Impending famine: Farmers grieve over floods, banditry; appeal to FG




…We lost N5m, N6m to the floods – Onojame , Akpara

…One year of extreme hard work gone – Chukwuemeka

‘…FG should give us loans to employ labourers’

…Provide farmers with improved seedlings – Expert

Farmers across Nigeria were already having a hard time from the activities of bandits and like the bolt out of the blue, floods came and swept away farmlands to exacerbate an already precarious situation. BENJAMIN UMUTEME in this report seeks the views of farmers and experts. 

As the water levels continued to rise, Odomero Onojame had concluded that he would go to his 20-hectare cassava farm to see what he could salvage from it. Little did he know that fate was about to play a fast one on him. 

According to Onojame, an indigene of Ofagbe town, in Isoko  South local government area of Delta state, he woke up to discover that he has been held captive by flood in his own house. And with the water levels on the rise, he daily watched helplessly as his produce was totally destroyed.

Narrating his story to Blueprint Weekend, Odomero said, “A lot has happened, as the flood came almost unannounced. I was told that my 20-hectare farm was about to be overtaken by floods. The day I was supposed to go to the village to see what I could get out of the farm before it was finally overtaken by floods, I woke up to discover that my house had been surrounded by water. I was able to get a bag of garri from the cassava farm.

“When I value the cassava farm, I would say conservatively that I lost close to N5 million. Some poultry owners lost all their birds. Even me, I lost about 100 birds, which is about N700, 000 within two days.

“It has been really difficult. In the first four days, I was trapped in the house because the water current was enormous. Everybody in my village was affected, as you know Ofagbe is a farming community. Out of ten people, 8 were affected by the flood.”

The experience was not different from Augustine Akpara’s who told this reporter that it had been a very difficult time as he could not get anything from his 25-hectare cassava farm which was completely overtaken by floods. 

“The flood is really destructive; many people’s farmlands were destroyed and so to even get to the farmland was a big challenge. We used speedboats to get to the villages and the fare is exorbitant. And in some cases, one tipper was able to get to some villages, and each trip, we paid as much as N1, 000. It has not been easy.

“The 25-hectare of land on which I planted cassava was destroyed. I tried to salvage what I could, but it was a fruitless effort. If I want to value the amount, it will be above N5 million.

The experience for Mrs. Appolonia Ikechukwu could be better imagined than experienced. Mrs. Ikechukwu, who is a native of Oloa-Ossissa in Ndokwa East local government area of Delta state, told this newspaper that she lost everything to the flood. She disclosed that she had taken a loan of N200, 000 from a cooperative group for her farm-20 hectares cassava farm and a two-hectare pepper farm.

“Now I have to look for ways to pay back the money. I have been having sleepless nights because the time for repayment is overdue and the Cooperative is on my neck to pay back the loan. As I speak with you, they are on their way to my house; they say they want to close their financial statement for the year.

She is not the only one that had her farm wiped out by the flood, which may say is one of the worst in the history of Nigeria. Oloa-Ossissa is a predominantly farming community.

Austine Chukwuemeka is another farmer in the town. He said he lost 10 hectares of cassava farm to the floods. He told this reporter that one year’s hard work has gone down the drain.

“Where do I start from now? All the sacrifice and the hard work for the past 15 months are gone. I had hoped that when I harvested my crops by last month (November), I would be able to pay back the loan that I collected to do part of the farm,”he said.    

NiMet’s warnings

In its usual annual report, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) had warned in September that high amounts of rainfall might trigger flooding in some states. According to the agency, this was due to heavy rainfalls experienced in July and August 2022. 

It added that Kebbi and Jigawa in the North-west; Borno Bauchi and Taraba in the North-east; Plateau in the North-central and Bayelsa in the South-south were at high risk of being overwhelmed by floods. Other states expected to experience high flooding were Kano, Adamawa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Abia, Imo, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Oyo and Ekiti.

“The saturated state of the soil moisture across the country in July and heavy rainfall recorded in August may make most places experience varying degrees of flooding, ranging from high, medium, low and flash floods in September.

“Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, Jigawa, Bauchi, Kano, Borno, Gombe and Nasarawa states recorded over 300mm, which represents over 40 per cent of long-term, normal rainfall for those places in one month. Places around the southwestern part of the country, however, recorded less than 200mm as a result of the long dry spell associated with ‘August Break’ in those areas.

“It further stated that places with major river channels may experience probable high risk of flood events due to accumulation of water already on the river channels which may not be able to contain any additional water,” NiMet had indicated in its report.

The meteorological agency, therefore, advised the aforementioned states to intensify adaptative, mitigative and response measures, especially in high-risk areas. And in October, NiMet once more warned states to prepare for more flooding. 

NiMet’s director-general, Prof. Mansur Bako Matazu, said information from the NIHSA revealed that Nigerians would see more flooding. 

“The rain is now concentrating more on the North-central and the southern states. So that will be a combination of short-duration, high-intensity rain, with riverine flooding.

“So, we’re going to see more of these floods in the North-central states as we are seeing in Kogi and South Eastern and South-western states.

“And from the information getting from NIHSA we’re going to see more floods. And now the rain is concentrating on the North-central and the southern states. So, we’re going to see more of these floods in the North-central states as we are seeing in Kogi and also southeastern and southwestern states as we are beginning to see in many parts of the South-west.

The devastation from the flood was enormous with about 31 states affected and hundreds of thousands of farmlands destroyed in the process. Added to this is the displacement of over three million people from their homes and 600 lives lost.

Banditry

The floods only came to add to the plight of the farming communities in the northern part of the country, who had been constantly under siege from hoodlums who continue to operate with impunity. 

This reporter gathered that many farmers in the North-west, North-east, and North-central have had to abandon their farms for fear of bandits. And in some extreme cases, they pay taxes to the bandits in exchange for access to their farmlands. 

As Nigerians were beginning to heave a sigh of relief that the prices of food would crash with the massive investment in agriculture, especially with the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), bandits’ activities came to reverse the gains. 

The implication is that prices of foods have continued to soar. Of all the states in the North, Katsina and Kaduna seem to be the worst hit by the activities of bandits who continue to make lives unbearable for the residents. 

According to a farmer in Niger state, he had to relocate to Minna, the state capital, after a series of bandits attacked his farming community. 

The farmer, Garba Kuta, said: “I am from Erena but my wife and two children have been killed by bandits who invaded our village last year.

“It is also unfortunate that my barn with foodstuffs and seedlings have been ransacked and set ablaze after the brutal killing of my wife and children and many others in the community.

“Even if I want to go back to my village, there is no place to go and nothing to fall back on to start a new life. That is why I am forced to stay back around Minna to farm on the little land space allocated to me by friends.”

Even Baba Audu, had to abandon his farming community in Shiroro local government area due to worsening security situation. 

“I have large farms with different crops like yam, Maize, millet and others. I had a bumper harvest last year but the invasion of the community by bandits caused us to lose everything including foodstuffs, domestic animals, houses, barnes and valuables,” Audu said.

Famine

At least 25.3 million people will face food insecurity across Nigeria between June and August 2023, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. It, in a statement, warned that if actions were not taken to avert the crisis, 4.4 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states would be affected.

The UN food agency in its October 2022 food and nutrition analysis disclosed that no fewer than 17 million people in the country were already facing a food crisis. These included IDPs and returnees in 26 states including the Federal Capital Territory. The report added that “three million of these are living in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.”

The recent gains recorded in the Nigerian rice processing industry are currently threatened by continuous flooding across the country. The floods have submerged over $15 million worth of Olam’s rice farm, posing huge losses to this year’s rice harvest.

Soaring prices of foodstuff

Consequently, the price of a 50kg bag of domestic rice has surged to over N37, 000 in major markets in Lagos state. Similarly, a 50kg bag of foreign rice is already selling for an average of N40, 000 as a result of the supply constraint amidst rising demand, especially considering Yuletide season which is around the corner.

As it stands now, Nigeria is at risk of experiencing a food crisis, taking into consideration the importance of rice in Nigeria’s food value chain, and the continuous ban on the importation of foreign rice through land borders. Nigerians are now panic-buying bags of rice in a bid to hedge against the possibility of price increases as the yuletide fast approaches.

According to the CEO of RiceAfrika Technologies, Ibrahim Maigari Ahmadu, the price of rice could hit N50, 000 with the festivities just a couple of weeks away.

Support to farmers

In a bid to assist the victims, the government of Norway has renewed its funding cooperation with the FAO. The funds are aimed at helping the most vulnerable populations in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe and Taraba states.

The three-year intervention will benefit 43, 990 households (about 307, 930 individuals), with at least 45 per cent of them being women, who will receive agricultural inputs, livestock assets, energy-saving stoves and other products.

The ambassador of Norway to Nigeria, Knut Eiliv Lein, said his country remains committed to supporting the efforts to restore the conflict-affected livelihoods in northeast Nigeria.

“This project we are signing here today is part of Norway’s larger support to Nigeria in general including humanitarian efforts specifically targeting those in need in the northeast region,” Mr. Lein said.

Lamentations/appeals

Onojame laments that in spite of their losses, the government has yet to get across to them in terms of support. 

“The support from the government has been nothing to write home about, it has been individuals that have been supporting flood victims. We didn’t feel the government’s impact as it concerns this flood. They were supposed to support us but they never did.

“During the flood, people were rushing to salvage something from their farms. Some people got bags of rice, some got other things. As a farmer, I could not save one stem of cassava and now, cassava is very scarce. So, how do I continue with my farming if I don’t get a cassava stem? I feel that anybody that wants to suppose, should look in that direction so the people can continue with their farming. If the government wants to render any help, which is one thing that they can really look into by providing cassava stems to these farmers so they can continue with their farming.

In the same vein, Akpara told this reporter that he is yet to get any assistance from the government.

“My neighbour lost all his birds and 10 hectares of cassava farm. It is with God’s help that we are able to feed. People from our church have been supporting us with food items. No government official has visited us to know our fate. I heard some people have received support from the government but I am yet to see anybody,” he said. 

 Mrs. Ikechukwu appealed to the government to provide farmers in the community with cassava stems as many of them could not get anything from their farms that were overrun by the flood.

“The government should help us by providing agric cassava stem so we can plant. As it is now, many farmers in the town don’t have cassava stems to plant. Also, the government can support us by giving the sum of N100, 000 to every farmer as a loan to enable us employ labour that will help us till our land. As it is now, many of us don’t have money as we could not harvest our produce before it was destroyed by the flood,” she said.

“The government should come to our aid; if they provide ‘agric’ cassava stems for us we can in six months harvest, sell and replant again. They should also give us loans that won’t be tedious for us to repay,” Chukwuemeka said.

Speaking with Blueprint, an agric expert, Dr. Amos Obi, said rather than give foodstuff, the government should give improved seedlings to farmers as it would help to wipe out the effects of the floods.

 “What the government needs to do now, post-flooding, is to give farmers cassava stems as inputs including banana, plantain suckers – these are the things the government needs to do now.  Improved seedlings of pumpkins, tomatoes, tomatoes and pumpkins can mature within two months. That is what the government needs to do urgently rather than give food items; this is what they need to do now.” 

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