As the insecurity occasioned by rural banditry bites harder, farmers in Katsina State are lamenting about the activities of bandits which prevent them from going to their farms to cultivate food items.
According to some residents in some local governments in the State, they have either abandoned their farms or resort to forceful payment of taxes to bandits.
According to the State government, some 5,884 farmlands were abandoned due to the attacks. From January to June 2021 alone, according to the government, 23,333 hectres of 2,924 farmlands have been abandoned.
In Danmusa local government area, farmers, mostly in Gurzar-Kuka, Mara, Dunya and other villages that are close to forests, are either paying taxes to bandits to access their farms or forced to work on the farms of the criminals.
In an interview with newsmen, the District Head of Batsari, Alhaji Tukur Mu’azu, confirmed that no fewer than eight village heads in Batsari have fled their domains and now taking refuge in Katsina city. He further confided that for three consecutive years, he has not cultivated his 2-hectre farm, saying he had to abandon it for the bandits.
It was learnt that in a number of villages in Batsari LGA where people still live, they are either forced to pay taxes, buy fertiliser, or work in the farms of the bandits before they are allowed to till their farmlands. And the practice has been on for years.
Checks showed that farmers in Batsarin-Alhaji, Nahuta, Kasai, Dangeza, Dantudu and many others had either paid in the past or still pay such illegal taxes to bandits to allow them to access their farms.
It was further gathered that every household in Batsarin-Alhaji had to pay N500 to the bandits from the last farming season. Thereafter, the bandits demanded that the villagers supply them with fertilizer. The villagers had to tax themselves to purchase the fertiliser.
The State government, in its reaction, confirmed that banditry has adversely affected agricultural activities in the State.
The Special Adviser on Agriculture to Katsina State Governor, Dr. Yakubu Abba Abdullahi, in an interview said since 2020, thousands of farmlands had been abandoned in 12 local government areas worse hit by insecurity.
He, however, assured farmers that both Federal and State governments are making efforts in tackling banditry maintaining that farmers have resumed farming in Kankara and Sabuwa, which hitherto recorded zero-level of activities.
Speaking on this development, an agricultural expert and specialist in entrepreneurship in agricultural products, Dr. Sani Yakubu Gombe, said the taxes collected by the bandits have a lot of implications in economic and social aspects. He, therefore, stressed that government should not treat insecurity with kid gloves to avert further consequences of security challenges.
Despite the confirmation and assertions by the rural farmers, however, when contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, SP Gambo Isah, faulted the reports.