Scientists, farmers proffer solutions to food crisis as flood ravages farms
As the world celebrates Food Day tomorrow (October 16), scientists, farmers and entrepreneurs have suggested practical ways of tackling food production challenges, rather than empty lamentations and cosmetic approaches on the part of the government.
They suggested, inter alia, solutions could be found in massive investments in new irrigation infrastructure, rehabilitation of the existing ones, agricultural insurance, climate change mitigation strategies and avoidance of farming activities in flood-prone areas as holistic ways of preventing farmland devastation and food shortages.
The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had disclosed on October 4 2018, that there could be scarcity of food, for the flood had affected some major rice producing states, and that the country might experience scarcity of rice and maize in particular if not addressed, confirming the concerns already expressed by Nigerians.
Food crisis factors in Nigeria
Crises of clashes between cattle herders and farmers in the country, especially in the North Central; the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and flooding in the South, apart from lip services to the all-important sector, are prominent among factors affecting food production in the country.At the peak of the farm devastation by the flood, Audu Ogbeh said the government would find a way to assist farmers who were affected by the flood, saying, farmers lost everything they planted in some states.
“There are different varieties of rice that are being produced at the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) like Faro 66 and 67, which are flood tolerant,” Ogbeh had said, concluding that, “Otherwise, we will be in serious trouble for rice, millet, sorghum and maize next year.” For this government to have admitted the propensity of food shortage unequivocally implies that, indeed, there is a reason to worry because without natural disasters, the country has repeatedly been unable to match its annual food production with consumption, leading to heavy import bills.
The sorry story from Ondo state
Ondo is one of the states affected by the challenge of flooding. The common enemies of farmers are pests and parasites, but now, there are other man-made factors like the herdsmen’s encroachment on farmlands, which often lead to confrontations between farmers and herdsmen. In recent times, the face-off is rampant in the North Senatorial District of the state and in Akure North and Akure South local government areas, where the farmers groan under huge agricultural losses.
A farmer, one Bosun Fayehun, who is a victim of farm destruction by cattle in Arodoye Community, Akure South local government area, lamented that Fulani herders encroached on his and other people’s farms and destroyed products. Fayehun recounted that farm produce like yam, cassava, cocoa, palm plantation, vegetables, maize and others were destroyed.
Another farmer in Eleyowo Community, Akure North local government, Mrs Benedicta Olasunkanmi, claimed that Fulani herdsmen had taken over some farms in the forest and had converted some areas to their permanent settlements.In some areas like Uso, Owo local government and Ogbese, Akure North local government, Indian hemp farmers have taken over most of the farmland, setting the plantations too on fire for their own selfish gains.
Mrs Adenike Adeolu, a farmer who accused the government officials shielding the Indian hemp farmers, attributed the degradation of the farm to the influx of miscreants from Edo and Kwale into the state forest.Vegetable and rice farmers at the bank of Ogbese River also described the recent flooding as the cause of the huge losses of agricultural investments.
Though there are few cases of herdsmen’s attacks against farmers in the South senatorial district of the state, the riverside communities in Ilaje and Ese-Odo still suffer some natural disasters due to flooding. A fish farmer in Igbokoda, Mr Wale Atijosan, said, “Flooding is posing a lot of threats to our agricultural activities. Often times, the flood overrun our ponds and sweep off all our fish investments. “Our soil is not good for most agricultural crops. There is scarcity of land and recurring oil spillage. All our efforts to improvise and manage the little we have are most of the times at the mercy of flooding, especially during rainy seasons,” he added.
‘Kano farmers lose 5,000ha of farmland worth N4 billion’
Chairman of the All Farmers Association (AFAN) in Kano, Faruq Mudi, has raised the alarm that about 5,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed by flood, which might lead to food scarcity and inability of the affected farmers to get back to farms.Affected villages are in Warawa, Wudi, Bunkure, Rano, Kabo, Rimin-Gado, Gezawa, Gabazawa, and Gwarzo, among other local government areas of the state.
Speaking with The Guardian on the development, Mudi explained that farmers had lost farm produce estimated at N4 billion at a time many of them were about to harvest their crops. “We had terrible losses during the flood because our members recorded major losses. If you ask for a nominal value, I will say farmers in Kano lost about N4 billion,” he claimed.
On the implication of the flood, he emphasised that there could be food scarcity, and hence high cost of food items. “Scarcity of farm products is inevitable because the expected harvests may not be visible. Again, food prices may increase because, as you can see, many farmers will not have what they expect and so the scanty products could become very expensive,” Mudi said.
Narrating ugly experiences, Abdulrasheed Labaran Hassan, a rice farmer at Zangougule town in Ajingi local government area of Kano, who lost two hectares of land to the flood, regretted the loss came a few days to harvest estimated 100 bags of rice. Abdulrasheed said he lost 200 bags of paddies worth N2 million in less than three weeks.The price of a bag of paddies (unprocessed rice grains) is between N10, 000 and N13,000. Hence, he lost nothing less than N2 million to the flood.
Kebbi state disaster
In Kebbi, a foremost rice-producing state, over 200 communities were submerged by the recent flood, which also destroyed many hectares of farmland.
Speaking to our correspondent, one of the affected victims of the flood in Dakingari, Suru Local Government, Mallam Husain Nma, said the government had abandoned them without any financial support, food items and other necessary provisions.
Confirming the incident to newsmen, the Executive Director of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Abbas Rabiu Kamba, said that the flood damaged several houses and farmland.
Abbas stated that the affected local government areas were Suru, Bagudo, Yauri, Shanga, Ngasky, Dandi and some parts of Arugungu local government area.
The village head of Kanya, Alhaji Isa Dan Hassan, claimed that livestock, farmland and foodstuffs were washed away by the flood, urging the government to assist.
Coscharis Farms in Anambra affected
Anambra State is also terribly affected. The worst hit areas include Anambra East and West, parts of Ayamelum, Ogbaru, Awka North, Onitsha North and Onitsha South Council Areas.Also, the Coscharis Farms and other heavily cultivated areas were submerged. Most of the victims said their losses were worth billions of naira, both in farm produce, property and equipment. One of the victims of the flood in Anambra West, one Friday Ekwuoba, claimed the flood had adversely affected his means of livelihood.
Beyond lamentations and short-term approaches, long-lasting solutions to farmland and food damage include the following, as stakeholders have suggested.
Irrigation facilities for dry season farming
Dr Francis Nwilene, Country Director and Regional Coordinator of Africa Rice Centre, Ibadan, while proffering solutions to farmland flooding and likely food shortage, said rain-fed agriculture could not sustain the food requirements of Nigeria if the objective is to be self-reliant in food production.Israel and Egypt have a very few number of rainfalls per annum, yet they are mostly food-secure using the instrumentality of irrigation.
The rice breeding scientist said reasonable scientists and agricultural experts had been calling on the government to develop irrigation facilities in all parts of the country, wondering why the country finds developing crucial and basic agricultural game-changing facilities difficult. Distribution of Faro 66 and 67 by the Federal Government, developed by his centre for flash flooding, he argued, is a cosmetic approach and a political statement. He said the varieties could not withstand heavy flooding as experienced now, but was developed for flash flooding.
“Flash flooding will come for about maximum of two weeks, and the plant will recover. But there is no plant that can recover when the flooding is there for months as we see now,” Nwilene said.“So, the way out for Nigeria is to develop irrigation facilities. Kano has a lot of irrigation facilities. Some other northern states too have irrigation facilities, and that is why they can produce some crops in the dry season.
“But in the south, all our agriculture is rain-fed. So, our agitation is that irrigation facilities should be emplaced in the south and the ones in the north expanded. The government should invest in agricultural infrastructure,” he demanded.Each state, as he suggested, should have at least one irrigation facility depending on the areas of comparative advantages. Areas that are producing food crops should have more irrigation facilities.
Isheyin in Oyo State, for instance, produces rice, and irrigation facilities should be emplaced there. Iwo in Osun State, for another example, produces rice. Massive irrigation facilities should be developed in that place. Patigi, Share and environs in Kwara State produce rice and sugarcane, and irrigation facilities should be developed for them. Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta states, among others, have potential for rice cultivation, but flooding becomes a challenge in the rainy season. Irrigation for dry season farming becomes the best way out, Nwinele suggested.He recalled that the former minister of agriculture, Akin Adesina, emphasised dry seasoned rice farming, saying, “Let the government identify the areas in some states and map them out for irrigation facilities for crop production.”
Dry season farming of rice and other crops have advantages, including avoidance of flooding, less pest and weed infestations, low post-harvest wastages and all-year production.
Agricultural insurance has also been advocated as one of the ways to cushion the effect of farm destruction. Insurance covers could mitigate risks, secure capital and protect the means of farmers.Although the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) assured the affected insured farmers and farmer groups in the various states that the corporation was mindful of its corporate responsibility to give them relief and plough them back to prosperity through the prompt payment of appropriate compensations, only a handful of farmers are insured in Nigeria.
The conventional insurance among the educated Nigerians has not been embraced partly because of issues of confidence, and the agricultural insurance becomes a more difficult challenge, for the majority of crop farmers are either stark or semi-illiterates.The corporation, in a statement signed by its Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mrs Folashade Joseph advised the affected farmers to promptly inform the nearest NAIC office in their state of their travails.
To boost insurance coverage in the food sector, the Head of Agricultural and Micro Insurance/National Coordinator of Leadway Assurance Company Ltd, Mr Ayo Fatona, advocated massive campaign and education of farmers to insure their farms.Involvement of insurers would, Fatona added, help identify likely risks to farming and other agricultural activities, prepare against such by taking some proactive steps and cushion the effects in cases of unfortunate eventualities. He argued that almost all forms of threats to agricultural activities are now covered by insurance, at least to bring back farmers to their feet in times of challenges.However, insurance coverage could not re-produce food loss or damage, though it could bring farmers back on their feet after a fall.