Special report… Beyond conflicts, Benue losing food basket status amid climate change challenges and subsistence farming
In Benue, a state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, as the governor battles conflicts thrown up by clashes between farmers and herdsmen, he is equally building million-dollar farms, while local farmers are no longer able to farm due to challenges posed by climate change. Kelechukwu Iruoma looks at the danger of a potential food shortage in the country due to the government’s negligence to assist farmers.
The moment Godwin Gbawuan’s two hectares of rice farmlands were washed away by heavy rainfall in Benue, a state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt as a result of climate change in August last year, he knew there was going to be shortage of food in months to come.
Just like Gbawuan’s farmlands, over 3000 other farmlands were also submerged, affecting about two million farmers in the state. Benue has been affected by flood in recent years and that has been a threat to food production.
Many farmers affected by the flood, and who are wishing to return to the farms, are yet to be compensated by the government. Gbawaun, who was seen checking the saline drip his sick 17-year-old daughter, Blessing Gbawuan was on, said climate change is not what farmers can fight alone. He said that the government is not intensifying effort to ensure that they help them in adapting to climate change.
The major climate change issues ravaging Benue farms are flooding and early cessation of rainfall. Nothing is being done to address flooding and no help is being rendered to farmers to ensure that they participate in dry season farming.
The August flood 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.
In its 2017 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction, Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) said the country is likely to experience a wetter start and a drier end of the season. NIMET predicted rainfall amount to be more than normal in Benue state.
According to the report, “The expected below normal rainfall will pose challenge to enhanced food production, and the Federal Government policy on food security and agriculture as a business towards foreign exchange earnings. The predicted shorter length of the growing season this year will also pose a challenge for farmers who desire to cultivate crops such as maize and other cereals twice during the season unless they choose the appropriate variety and undertake water-catchment measures.
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 Middle Belt Small Scale Farmers Network (MIBSSFANET), said that the implication is that the country will witnesses food shortage as a result of the flood that ravaged substantial parts of Benue state which produces large quantity of the major food crops consumed in the country. The flood according to the Network affected over 80 percent of Benue farmers.
“The government is not quite helping farmers to fight climate change. Financing local farmers in such a way they will produce more is not obtainable,” says Gbawuan.
When Ripples Nigeria visited the popular Modern Market in Makurdi, a yam trader, Ann Songo, revealed that the prices of goods have skyrocketed as a result of the flood that washed away farmlands, adding that farmers have increased the prices of yam and there was limited quantity to sell.
“Climate change affects farmers. When flood washes away farmlands with yams, the produce will not come to the market again. We will have shortage and the demand from consumers now is food. There has been much increase in the price of yam because it is not easy for farmers too” Songo said.
Early cessation of rain damages crops in Benue
Despite the fact that flood ravaged farmlands in many parts of Benue, crops were also affected by the early cessation of rain. In NIMET’s 2017 report, the agency stated that rain was going to stop much earlier due to the change in weather condition. Farmers who did not hear the information said their crops got damaged.
“We start harvesting around May but sometimes it stayed till November. People that planted their crops early, the early stoppage of the rain did not affect their farms. People who started late did not get it well. Those who planted in June harvested well but those who did in August did not plant well.”
Titus Agbaape, a farmer in Guma said his soya beans and guinea corn got spoilt due to lack of water. “I didn’t know that the rain will stop so early despite the flood. The early stoppage of the rain has affected my soya bean. The flood also damaged my rice”. He said as a result, many other crops will not yield much.
Dry season farming is a challenge to farmers in Benue, and if action is not taken by the Nigerian government to fight climate change. Center for Global Development in a recent study titled “World Agriculture Faces Serious Decline From Global Warming” said there could be “10 to 25 per cent decline in agricultural productivity by 2080.”
Million-dollar Oracle Farms
A visit to the Oracle Farms in Guma Local government owned by Governor Samuel Ortom showed that the extensive farm has virtually no sign of a negative effect of climate change challenges, as it has adopted the use of modern machinery, and methods to wade off the impacts.
The over 200 thousand hectares of rice farmlands are being cultivated with modern equipment to ensure that cultivating and harvesting is very easy. There are also good roads constructed that link to his farm. The farms do not have problem in taking harvested goods to the market.
The Oracle farms, though started years before the inception of the current administration of the state, local farmers believe the state government can also make their farms like that of Oracle farms, so that they can advance to what President Benue state All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Kuhe Aondona described as “commercial farming” which will increase food productivity in the state. Some farmers believe that the governor may be funding his farms with state funds.
The Commissioner for Agriculture James Anbua in an exclusive interview with Ripples Nigeria denied that the state government is funding the Oracle Farms, stating that the governor started the farms before he became the governor of the state.
“Oracle farm was established more than 15 years ago. It is not government owned. But it is owned by the governor. In 2002, I was with his Excellency (Governor Ortom). Then he wasn’t the governor, I was a farmer and my farm was at Nasarawa, I had 300 hectares of rice farm there, then he wasn’t a farmer. One day along the line we went to Abuja we were coming back and I decided to drop at Lafia junction, I picked a taxi to go to my farm, then he decided to follow me to see what I am doing. On arrival he was amazed at what my farm looked like.
He was surprised. It was there and then that the man (Ortom) took the inspiration of starting a farm. Nobody ever thought of him being the governor then.”
He said Ortom started buying those lands from his relatives and hiring bulldozers to come and clear the areas for him. “The farm management is an organisation on its own that has employed close to 300 persons working in the farms. So for people to begin to say that the farm is a government owned farm, I do not think they are being fair. The company has its own machineries. You cannot take machineries that belong to the company and give them (local farmers)”.
‘If equipment is provided, local farmers will produce up to commercial level’
Despite the huge impact of climate change on agricultural produce, Benue farmers said the provision of equipment will help them increase food production if Benue is still to be regarded as the food basket of the nation.
Aodona said, “We have not got to the level of commercial farming yet. We are still producing at a little step. Provision of modern equipment will ginger us to produce more. We need bulldozer to open up the lands because some places have not even been touched. If we go there to farm, we cannot access the place. The trees are too interwoven that we cannot penetrate the place.”
Gbawuan said that they believe in mechanized farming but stated that getting tractors is very difficult. What farmers do when they want to harvest rice is they use chemicals (herbicides) which if not applied effectively will damage the crops.
“Many farmers do not know how to apply chemical on crops but when tractors are used, it becomes very easy”, he noted.
He said Guma farmers need harvesters used in harvesting soya bean, rice and guinea corn. “The governor always brings them here to his own farm and not for everybody. If those harvesters can be brought to poor farmers here, they will do better.”
Aorwusm Udugh, 64, though not affected by the flood said he finds it difficult to harvest his crops because all he does is manual labour. “Look at my age,” he told Ripples Nigeria, “I am less in capacity. Sometimes my crops got spoilt because I lack the strength to harvest the produce. I want the government to provide me with harvesters so that our crops will not get spoilt due to the inability to harvest them.”
He said if such are provided for the farmers, they can be aff “We are requesting for wooden machines because these chemicals are wasting our seeds because most of the farmers do not know the limit of application on the farm and that is affecting our seeds. But if we have the wooden machines, we will use them in place of herbicides, which are harmful.”
Gbawuan said they previously got tractors from the Benue State Tractor Hiring Agency before it collapsed, adding, that since then they find it difficult to get tractors for their farms.
A recent report showed that modern farming technologies and techniques can help reduce climate change effects and boost food production.
‘Collapsed Benue state tractor hiring agency’
Hon. Anbua in response questions on government’s efforts at providing machineries for local farmers in the state, said there are moves by the government to provide machines to the farmers like mini reapers and combined harvesters to boost farming activities in the state.
“The government is not a good manager of business. If you buy and say people should lease, they will misuse it. For example we had Benue tractor hiring agency, it collapsed, so if you buy the equipment you are talking about and you ask people to hire, it will not last, within a year, they will vandalise, destroy and scatter the machines.
He said however, that government was ready to buy mini tractors, mini combined harvesters, mini planters and the rest for average farmers.
According to him, government will buy and subsidize them to a level that average farmers can afford, noting, that when they own them, they will maintain it better.
“Long before I came on board in this administration, the agency had more than 200 tractors, when I came on board I met about seven to eight tractors, all of them broken down and that is why I took a decision and said there is no point stuffing an agency that cannot work. It is better to buy, subsidize and sell them to farmers or cooperatives who will own them.
“The tractors owned by the state government are completely worn out and broken down, but those of the individuals are still in good condition and are still working effectively and efficiently.
“So that is the arrangement we are putting in place, to buy and sell to farmers at a subsidized rate,” he said.
No good roads to link the markets
There are no good roads, especially in the villages in Benue state where farmers can take their produce to the market. Many of the farmers who spoke to Ripples Nigeria said when they want to take their goods to the market, the transporters overcharge them due to bad roads. And at the end, transportation cost would have taken a large chunk of the money gotten from the sales of the produce.
Songo said that as a result of the high charge by transporters, the farmers usually increase the price of their goods.
In reaction to this, the commissioner said “You and I know that road construction is capital Intensive, it is not a project that any government will just rise overnight without any planning and go ahead to construct. You must have a plan for it, and financial backing and resources must be made available for those roads”.
The Benue state government, he stated, has initiated the construction of many rural roads, which he said this is different from those initiated by the likes of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) which have impacted positively on the lives of rural farmers.
He said the issues of farm inputs being diverted is being addressed by the government. “No matter whatever you do you’ll see that there will be some bad elements who will try to frustrate the process.
“Nevertheless this administration, unlike before has done a lot to see that this ugly situation is curtailed and will make sure that the farm inputs that are provided to the farmers go straight to the end users. What the government does at this point is to see that they create enabling environment to ensure that what farmers are supposed to apply in their farms is made available for them at affordable price
Alleged influence in IFAD’s road construction
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome, Italy. The agency is in partnership with the Benue State government under its Value Chain Development Programme (VCDP) of promoting rice and cassava. IFAD is constructing roads in various parts of the state that will link local farmers to the market.
But some farmers have alleged that Governor Ortom must have influenced the leadership of IFAD in the state to construct the roads that link to his Oracle Farms in Tse-Aderogo, Gbajimba, Guma Local Government instead of other roads that link to that of rural farmers.
The commissioner debunked this. He said it is a “human myopic way of reasoning.” According to him, “IFAD is an international organization, before any decision is taken they come to supervise, they do analysis not based on anybody’s influence. I want to let you know that anything that IFAD does they do it based on analysis. IFAD’s core mandate is to link rural roads to their production areas.”
“In Gbajimba, if you are to link a road, will you link a road to a one-hectare plot or to a half acre plot? On the average they do not even have contiguous farm arrangements except in that area, and when they came, they constructed two roads. They also tried to link another contiguous area. So will it be said that it is the governor that influenced the construction of the road there?
“Someone who is saying that the governor has influenced a road to his farm might even have a hectare, is it the one hectare that should warrant a construction of road to his farm? And even if IFAD decides that a road should be constructed to that farm that is about 200 hectares over there, are they wrong? The aim of IFAD is not to construct roads for political reasons.
“The roads that the governor has been constructing in some places, compared to the one IFAD has done, which one has more standard? Of course it is that of his Excellency. He would have constructed it to his own farm if he wanted but he did not even know who were constructing the road until he made inquiries,” Anbua said.
Migrated farmers are yet to return to farms due to climate change
Edith Umande, who migrated to Makurdi the state capital after the flood washed away all their crops, still sells snacks and soft drinks. According to her, “The rain washed away everything we had planted and we had to start all over again if we are to go back to the farm.”
Umande, said her parents who were also displaced during the flood are still in Old GRA doing nothing.
She said if the government cannot assist them to stand again, she will rather stay back in Makurdi and find something else doing, instead of returning to the farms where attention is not being given to farmers.
Dominic Ijorigo, who lost 10 hectares of rice farmlands is yet to be compensated by the government. “I am still roaming about in Makurdi,” he said.
AFAN President said if farmers who were affected fail to be compensated to enable them return to farms, “Benue will suffer food shortage in years to come and may lose its position as the nation’s food basket.”
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.
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, that malnutrition could become common among children and force rural farmers to move to cities.
Benue state’s declining agricultural productivity
In recent years, there has been a decline in Benue’s agricultural produce. In previous years, groundnut was produced in commercial quantity in Benue State but the situation is no longer the same in recent time. As crops decline so are food prices rising.
Cultivation of the crop has gradually dropped, According to the report, farmers fear that groundnut production may soon stop if government fails to take any measure to revive its production.
Saa Gbue, the state’s chairman, National Groundnut Producers, Processors and Marketing Association (NGPPMA), blames the losses on poor yielding seed variety, lack of modern equipment and inability to control diseases affecting the crop.
Also, in October 2017, Nigeria’s tubers of yam exported to the United States were rejected due to low quality. There is some evidence that climate change is already having a measurable effect on the quality and quantity of food produced globally.
Food is one of society’s key sensitivities to climate, a report said that a year of shortage or too much rainfall, a hot spell or cold snap at the wrong time, or extremes, like flooding and storms, can have a significant effect on local crop yields and livestock production.
Many agricultural produce sourced from Benue, are being taken to other neighbouring African countries. When there is low quality and quantity in production, food security will not only affect Nigeria, but other neighboring countries.
It is 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 two billion people by then, farm productivity must accelerate at a faster rate than the global average to avoid mass hunger.
Hon. Anbua said that the state government is working to build some canals to control water channels and probably see if the government can give some succour to people that are being affected by the flood whose names have been complied and forwarded to the federal government for ministerial actions.
“We are still waiting. Beyond that, you know the huge cost of paying compensations to such farmers, it is more than the state can afford. That is why we have forwarded their names to the federal government and we are expecting the federal government’s intervention in this.
IFAD said it has also designed 1000 hectares for irrigation in Benue state to control flood for farmers that are in areas prone to flooding so that they can go back to their farms.
Just as in other countries, climate change has come to stay in Nigeria, especially in Benue, where there has been a great effect of the climate on agricultural productivity.
It has been proven that applying modern technologies and techniques can reduce the impact of climate change on food production, but many local farmers do not have the technologies. There is a need for the government to provide local farmers with these technologies to increase food production, as is the case with Oracle
Coupled with crises ocassiones by herdsmen, Benue state is losing young vibrant men, especially in Guma, who have abandoned farming as a result of the difficulty in farming manually, and taking the produce to the markets.
“Many young men from Guma prefer riding motorcycles to farming,” said Godwin Anisha, Ripples Nigeria reporter’s fixer.
According to the United Nations, there will be no peace without tackling food security and eliminating hunger, and there will be no food without tackling climate change. Hence, attention must be given to how local farmers can overcome the climate change challenges, if Benue is to retain its status as the nation’s food basket.
**This project was conducted by Ripples Nigeria in partnership with International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)