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Lafarge’s effluence: Furore over impact on farmlands – Part 1

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
28 February 2021   |   3:36 am
Farmers in over 36 communities in Ewekoro Local Council Area of Ogun State have cried out over the recurring impact of air pollution caused by activities of the cement company, Lafarge Africa, on their plantations.

• The Firm Has Lifted Farmers In Host Communities—Akinlade
• Their CSR Has Covered-up For Our Challenges—Onigbinde
• Majority Of Our farmers Have Abandoned Farming—Sobakin
• The Problem Has Been On For Years—Olusesan

Farmers in over 36 communities in Ewekoro Local Council Area of Ogun State have cried out over the recurring impact of air pollution caused by activities of the cement company, Lafarge Africa, on their plantations.

The communities include Akinbo, Ewekoro, Itori, Sepeti, Abule Otun, Baase, Okuboye, Onikoko, Oluke, Alabe, Onigbedu, Kajola, Agbon, Abese, Ejio, Elebute, Alagutan, Yobo Asa, Papalanto, Isofin, Lapeleke, Olujobi, Adunbu, Gudugba, Abule-Oko, Ayepe, Ajegunle, Abalabi, Oke-Oko and Agbesi among others.

Some residents of these agrarian communities, which specialise in cultivation of rice, maize, cassava, sugarcane and vegetables, have abandoned their farms after incurring huge losses, as their harvests are persistently pummeled by the effect of the cement dusts.

The main ingredient of cement is limestone and when heated in a kiln, dust and some metal pollutants such as mercury, cadmium, iron and potassium are released into the atmosphere. Investigations showed that the dust escaping from the factory is often transported by wind and deposited in areas close and far away from the factory.

These include agricultural lands, natural vegetation, towns and villages. Such depositions of particulate matter and other pollutants interfere with normal metabolic activities of plants, causing direct injury and impairment of growth and quality, which ultimately lead to decrease in plant.

Currently, virtually all-farming activities in Ewekoro community, which is the host community and neighbouring communities like Akinbo, Iyana-Egbado and Adunbu have been put to a stop and the farmers have forsaken their farms for another trade.

The view of the host community’s landscape and the bush paths from the express road towards Itori shows picture of green leaves turned yellowish, due to the incessant dust stains from the factory.

Aside the portions already used for shops and residential houses, all other available land, which hitherto were used for farming are lying fallow and deserted.

The Guardian learnt that the challenge has been frequent since the company started operations as West African Portland Cement Company (WAPCO) in Ewekoro after it was commissioned in 1960 till this moment.

The Baale of Lapeleke, Chief Gabriel Taiwo Olusesan, revealed that before the arrival of the company to the area, cocoa and kolanut were the major crops cultivated by his people, noting that those crops have gone for good. “The problem has been on since the company was still WAPCO and it continued over the years, a lot of things have happened and we have made several complaints but the fact is that Lafarge is doing its best.

“The dust is affecting our farmers, debarring them from farming. Whenever they plant, they cannot get 100 per cent of their harvests. It’s obvious the effect of the dust is everywhere, but we have been having a good relationship with Lafarge.”

Investigations showed that the negative effect of the exploitation on the communities has gravely impacted crop production.

According to experts, the cement dusts is responsible for causing the epidermal cells and stomata of the polluted leaves to become modified. The higher stomata frequency and index in the leaves of the polluted plants indicate morphological modification on the leaves.

Cement dust deposits on plants interfere with the biosynthesis of chlorophyll and damage leaf cells, resulting in a reduction in photosynthesis. Oxides of cement dust may react with water droplets, forming acid rain, which damages the soil vegetation and land.

It was further learnt that the dusts might affect photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration and allow the penetration of phytotoxic gaseous pollutants. Visible injury symptoms may occur and generally there is decreased productivity.

It is an understatement that the development which has led to shortage of food, especially cassava, maize and vegetables in the area, has been escalated by population increase due to high demand for certain food items, as a result of abandonment of farming by inhabitants.

The Otun Baale of Adunbu town, Chief Sobakin John Yaya, a practicing farmer for over 15 years with specialisation in cassava, plantain, maize, vegetable cultivation, said the negative impact of the dusts on crops, has forced majority of the farmers to seek alternative sources of income, while others have relocated to other communities.

He said: “When I left the employ of the company in 2005, I went into farming, together with one late Engr. Fagbenro, who resided at Iyana-Egbado. The major setback to us was the air pollution from Lafarge factory, as the dusts affected our crops. It was a serious setback to all farmers in this area, despite several steps to control the pollution. At a time, we engaged a lawyer to seek an end to the issue but at the end of the day, the case was inconclusive.

“Now, scores of our people that are farmers have left the trade and only few of us are left. It is sad to note that some are now commercial motorcyclists, while some who came here purposely because of farming, have retuned to their communities. Since they noticed that farming is no longer lucrative here, they have relocated, only few of us are still struggling to cultivate despite the threat posed by the pollution.”

He appealed to the federal and the state governments to come to the aid of the farmers, noting that the company has been denying the communities their rights. “The affected communities need government’s intervention, we need to be compensated for the losses we have incurred over the years. Instead of being a producer of foods we consume, we now rely on getting crops and foodstuffs from other communities.”

Another farmer, Mr. Salmon Ibrahim, a resident of Lapeleke, attributed the stunted growth of the crops to the effect of the dusts. He said the rivers have also been polluted to the extent that the polluted water also affects the crops from blossoming.

“Communities like Lapeleke and Oke-Oko seem to be the hard hit with this development. The stream water that ought to serve our farms is already polluted and useless for farming.

“Our people are predominantly cassava farmers and I must tell you that the fraction of harvest from this side has reduced drastically. Aside its negative effect on crops, the dusts are also affecting the inhabitants here seriously; it destroys the roofing sheets easily, not to talk of crops.

“The major challenge we are facing is that only few people here know their rights. I can tell you that we are inhaling the dusts through the Air conditioning but since our people don’t know the right channel to direct their grievances, there is nothing they can do. For instance, let’s look at the Igede and the Egun who migrated here for the purpose of farming; what power do they have to register their grievance, despite the huge losses they incurred over the years?”

He said the elders of the communities have been trying their best to engage the company to find a lasting solution to the issue. “I learnt last year that there were plans by the company to channel their tunnel beneath the ground. The elders are doing their best, likewise the youths, we are doing our best to ensure that this issue is nip in the bud.”

The Baale of Elebute, Chief Waheed Onigbinde, who confirmed the effect of the emission on the community, said the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of the company has covered-up for whatever challenges the residents are facing.

“The dust issue is true, but Lafarge is doing its best for the community, we are okay with it. In their CSR, aside their yearly empowerment programme, projects and bursaries to our children, farmers who are indigenes are being compensated yearly with farm implements and seedlings, to complement whatever losses they have incurred in their harvests. Indirectly, the non-indigenes farmers also benefit.

“The dust is not totally from the factory, dusts are also generated from the dusty roads and other smaller companies around. It shouldn’t be generalised that Lafarge is generating dust.

The Balogun of the community, Chief Olaiwola Ogunrinde, said since most of the farmers in the community cultivate sugarcane, the pollution doesn’t disturb the plant.

“The dust emission doesn’t stop our people from tilling their lands, it only affected vegetable farmers and that was the reason why our people now focus more on cultivation of sugarcane.

“The company has been very helpful to us with their CSR. They actually built an health centre for us, community hall, provided us with potable water, built a primary school for us and also a concrete road and a lot more.”

The Baale of Oke-Oko/Egbado Community, one of the communities relocated by the company, Chief Oludele Akinlade, who doubles as Chairman, Community Representatives Council, said the company has positively impacted farmers in the 12 host communities. “Yearly, Lafarge gives incentives to all farmers, bursaries to our children, support to the elderly and we enjoy the yearly projects.

“Every year, there are always projects for each of the host communities. We have a town hall built by the company; borehole was also provided for us, which has been linked to all the houses within the estate. For those uneducated, there is skill acquisition and empowerment programme organised for the 12 host communities yearly. Some of our children were given Tricycle and motorcycles, as their sources of livelihood.

“It is not that the factory is not generating dusts, but it is occasional. There are three plants run by the company but it is only one that is currently working, which is not releasing any dust. The other two are currently under repair to ensure they are capable of controlling the emission of dusts.”

Akinlade said in terms of support and assistance, aside Lafarge; the communities have enjoyed little or nothing from both the council and the state government. He however, said though the company might not be able to cater for other communities in the council area, but they indirectly benefit from the 12 host communities of the company.

The Olu of Lapeleke, Oba Odekunle Adebari, a former staff of Lafarge, who also confirmed the yearly gesture of the company, said the company has embarked on the construction of dusts control equipment and overhauling to stop the air pollution.

“If the equipment performs, it will control the pollution, which will definitely impact the communities positively. The emission equipment was stopped last year for repair, at the end of the project, it will reduce the impact of the dusts on the communities and the environment.”

The Guardian learnt from one the staff that the company is spending over N200m on the dust control equipment. He said Bag filter is being installed to replace Electrostatic Precipitator, previously used by the company. “With the bag filter, the bag will be sieving the dusts and will return it into the system instead of releasing it out like the old system.”