The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has warned repeated attacks on farmers could aggravate food insecurity in the northeast of Nigeria.

It comes after the killing of at least 12 farmers in the Borno village of Kalle over the weekend, which left the council “horrified”.

“The level of violence registered lately in Northeast Nigeria is alarming. Farmers have been easy targets. These attacks risk making people too afraid to cultivate their land and may worsen the existing food crisis”, said Anja Riiser, NRC’s area manager in Maiduguri.

“Farmers should be able to cultivate their land and return to their families alive,” she added.

The latest attack against farmers underscore the vulnerability of rural communities, even as the authorities are encouraging displaced people to return home to rebuild their lives.

One of the farmers, named as Haruna, who escaped the attack, recalled how 15 armed men surrounded them on their farm.

“They took the men to a tree and started slaughtering them like animals. They repeatedly said they will not allow any of us harvest the crops we cultivated this year,” he added in his retelling to NRC.

Some 1,300 people are reportedly to have fled after the attack, many taking refuge at a camp for displaced people in Maiduguri.

Families and friends of the slain farmers said they are too scared to return to their farms.

“My children and I stood by as they killed my husband,” a woman Indagiju told NRC.

“I cried and pleaded for their mercy but they didn’t listen. I will never return to the farm again.”

An estimated that 2.9 million people are facing acute food insecurity in the north-eastern states of Adamawa, Yobe, and Borno where violence has been on the rise.

Crops have been destroyed and food stores looted, while farmers have either been killed or forced to flee their fields.

Large parts of Borno state may experience emergency levels of food insecurity in the coming months, according to the latest forecast by Famine Early Warning Systems Network, with elevated risk of famine in several areas.

“There is an urgent need for measures to protect farmers against attacks and looting, so they can safely cultivate their lands and feed their families,” said Riiser.

“However, these measures to protect farmers should not translate into a restriction of their movements.”