 4.0 is to collect data and use that information to conjure up possible data-based solutions to specific issues.
Today, the app’s main feature is a panic button. When farmers feel threatened, they push it. This alerts the local police and military, who can jump into action. It urges hospitals to prepare for casualties.
The app also creates an archived record of incidents, which will help the security forces gain a better understanding of the dynamics of the conflict. This will support making better data-based decisions like where to locate checkpoints, where are the main ‘conflict corridors’, to the number of men to deploy.
In time, the app will morph into a rural farmer economic development tool. With data on everything from maps of farms to grazing routes, we’ll build a body of information that will help us shift from a period of conflict to a period of conflict resolution. For instance, making it easier for farmers to secure insurance policies. They’re a standard feature of agriculture in the developing world, but rare in Nigeria-and to become better farmers, we need a robust market for insurance.
As we’ve released Resolute 4.0, we’ve hardly wiped out the violence-but I’m convinced that we’ve saved lives.
The next step is to put the app into as many hands as possible.
Farming everywhere involves risks, from the uncertainties of the weather to the menace of weeds and pests. But you shouldn’t have to risk your life to grow crops. With the smart application of new technologies, we may make farming a little bit safer and food security a realistic goal.