If there’s No Security, There’s No Agriculture


Food security begins with farm security.

If farmers like me feel safe enough to grow food, we will continue to venture into the rural areas where 99 percent of agricultural lands are located and grow the food required to supply the nutrition a growing population needs.

Unfortunately, violence has devastated agriculture here in Nigeria. Murders, kidnappings, and robberies have made it impossible for me to farm.

I was Nigeria’s second-largest producer of rice, which is a staple of our national diet. The demand for rice is increasing, while the supply has been hampered. I’m now letting much of my land lie fallow with no farming activity ongoing. That means not a single grain of rice will come from 48,000 hectares that should produce it in abundance.

I’m not sure when I’ll start farming that land again, or even if I’ll start again.

When we think in general terms about threats to agriculture and food insecurity, our minds tend to turn to the traditional problems of weather: droughts, flood, heat waves, cold snaps, windstorms, and so on. There is also the never-ending menace of pests, weeds, and disease. Farmers have learned to fight back with technology. We now have seeds that can survive difficult conditions, crop-protection products that keep plants healthy, and more. We’re always adapting.

Before any of this, however, is security. When we’re planting or harvesting a field, farmers can’t live and work in fear.

Gunmen have tried to shoot me. Kidnappers have tried to snatch me. Bandits have tried to steal from me.

Fear has become a fact of life in the farmlands of rural Nigeria.

I’m not alone. A recent report from the BBC described the dilemma: “In the past three years, a sharp rise in insecurity has led to gangs kidnapping hundreds of people for ransom in Nigeria, and staff of prosperous agricultural enterprises have been particularly targeted, forcing many farms to abandon or reduce operations.”

Nigeria’s farm insecurity has many sources, starting with an age-old dispute between herders and farmers. When the herders move south in search of grazing land each winter, which is our dry season, they move into territory that farmers regard as their own.

The clashes are inevitable and often tragic, but a bad situation has worsened as insurgents and kidnappers have discovered that kidnappings can be seen as a viable venture and profitable. The practice has spread amongst locals who now carry off farmers, hold them hostage, and seek ransoms from relatives.

Rather seeing the rich farmland as a source of revenue, they’ve come to see the people who work the rich farmland as a commodity to exploit. They’re preying upon our vulnerability in their pursuit of a perverse human harvest.

More police would help. Yet in the place where police are present, crime is still a major problem in Nigeria. In the rural agricultural regions, the police presence is mostly missing. These areas are essentially ungoverned.

I’ve tried to address the crisis with Resolute 4.0, a mobile-phone app that allows farmers to report security threats and help our country move away from conflict and toward conflict resolution. I’m convinced that the app has saved lives and holds the potential to save more, but the violence has grown too bloody and widespread. Farmers need additional solutions.

I’ve addressed the problem in another way as well: I’ve moved much of my operation into nearby West African countries, such as the Gambia and Senegal. I’m pleased to work in these places, which are calm compared with Nigeria. We deal with some petty theft and an occasional carjacking, but we also feel safe to farm.

Yet there is the matter of scale. The combined populations of Gambia and Senegal equal less than 10 percent of Nigeria’s population. We can produce a lot of rice for a lot of people—but surrendering huge parts of Nigeria’s best farmland to bandits comes with a high price. People in Nigeria and beyond are paying more for their food because of this lost opportunity.

Farmers in developing nations confront daunting challenges involving access to high-quality seeds and inputs, irrigation, tractors and implements, storage, transportation, and more. We also need to attract investors and young people into the profession.

Before we can make real progress, however, we must improve personal safety.

We’ll never achieve food security if we fail to provide farm security.

Rotimi Williams

Rotimi Williams

Former journalist. His farm is the 2nd largest commercial rice farm in Nigeria by land size; 45,000 hectares; grows rice for millers. He was challenged with instilling peaceful coexistence between his workers and a largely permanent Fulani community. This led to the creation of a tech startup designed to bridge the gap between volatile agricultural communities in rural Nigeria and security agencies.

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