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Nigeria: Travails of Lagos farmers as climate change bites hard

Published 29 Dec,2020 via The Nation - Flooded farms and scorched crops are realities of farmers in Lagos. OMOLOLA AFOLABI examines their travails.

The ride to Elder Ayodele Olowoake’s farm was a bone-cracking one-hour expedition from his hamlet in Igboye community, Epe, in Lagos State. Even more painfully memorable was the fracture it left on the reporter’s joint and bruises on Mr. Olowoake’s aging body, after a motorcycle accident from his spent machine.

The farming community grapples with roads that are more appropriately described as footpaths as automobiles are greatly put at a disadvantage plying the routes.

“I would have changed this bike for a new one but the proceeds from my farm was just enough to take care of my wife and also my children’s education until the rains stopped and dried up our usually bountiful harvest”.

“The youngest of my children is in his final year. Daniel Olowoake is studying accounting at the Lagos State University, Ojoo, he is Mr. Olowoake’s 5th child. He however lamented how he can’t afford expenses for Daniel’s final year project, which is the concluding part of his undergraduate program because of this”, pointing calloused fingers at the 4 hectares expanse of land he cultivated in March 2020 with cassava, all of which are now withered and dried.

Mr. Olowoake also said in his 4 decades of farming, he has never encountered such an enormity of drought.

“Reason I again invested over N400,000 but look what came out of it”, he said lowering his towering mass to dig out another shriveled piece of cassava tuber, like a lifeless human body.

The renowned poet Niyi Osundare’s, in “Kebuyeri”, one of his several lyrical and humorous poem where he describes the protagonist, in a rather exaggerated manner as “a man whose tears are as full as the rains of August”, this is a pointer to the consistent timeline of rainfall, which was surprising, disrupted this year.

The planting season, which sometimes starts as early as April is usually deployed by farmers practicing mixed cropping. Maize, being a shallow-rooted crop is intercropped with cassava, a deep-rooted crop, this is done to optimize land and maximize yield.

The rains stopped on the 9th of July, with a bit of drizzle on the 31st of July, ceasing all through again with very light drizzle on august 19th and 22nd and beginning again in September the 14th, heavily, making it approximately 56 days the rains ceased in the city of Lagos, of aquatic splendor too.

Climate change: the culprit, humans: complicit

Implications of climate change however resulted in the rains going into recess at a time it should come most regularly. Referred to as “August break” by farmers, this has consequently turned the usually “bumper” harvest unproductive, with barely enough to sell and very little to keep going afterward.

Climate change has led to an increase in the risk of food insecurity for vulnerable groups, with Africa recording between 1-18% decreases in food production, says Agronomy Expert, Tanja Folnovic.

The United Nations in its acknowledgment of the unprecedented food crisis, even worsened by the pandemic will be awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme, again, the first of its kind.

The World Food Programme Since May 2015, has supported national and state emergency agencies and humanitarian partners to assist people displaced by conflict. WFP has been transferring operational know-how, providing technical support to strengthen food security data collection, enhancing the emergency response at displaced sites (including through food distribution), and providing safe and reliable air transport services to the humanitarian community.

Drought and flood: Farmers say “It’s the Lord’s doing”

Many farmers, the reporter discovered are oblivious of what is responsible for the change in weather. Mr.Olalere Shadeko, a farmer in Imota Farm Settlement referred to the situation as the “Lord’s doing” while disregarding any scientific evidence or explanation put forward by the reporter.

Mr. Shadeko who religiously keeps a weather chart made with the improvised underside of old calendars showed the reporter, in a most instructive demeanor, details of fluctuations in weather conditions.

“It is God that makes it rain when he pleases when he refuses to make it rain, it is his bidding too, we have no right as humans to question him or begin to look for an answer”, he said thoughtfully.

The knowledge and awareness of a situation is the first step to finding a solution as it arms the people involved with the capability to resolve it. Lagos State farmers are however convinced that climate change is only a façade, thereby making them incapacitated to proffer solutions to the situation.

Mrs Bose Oke is a 34- year- old widowed farmer and mother of two. Mrs. Oke’s only means of survival is the maize and cassava farm which she has invested a fortune and more in, but sadly turned out very little yield, also implications and result of the rains that stopped, just as above.

“I can’t pay school fees of the older one, the younger one should resume school soon but, is it the buyers that patronized me on credit after buying the remnants of my farm produce that I would go and demand money from? She said, quite dejectedly, throwing away scorched maize ear while holding her toddler, tightly.

Like other farmers, Mrs. Oke says her 34 years of farming experience have been without any weather glitches or fluctuations.

Adding his voice, Mr. Taiwo Aderemi, the incumbent President of Imota Farm Settlement in Ikorodu area of the State. It is one of the 37 Local Council Development Areas of the state. The settlement was established in the year 1960 to encourage mechanized farming and investment in rural agriculture.

“I have been living in this establishment for over 42 years now; this is what I can say for a fact. I happen to be one of the pioneers here who started this after leaving the College of Agriculture and Horticulture”.

“I’ve never experienced such thing as the break in the rains especially between June and July, a period the rains get to the peak. What most people usually target is the August break but this year, we have experienced July, August and, September breaks”.

I have approximately 10 hectares of land for cultivation but nothing substantial came out of it, she disclosed with a somewhat teary countenance.

“The private farms within the community use the irrigation system to substantiate and complement the rains. We however do not have access to that in our farm settlement. I tried to improvise the hose and the generator to make the farm produce but lack of power and the high cost of fuel are also making these efforts futile”, he said.

According to Aderemi, several letters have been written several times to the Ministry on the need to ensure the provision of these very necessary facilities, but there has been no response from the quarters. Livestock farming also suffers as a result of this, the reporter observed.

“They would say when they give farmers loans to help provide these, we squander it by using it to marry more wives, as a responsible father who is very satisfied with my family life and only interested in providing for the family and ensuring food security is ensured across Lagos, I wouldn’t even contemplate that”, vocal Mr. Aderemi, said, as he shrugged with indignation.

2021: Food crisis still looms

80-year-old Mrs. Latifatu Ipaye jocularly referred to the other farmers in Ikoga Community of Badagry as “the ones she weaned” in the business. The rotund woman is a mother of 5 and grandmother to many.

She said 40 moderately sized cassava tubers were been sold for as low as 400 for over 3 years, a price which has been steady for over 5 years now but as of today,25 goes for #10000, “the “garri”, (term processed cassava is referred to in the local dialect) is depleted now”.

“The cassava that is being planted are the ones we are harvesting now, this means we have much in our hands next year so right now, there is less output” the octogenarian, with dentition, a little too white and surprisingly complete for her age explained.

She explained that the final product costs (three paint buckets) which go for 3500. Five years ago, it goes for #250, this is over a 100% increment in the market. She said farmers do not possess the purchasing power to afford some of the barest necessities but despite this, their resilience and commitment to keeping hunger at bay remain a strong motivation and a source of fortitude.

According to the farmers, it’s the only means of livelihood. Mrs Ipaye’s situation was however not the drought but flood, she lamented how her cassava farm became a flooded wasteland when the rains came down in torrents, a sad reminiscent of scriptural times.

“This food crisis will extend longer than 2020 as the situation we’ve got in our hands is quite dire, says The Chairman, National Programme For Food Security, Ipanla, Igboye community in Epe area of the state, Mr. Adedipo Oladele.

“When the rains finally came, however, it came in excessive torrents, carrying a lot of our crops in its trail, the cassava was majorly affected as they are tuber crops, they started rotting due to the heavy moisture. In short, we have experienced both extremes of the weather; he narrated, at this point, a decomposing odor wafted into the reporter’s nostrils, for the first time, as if Mr.Oladele’s commentary invited it.

“It’s been a very erratic and serious situation, I must say. This year, we don’t have much, after the rains stopped, the sun came out, scorching and it dried up most of the crops, it was burning as if it’s not going to end, so it has reduced our income”.

“Their plight is that what they have planted and harvested in the previous planting season is what they are still living on, although we are replanting the crops, we are making fresh farms”.

“The yield from the late maize all depends on the weather, the weather has changed because we don’t even know how to predict it anymore, whether or not it will be profitable is what we are going to do is to attempt, it is very erratic and serious, in totality. This year alone, we don’t have much, after the rains stopped, the sun came out scorching and it dried up most of the crops, it was burning as if it will never stop”.

The farmers said even the diminutive harvest they could gather was stuck in the farms, as moving them to the markets and other places was an effort in futility because of the bad connecting roads, a situation, even worsened by the flood which has caused massive rifts on the dirt roads.

“The yield from the late maize all depends on the weather, the weather has changed, we don’t even know how to predict it anymore, whether or not it will be profitable, what we are going to do is to attempt, we cannot stop”.

Decrying the exorbitant rates at which loans are being given to farmers, Mr. Oladele said, “We try to assist our farmers in our little way, so the monies and loans, the loans we disburse here, we only charge 10% interest on the loans, we give out to farmers.

The BBC reports that since March 2020, millions of Nigerians have been spending more money on food prices. It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari placed a prohibition of loans to farmers importing food or fertilizers, ”We will instead empower our local farmers”, he promised.

Mrs Olaide Afolake is the Lagos State All Farmers’ Association Leader. The very vocal woman also attested to the farmer’s inability to access loans due to the exorbitant interest rate, especially for unforeseen circumstances such as the one they currently experience.

According to her, after the fumigation process, the farmlands were prepared before the lockdown, so getting our farmhands to move here was a lot of work, she said as she stopped in mid-way in her speech to confirm if the recorder was capturing her every comment.

Mrs.Afolake, who has been farming since 1990 said “We have spent over three million on this farm which is over 4 hectares of land, even for the maize. We have been processing loans for over 8 months now, at Bank of the Agriculture but we could not access it”.

“The interest in a loan of #250,000 was 13% for a year but when we spoke against it, it was later reversed to 6% after the initial deposit of #50,000, this shouldn’t be. We do not have to go to such an extent for a loan in a bank that is supposed to adequately represent the interest of farmers”, she said as she offered the reporter a freshly harvested cucumber from the sack.

“We farmers shouldn’t be suffering, we are the food baskets, no food, no nation, we have to come back to the roundtable with the government to discuss the way forward and we hope they can give us their listening ears, she added.

Tighter access to credit for farmers and the complexities of loan repayment and limited access to farm inputs mitigate seamless agriculture practices among farmers, this, the reporter observed.

Trends in weather and food prices

According to Nigerian Meteorological Agency, the rainfall data in the year is estimated to be about 3000mm in the southwest of Nigeria for the year 2020 which is a little on the lower sides compared to what we obtained in the previous years where the agency predicted normal onset and cessation of rainfall.

At Mile 12 market in Lagos, a bag of processed cassava (garri) goes is sold between #13,000 and #17,000 currently while 50 kg of maize is sold #13,500 which points at average annual food inflation rose from 9.02% in May 2015 to 15.70% in December 2016 and was as high as 20.32% in October 2017 and 20.25% in August 2017.

The consumer price index has risen from 14.9% in February 2020 to 15.18% in June 2020 which indicates an increase to 17% by September 2020. This is a considerable rise from 13.9% in July 2019 and 14.09% in October 2019”.

Government intervention

“The government has put the Agricultural Credit Guaranty Insurance Scheme and other intervention project funds in place to alleviate the loss, it’s so much lip service as we all know how much money is budgeted for this but you see them giving farmers loans at double digits” added Mr. Bode Afolabi, the Secretary of the Association.

“The end users have lost their purchasing power, the price of everything has skyrocketed. It is a problem all the way, many are very skeptical now when it comes to farming because we are not covered by insurance when things go awry and there is so much advertisement on funding but it hardly ever translate into actions”.

In Badagry however, it was a different situation entirely, one would expect to see the usual dried, withered crops but the farmers had to contend with The rot of the cassava tubers were evident from the flooded farms, the tubers which didn’t develop as normal were adversely affected by the waterlogged farms.

Called “garri” in the local dialect, the tubers were not only stunted but they were already decomposing, a result of the stagnant rainwater.

“You see a lot of my cassava were lost to the flood, after the sun-dried them off, the other ones were completely swept off to other people’s farmlands, I couldn’t even get up to 10% of my overall investment”

Mrs.Ipaye said in a distinct Eegun accent, as she sat down dejectedly on the farms, counting her losses, in retrospect.

“Before now, we used to lament the bad roads and the cost of transportation from our farms to the markets, but right now, there is nothing to move or transport, it has been a sad, sad harvest”.

Experts discuss way forward

Mr.Alexander Akhigbe is the Chief Environmental Officer of the African Clean-Up Initiative. Speaking on

the adverse implications of climate change on agriculture and food production, he said: “In Nigeria, our climate has been changing with much evidence in the increase in temperature, variable rainfall, flooding, and rise in sea level, especially in Lagos.

Not to mention drought, desertification, and land degradation. More frequent extreme weather events affected freshwater resources and loss of biodiversity and we can say that crop production which is one of the most vulnerable systems has been heavily affected by climate change.”

According to him, climate change is perhaps the most serious environmental threat to the fight against hunger, malnutrition, disease, and poverty in Africa, mainly through its impact on agricultural productivity.

“Unpredictable rainfall variation, heat stress, and drought can adversely affect food production and result in a food shortage crisis. These are two statistics that summarize Nigeria’s food crisis. First, an estimated 46 million people lack access to food that is safe, cheap, and available to eat. Secondly, 44% of children under five are stunted. This is a life-long scar that affects their cognitive skills and development”.

Responding to questions about the fear of farmers on food crisis which may linger on till 2021, he said “Yes, we can say their fears are valid because the August break which is characterised by a decline in the amount of daily rainfall for a number of weeks has made crop cultivation in the three geopolitical zones in the south and the North-Central Zone hampered just as predicted by Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet)”.

“Even agricultural scientists and economists said the situation underscored the reality of climate change, stressing that no part of the world is immune to its effects. Currently, if you notice the prices of food stocks have gone up because there are little or no farming activities in the previous months as a result of the change in our climate”.

He however recommends that government can help drive the sector through consistent policies, robust funding, and infrastructure development.

According to Mr.Akhigbe, the anticipated benefit from trade liberalization has failed to trickle down to the African farmer, coupled with the inefficient local marketing systems. He said “ In besides, the farmers should be enlightened in changing their farming practices such as bush burning, deforestation and, rain-fed agriculture and platforms to acquire requisite education, information, and training necessary to adapt to climate change should be accepted.

“In addition, there should be an explicit national agricultural policy framework, adequate provision for irrigation, drainage, weather forecasting, and other agricultural technology infrastructure, an incentive for training in agriculture, participatory and on-going capacity building for farmers, drought resistant and short duration high yielding crops development, integration of indigenous and modern knowledge on climate change adaptation, strengthening of the extension services, and encouragement for the formation of all farmers”.

Inflation rate at 13.71% and food inflation at 16.66% indicating that the purchasing power of consumers are consistently and rapidly declining on monthly basis, despite the income of most Nigerians pegged at a fixed level while others earning a lower income.

After a careful comparison of the composite food index between September 2015 and September 2020, it was reported last month that food inflation increased by 110.5%, this shows that the purchasing power of Nigerians is constrained, as real income has reduced significantly, despite the 66.7% increase in the National minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000.

Published 2 months ago on September 16, 2020. Despite billions on agriculture, food inflation has gone up by 108% since 2015.

Whilst the Nigerian economy has been ravaged by a very low oil price environment since it fell from over $100 per barrel in 2014, most of the reasons for the increase in the cost of living are partly attributed to some of the policies of the government.

The United Nations has warned that the world stands on the brink of a food crisis worse than what the world has witnessed in the last 50 years, adding a note of warning to government to avoid disasters”.

In November 2016, with support from UNICEF, WFP launched a joint Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) to supply food, nutrition, and health support to people in hard-to-reach areas in Borno and Yobe states of Nigeria. The RRM includes extensive use of helicopters and the pooling of logistics and telecommunications resources across the humanitarian community.

Samuel Ogunsola is the founder of Food and Genes Initiative and a volunteer with Sustyvibes, both climate and environmental advocacy Not-for-profits.

Ogunsola lamented the global crisis maintains that it remains the most challenging environmental problem we face and according to him, mitigating the implications of climate change involves interventions that will address the root problems.

“A large number of these interventions should involve formulating policies and creating innovative technologies especially the ones that will curb greenhouse emissions.

Ogunsola recommends that policies that will boost aforestation and reduce the consumption of high energy products and the developments of natural carbon sinks such as forests, vegetation, and soils that can help absorb carbon dioxide and technologies that involve the use of renewable forms of energy will significantly help in mitigating climate change.

Although the climate activist acknowledges that the Nigerian government might not be capable of adopting technologies used in other countries that are far into the climate change business, he, however, said climate-smart agriculture and investment in agricultural startups whose thrust is climate smartness are ways of ensuring

All efforts to engage with the Ministry of Agriculture Spokesperson, Mr.Jide Lawal on efforts Lagos State Government is making towards cushioning the implications of climate change on farmers however proved abortive.

* Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ through funding support from Ford Foundation.

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