SPECIAL REPORT: How flood-ravaged farmlands in Anambra threaten food production

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Increased rainfall, as a result of climate change, has impacted negatively on many parts of the world. In Anambra State, Nigeria,  KELECHUKWU IRUOMA, writes that farmers have also felt this environmental challenge, with means of livelihood threatened. With no help coming from government to mitigate their losses, there are concerns that food shortage looms.

On October 1, the day Nigeria marked its 60th independence anniversary, Kenneth Nwabueze was in his house with his family at Omor community in Anyamelum local government area of Anambra State when it began to drizzle. At that moment, he knew it was going to rain but he never thought the rain could cause a devastation that would destroy his means of livelihood.

When the heavy rain continued without stopping, he was scared. Worried, he called two of his friends and picked his farming tools and went to his farmlands. When he got to the farmlands, he was devastated.

“All my farmlands — rice, yam and cassava farms — were washed away by the flood,” Nwabueze lamented.

Kenneth Nwabueze standing on the flooded rice farmlands at Omor in Anyamelum

The rice he cultivated on his five hectares of land was due for harvesting while his yam and cassava in three hectares of land had just been cultivated. Nwabueze lost the rice. In a bid to rescue some of the tubers of yams, he started to uproot them. He succeeded in uprooting a few of the yam the rain had not completely damaged.

Independence day became a day of sorrow for Nwabueze.

The rain continued the next day. This time, it was heavier. He carried two baskets and went back to the farms and uprooted the rest of the yam tubers he laid his hands on. Unfortunately, the rice and cassava farms had all been washed away and destroyed by the heavy rain.

“It is unbearable,” he lamented again. “I have no hope. All the money I borrowed to cultivate the rice, cassava and yam is gone and I am left with nothing.”

“How will I repay the loan I collected? How will I repay the one I borrowed from my community members?” he questioned. “I am finished. I borrowed 1.2 million naira to invest in my rice farms. I still borrowed money from my community meetings. I lost about 2.3 million naira to the flood.” he lamented.

Rice farmlands in Anyamelum submerged by flood as a result of heavy rainfall

Anyamaelum is one of the local governments whose lands are rich for cultivation of various crops such as rice, yam, cassava and other crops. The local government is the highest producer of rice in the state. The farmers basically cultivat rice and complement it with other crops, but flooding as a result of heavy rainfall exacerbated by climate change has become a problem.

Climate change affects agriculture production

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), a government agency that issues weather and climate forecast, in its 2020 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) predicted near-normal to above normal rainfall of varying magnitude is expected for most parts of the country. It said the country was expected to have rainfall amounts ranging from 400mm in the north to over 3000mm in the south, warning farmers to adopt measures to reduce the impacts.

Benedict Unagwu of the University of Nigeria’s Soil Science department said flooding is as a result of heavy rain falling at a particular time and in watershed areas, which washes away crops, especially in Anambra where the effects are huge.

“To some extent, heavy rainfall is now linked to climate change. There are changes in climate.  Looking at the amount of rain, the duration of rain and the time it comes. Climate change is true and it is the changes in weather. That is not the only reason. Whether climate change or not, we human beings have to do everything to manage our climate,”

“Flooding affects farmers in the sense that they will lose all their [farm] produce for the year and further incur losses,” he said.

Heavy rainfall as a result of climate change is affecting Nigerian farmers, limiting their contribution to agricultural production in the country. Anambra State is one of the states in Nigeria that is affected by floods annually.

An unusual flood in 2012 displaced 2.3 million Nigerians in what the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) described as the worst flooding in over 40 years, affecting 30 of the country’s 36 states and causing damage that was estimated at N2.6 trillion.

In 2015, heavy rainfall in Cross River displaced more than 1,220 families, and destroyed 4,501 farms in coastline communities.

Cultivated cassava did not germinate as a result of the flood that destroyed cassava farmlands

In 2017, floods as a result of climate change destroyed over 3000 hectares of farmlands in Benue, a state known as Nigeria’s food basket. The heavy rainfall 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). for an impending food scarcity in the country.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)estimated that the world population would 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 increase at a faster rate than the global average to avoid mass hunger.

500 hectares of farmlands submerged

Ken Onyeabu, a farmer and a royal cabinet member of Omor community likened the flood that ravaged farmlands in the community to that of the 2012 flood.

Ken Onyeabu’s 10 hectares of rice farmlands were washed away by the flood

“It is a terrible situation,” he said. “The flood covered both the upland and wetland. It did the same in 2012 but ever since, it has been coming on a yearly basis but we have mastered the areas that are regularly covered. So even when people avoid planting in some upland areas, the flood of this year still covered a lot of farmlands.”

Onyeabu, who cultivates rice said the flood ravaged his 10 hectares of rice farmlands. Some farmers who cultivate more lost over 10 hectares. He estimated the ravaged farmlands to be close to 500 hectares of land.

“If I had harvested the rice flood washed away, I would make a lot of money going by the present price of rice. The fertilizers and herbicides are very costly but we have done everything to the final stage, which was fertilizer application. The only thing we were waiting for is for the rice to be matured and then we harvest. All the required investment had been done. It is only to harvest and receive back our money and the profit,” he said.

Onyeabu said he spent N5 million cultivating on the rice farmlands before it was washed away. “So I was not expecting anything less than 15 million, that is at least if the year is not so bumper.”

Angela Ejike’s five hectares of rice farmlands, two hectares of cassava and yam farms were destroyed by the flood.

Angela Ejike lost her rice, cassava and yam farmlands to the flood, leaving her with nothing

“At that time, it seemed like every hope was lost. Honestly, I am thinking about our future and my household. How are we going to cope in the coming months and next year? Because it seems the flood will continue,” she said.

Last year, Ejike’s rice, okro, yam and cassava were washed away as a result of floods. She lamented the increase in the prices of food and how the destruction of crops due to floods will exacerbate current agricultural challenges. She said if she had harvested and sold the rice, she would have made N2 million and contributed to agricultural production in the country.

“We do not want the recurrence of the flood. The government should help,” said the mother of four.

The community youth leader of Omor, Peter Ahanti is devastated. He is furious the flood has become an annual tradition in Anyamelum.

He said the adaptation method adopted by farmers in the community to reduce the impact of the flood is not working.

“Our hands are tied,” he lamented. “We are looking at the government to see if they have something to do concerning this incident because it is definitely above our capacity.”

Ravaged rice farmland at Omor community in Anyamelum local government

The public relations officer of Omor youth council, Igwebuike Mgbechi also said measures were adopted by farmers to reduce the impacts of the flood by not cultivating in some parts of the wetland areas, yet, the floods “came again in a mighty way.”

Lack of compensation to farmers

He has been relaying the information concerning the devastating effects of the flood on farmlands in the community to the state and federal governments but they have failed in assisting to reduce the effects of climate change in the local government.

He has made efforts for farmers from Omor to be compensated after every flood incident but laments none of their farmers receive compensation from the governments.

After the flood of 2012, to reduce the impact of the flood, the federal government provided a total of N17.6 billion. In Anambra, where over 150,000 people were affected, N500 million was provided to the state government. Eight years after, Mgbechi said farmers did not receive any compensation from the state government.

“We compiled it [names of farmers affected], we did video on it and presented it to the Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). Once they brought the items to the people that were affected, my name and others affected were not in the list,”  he said.

When contacted, Anambra SEMA’s executive secretary, Paul Odenigbo declined to speak to this reporter.

Anam community, which comprises eight villages in Anambra West local government was also affected by the floods. Before now, Anam had always been impacted by floods. Houses are always submerged and farmlands destroyed.

Arinze Obediegwe, a farmer in Mmiata Anam was affected by the flood as flood his cassava and potato farms

At Mmiata Anam, Arinze Obediegwe, a crop farmer and fisherman said 2020 is the third consecutive year the community has experienced huge flooding that destroyed crops and farmlands. “My five hectares of yam, likewise the cassava and potato were damaged by the floods,” he revealed.

In previous years where floods damaged farmlands, some of the farmers resorted to fishing in the Anambra River but this year, fishing was not favourable as the floods killed fishes.

“The destruction is so huge,” he lamented. “After the annual farming, I was expecting 2 million but we are always losing because most of the crops did not germinate.”

“If this [flood] is not controlled, by next year, there will be a very big famine”

He calls for assistance from the government to help affected farmers start again. “The farmers are the food baskets of the society because what the farmers do is for the benefit of the society and states, including providing the food we need for human sustenance. The farmers need to be assisted in one way or the other. We must be farming to sustain our lives because we cannot do without food,” he said.

If measures are not taken to reduce flooding as a result of climate change, there could be “10 to 25 per cent decline in agricultural productivity by 2080”, according to a study by the Centre for Global Development.

Destroyed yam and cassava farmlands at Anam in Anambra West local government

Onyeabu admits that climate change is a natural occurrence but can still be controlled to mitigate its effects.

“This type of flood is unavoidable. The only way we can avoid it is to sit at home or be resigned from being farmers. In the situation that we resign, what else do we have to do because this is what we have been doing over the years,” Onyeabu said.

Unagwu urges the government to provide alternative lands for farmers whose farmlands have been impacted by floods and sensitize them on what to do before rain comes.

“Drainage can be constructed so that when that heavy rainfall occurs, the impact can be minimized. Nigerians have bad culture. They pour refuse on waterways. They affect water flow. The channels have to be open so that when heavy rainfall occurs, the water will follow the pathway and move, thereby minimizing flood,”Unagwu said.

According to Ahanti, “if this [flood] is not controlled, by next year, there will be a very big famine,” he predicted.

Nwabueze is hopeless. He is scared that in months to come, he will be bankrupt.

“I am left with no hope,” he lamented. “I am only begging and crying for help. Very soon people I am owing will come and be disturbing me. Let the government come to our aid before person will commit suicide.”

This report was published as part of the BudgIT/Civic Hive Media Fellowship 2020

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