SPECIAL REPORT: 3000 hectares ruined, ‘food basket’ threatened; How floods ravaged Benue, raising concerns over impact of climate change
In Benue, a state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, persistent rains and heavy floods are ravaging farmlands, thereby affecting food production and forcing farmers to migrate. Ripples Nigeria’s Kelechukwu Iruomavisited Guma and Makurdi on the trail of destruction inflicted on the state largely known as Nigeria’s food basket.
Titus Agbaape, 61, sits under an orange tree with two of his wives as he watches his sick six-year-old daughter being pierced with a syringe by a quack. He has travelled about 65 km on foot from his village in Tomoye Izoru to Gbajimba, headquarters of Guma local government area in Benue, a state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region.
His attention was drawn when he heard Ripples Nigeria discussing with a farmer about the flood that ravaged farmlands in Benue. “My farmlands were destroyed by flood, especially rice,” he interrupted.
“I feel very much embarrassed because it is through that farm I train my children. I am married with four wives and 16 children. So I am much worried because I have no any other business doing than farming,” Agbaape added.
Three months ago, Benue state was a target of heavy rainfall that submerged farmlands in 21 out of the 23 local government areas of the state and displaced more than 110,000 people, according to a report credited to Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). The state governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom said the devastation caused by the flood raised the threat for an impending food scarcity in the country.
However, checks with SEMA showed from available statistics that about 50,312 persons were displaced and 1,703 houses destroyed.
Agriculture is the mainstay of Benue’s economy, engaging more than 70% of the state farming population. The state is acclaimed the food basket of the nation because of its high productivity in food, growing large quantities of rice, yams, groundnuts, sesame, cassava, shea nuts, soya beans and millet, amongst others.
Benue experiences two distinct seasons, the wet season and the dry season. The rainy season lasts from April to October with annual rainfall in the range of 100-200mm. The dry season begins in November and ends in March. Temperatures fluctuate between 21 – 37 degrees Celsius in the year.
‘If I fold my hands, my people will die’
“There will be hunger this year because of shortage and scarcity of food as a result of the rain,” Agbaape said. In previous days, we had no much rain. But this year, the rice had been planted early but when you go to the [farm] lands, the water had washed away the rice, leaving the farm empty,” he said on a bike while taking Ripples Nigeria to his ravaged rice farmlands in Tomoye Izoru from Gbajimba.
His five-hectare farmland was ravaged by flood. “If I had another business doing, I would have not cared very much. But as a result of my inability to find any other means of feeding my children, I find it difficult,” he said.
For Thomas Olah, a farmer in Guma, he hoped to harvest 40 bags of rice from his two hectares destroyed by flood, and each sold for N17, 000 if the flood had not washed away the crops.
“After the rice came up, the water washed the rice away. The water remained until the rice got rotten. The place is very plain. There is no single rice in the hectares.”
Olah said he has five children and all of them have been unable to go back to school since the incident occurred and further said, “I am doing a mechanic work because I cannot fold my hands. If I fold my hands, my people will die.”
Godwin Gbawuan, whose two hectares were destroyed said last year same thing happened. Not two but five hectares were affected due to the heavy rain. Gbawuan, who plants rice recounted how “stressful” it is to plant rice using manual labour without tractors.
“I am a civil servant but due to this salary problem, it is farm that I benefit from and the farm is being affected too. It is very difficult to cope with the situation of children in school, meeting their needs and others. Some are taking one square meal a day. I have 10 children with one wife,” Gbawuan, a farmer in Guma lamented.
Crops will not yield much this year
“The rain struck very early this year and this year, crops will not yield much result,” said Gbawuan.
In its 2017 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP), Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) said this year, the country is likely to experience a wetter start and a drier end of the season. NIMET predicted rainfall amount to be below normal in Benue state.
According to the report, “Food production is expected to be less than normal due to shorter growing season length over large parts of the country. This may be compensated by projected up to 10% additional rains over large parts of the savannas, Nigeria’s food basket for cereals.”
Flooding has become a major hazard to farmers in Nigeria due to climate change and it has become regular, threatening food production. In 2012, an unusual flood displaced 1.3 million Nigerians and 431 people died in what the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) referred to as the worst flooding in over 40 years, with 30 of the country’s 36 states affected, causing damage estimated by the government at N2.6 trillion.
In 2015, flood in Cross River, a state in Southern Nigeria displaced more than 1,220 families, and destroyed 4,501 farms in some coastline communities in the state.
The world population is growing at a faster rate. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimated that the world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050 and to feed that number of people, global food production will need to grow by 70%. For Africa, which is projected to be home to about 2 billion people by then, farm productivity must accelerate at a faster rate than the global average to avoid mass hunger.
Goal number one and two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to end poverty and hunger. There will be no peace without tackling food security and eliminate hunger, and there will be no food without tackling climate change, according to FAO.
If action is not taken by the Nigerian government, there could be “10 to 25 per cent decline in agricultural productivity by 2080”, according to a study by Centre for Global Development.
Officials divert relief materials for farmers
Farmers affected by the floods at Guma told Ripples Nigeria that some government officials are diverting relief materials given to them by the federal government. But the State Ministry of Agriculture and Benue state All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) president said every relief materials for farmers affected to start afresh was channelled through the State Emergency Maintenance Agency (SEMA).
A rice farmer in Guma, Emmanuel Ogbode, said when government brings materials to Guma, they do not benefit from it. “When something comes now, before you know it, it is already shared. Even those who did not plant one seed of rice will go and occupy everything.”
In 2014, when the flood occurred, AFAN said the association had a comprehensive record of the flood that took place at that time. “Those who forwarded their names here to us, we forwarded them to SEMA. SEMA deals with farmers directly. If there is any turn around, we do not know. We are very transparent in dealing with them,” Kuhe Aondona, AFAN president told Ripples Nigeria.
Aondona stated that rural farmers are not benefitting. Only town farmers. “We do not encourage that. We take it up pro actively so that those things that were diverted to be brought back. If SEMA wants to be transparent, they are supposed to involve us.”
Ogbode said when the flood happened, government sent forms to be given to affected farmers to fill, stating their damages, but before they knew, some people collected the forms, sent them back and collected materials meant for them. That is one of the challenges they are having, according to him.
“The real farmers are inside the bush. Some people will stay in Makurdi and claim to be farmers. When something is brought from Abuja, they will put the names of their friends and those that were affected will not get anything,” Ogbode whose one out of two hectares was destroyed lamented.
SEMA refuses to speak
When Ripples Nigeria visited the offices of the federal and state Ministry of Agriculture in Makurdi to find out what they are doing to tackle climate change and support farmers who were affected by the flood, they all directed Ripples Nigeria to SEMA, adding that every agricultural intervention that has to do with flooding was channelled through SEMA to execute.
However, when Ripples Nigeria visited SEMA’s office in Makurdi, it was told that the Executive Secretary, Boniface Ortese has been sacked for insubordination.
A very senior official for fear of being victimized refused to provide Ripples Nigeria with the information needed.
“This office is not a private office. We have to follow protocol. I cannot give you a piece of paper except with the approval because when it goes out or there is a publication that is injurious to the government, they will hold me responsible. I cannot give anything to you until the new Executive Secretary will resume. Even if he resumes, it will take him time to respond. I have told you, I am under government and I cannot go outside what government has told me not to do, he insisted”
He continued: “I cannot carry government information and give to you when there is no approval for it. You don’t just come here and tell me to give you information. And this office is directly under the governor’s office. I cannot go outside my jurisdiction because tomorrow it will be me that will go and be answering questions.”
According to AFAN President, SEMA handles relief materials for farmers. “They refused to talk because of their nefarious deals. It is very discouraging that relief materials do not get to farmers because these farmers are poor and the little they have were washed away. It is a sin before humanity and God for materials meant for farmers to be diverted,” he said.
Many farmers whose farmlands and houses were destroyed by the flood migrated to Makurdi, the state capital, to begin a new life. Farmlands which they laboured for and spent their living on cannot guarantee them a better life.
Some of the farmers who spoke to Ripples Nigeria said they hired the lands they use for farming. “I used the last money I had to hire that land to farm thinking I will receive good rewards. One hectare of land is being hired for N10,000 every year,” says Ogbode.
After every harvest, farmers are expected to pay for renewal or forget the lands. Ogbode said he has lost enough. “I am selling empty sack bags to manage and cater for my families,” he said.
‘It’s not easy leaving everything behind’
Edith Umande migrated to Makurdi in June and now sells snacks and soft drinks/sodas in front of Jackie Hotel in old GRA, with her sister. She said it is not easy leaving everything behind in Konshisha, a village in Buruku local government.
“I migrated because the floods were too much,” says Umande. “All our crops were damaged. We had to leave and start something else. About three to four hectares of our farmlands were destroyed. I felt very bad. Moving from there to another place; we had to start everything afresh- new friends, among other things.”
When Umande and her siblings migrated to Makurdi during the flood, they were taken to the Internally Displaced Camp (IDP) camp where they stayed till it was disbanded. “It was still raining when we left. My parents had to migrate us to town. They were there taking care of other things. But now they are now in Makurdi. Right now the farmers are really stranded”.
‘I sold my car and collected loan to farm. Now everything is gone’
Dominic Ijorigo squats with a friend and manages to feed himself. People assist him with food since he migrated from Gwer West to Makurdi after the flood submerged his 10 hectares of rice farmlands.
“I sold my car and collected loan to farm. I paid for the tractors to do the work. I can’t repay the loan. Now everything is gone,” lamented Ijirigo.
He said: “The flood forced me to leave my village to the town. Our place was flooded with water. Even the crop that was ready, water submerged it and they were all damaged. We were unable to stay. One hectare gives me 20 bags. With the damage caused and the house collapsed, nowhere to put head.”
“If government does not come to our aid, we will find it difficult to pay the loans we collected and then to cater for our family will be difficult. Government should give us some compensation for the destruction of our farms,” he urged.
Ijirigo also reported the destruction of 14 hectares of farmlands owned by one Terver Kakih. Being in the village, he supervises the farmlands for Kakih, but they were all submerged by flood. In a letter addressed to SEMA Executive Secretary and made available to Ripples Nigeria, Kakih gave a comprehensive report of the destruction of his farmlands by flood and sought government’s support.
Anthonia Ifeyinwa Achike, a professor of agricultural economics and former director of Africa Climate Change Adaptation Initiative at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in south-east Nigeria said climate change is here despite earlier denials.
“It has directly affected our farmers. Farmers are affected so much and it has been affecting their productions and productivity. The flooding in Nigeria is bad and it has continued to wash away and it will continue to wash away the farm holding, Achike added.
The state also appears to have been drained of its young, vibrant men, who abandoned it for better economic prospects in major cities in Nigeria, leaving behind mostly old and barely educated young persons.
The worry is that climate change will threaten food security in Nigeria as flooding can hinder access to local markets. A 2011 NEST study reported, malnutrition could become common among children and force rural farmers to move to cities.
Education plays a role in adaptation
Climate and agriculture experts need to use their experience and extensive academic knowledge to help farmers adapt to climate change, said Achike.
“Farmers should know the long term variability of changes in weather and take precaution, Farmers are meant to be linked to the meteorological institutions so that before they go out to farm, they will find out when the rain will stop,” Achike added.
Education plays a huge role in adaptation, she said, and further explained: “They [farmers] should know about temperature change and relative humidity. Tell them what they need in local language. Educating them is the first thing starting from what they know and what they do not know,” said Achike.
She said small plot adoption technology should be adopted where the extension agents in collaboration with the ministry of agriculture can help farmers analyse temperature using statistics. “There should be need for transdisciplinary approach to farming where the academia, farmers and the policy makers will have a meeting point like workshops or seminars.
“Farmers will have to be taught how to plant across the slopes,” she said. “They must also teach them how to capture flood water and use the water for something useful.”
“The extension agents should provide and make information easy for farmers. They are the link between the farmers and research institutions and the extension agents are supposed to be in those rural areas. A lot of sensitization on the part of the government is important in the radio or television. Every local government has agricultural officer. The main problem is their functionality,” she said.
Government has the solution
Aondona said the flooding issue has been appalling in Benue, especially this year. “Census has been taken of the affected farmers. About 2 million farmers and 3000 hectares of lands were affected,” said Aondona.
This has made farmers to go to IDP camps where governments were supplying them food materials in other to keep them going.
“We are crying to government to help us because government has the solution. As AFAN, we only blend some farmers on what to do to adapt in areas that are swampy. We just give them information but government has the solution and we have approached the government to intervene. If not, there is going to be food scarcity,” he said.
Has government failed?
While there are calls for early action to tackle climate change, Nigerian government is not ready to battle climate change. To fight climate change, Nigeria needs $140 billion, according to a World Bank Environmental Expert.
Nigerian government in its 2017 budget, allocated N8.1 billion to tackle climate change. The House of Representatives Committee on Climate Change lamented that the N8.1 billion budget proposal to fight climate change was inadequate, considering the damages caused by climate change.
In March this year, the Federal Government said it would issue a $20 billion bond to raise funds to tackle the negative effects of climate change because the budget allocated to fight climate change was inadequate.
Even funds disbursed to tackle climate related problems are embezzled by officials. For example, the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) reported that Ecological Fund meant to address ecological problems such as soil erosion, flood, drought, desertification, among others, are being embezzled by state governments.
Climate change may likely have a serious threat to meeting global food needs than other constraints on agricultural systems. A research finding worries that rising demand for food over the next century, due to population and real income growth, will lead to increasing global food scarcity, and a worsening of hunger and malnutrition problems particularly in developing countries.
But IFAD is working to help farmers increase productivity despite climate change
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) under its Value Chain Development Programme (VCDP) of promoting rice and cassava has been working with farmers in five local governments in Benue to compensate farmers whose farmlands were destroyed so that they can go back to farm and assist them with necessary information to help them improve productivity.
Last year, flood affected some farmers but IFAD in partnership with the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Company (NAIC) that documented the records of the farmers were properly paid to go back to farm. “NAIC paid 1.8 million to farmers whose hectares were washed away. This year, they are taking such statistics. By December, those farmers that were affected under our progamme will be compensated,” said IFAD Benue State Programme Coordinator, Emmanuel Igbaukum.
Since 1985, IFAD claims it has financed nine programmes and projects in Nigeria, including in Benue, with a total loan commitment of over $232.2 million. Nigeria currently attracts over 40 per cent of the financial resources that IFAD allocates to Western and Central Africa.
In Benue, IFAD has 800 farmers’ organizations that are registered under the programme and are working with 15,000 farmers under the rice and cassava programme.
“In the funding, we take 50 percent of the input support, the farmers’ bear 50 percent. Last year, we supported about 2, 189 hectares of rice and 1900 hectares of cassava in the field. This has generated enough income for our production, he said”
IFAD links the farmers to markets because it is the complete value chain. Before they go to production, they negotiate together. He said they have supported farmers and boosted production through the good agronomic practice that they have.
“That is one way we are contributing to ensure that farmers get support and get back to the farm. We have been building their capacity,” said Igbaukum
‘We share NIMET predictions with them’
Some farmers in rural areas like Guma do not know when weather is predicted due to lack of access to information to enable them take action to avoid a disaster. “We open some information for them,” said Igbaukum.
In April, Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) predicted that rain was going to stop much earlier. Igbaukum said they shared the prediction with their farmers through their various meetings. He said when the information is shared; they follow it up by supporting them with all the inputs needed.
He revealed that IFAD has designed 1000 hectares for irrigation in Benue state. “The study is ongoing. Once the study is concluded, most of these farmers that are in areas prone to flood will be controlled and be able to go back to farm with ease.
Ripples Nigeria spotted a road under construction in Tse-Adorogo in Guma. The contract sign board revealed that it’s being constructed by IFAD in partnership with the federal government to provide access for farmers to easily market their products. Lack of access to road to transport harvested products is a challenge to farmers in Guma.
“We are working with farmers in rural areas. They need access to markets. Feeder roads that are linked to production clusters are our own intervention to support farmers so that they can link their produce to the market. We don’t construct major roads. We only construct feeder roads and the road is linked to a rice production.,” said Igbaukum.
“Government should look into our problems and assist us,” said Agbaape. “Every year we now have flood. Life is very difficult now.” He said what farmers need is good roads to take harvested products to market.
“When we harvest our goods, we have no good roads to take them to the market. There is just no road. We want good road.”
By Kelechukwu Iruoma