• Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Facing the fury: How Nigerian farmers battle climate change amid economic challenges

Facing the fury: How Nigerian farmers battle climate change amid economic challenges

Nigeria’s once-serene farmlands are facing a new reality. This isn’t just a story of unpredictable weather; it’s a complex challenge woven with economic woes. Farmers are no longer simply cultivators; they’re battling to safeguard the nation’s food security, Damilola Olufemi reports.

As the 2023 seasons unfolded, an Oyo State farmer, Oyedele Soladoye, experienced the harsh consequences of climate change firsthand. Unexpected and prolonged rains disrupted his agricultural practices and devastated his crops.

Soladoye shared his challenges on how agricultural practices and crop yields have been impacted by climate change in recent years, as a farmer. The intensified rains birthed massive floods, wreaking havoc on carefully tended crops.

According to the United Nations, climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Such shifts can be natural, due to changes in the sun’s activity or large volcanic eruptions.

The consequences of climate change now include, among others, intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms and declining biodiversity.

“Climate change has taken a huge toll on farming,” Soladoye told our correspondent. “Unpredictable weather patterns have messed with planting and harvesting schedules. We’ve been dealing with more intense rainfall, affecting crop growth.”

The Ibadan-based farmer disclosed to this reporter that he was faced with sudden and long-time heavy rainfall that bleeds into his harvesting period.

The effect of the climate change led to “massive flooding and water bodies in the soil damaging a significant portion of my crops,” he said.

Staying ahead of the unpredictable

To adapt, Soladoye, like many other farmers, has diversified into resilient crop varieties and adjusted planting schedules to cope with capricious weather patterns. However, the lack of advanced weather forecasting systems makes effective planning difficult.

Soladoye has shifted to resistant crops and adjusted planting schedules as a way to stay ahead of unpredictable weather patterns, but he urges the government to provide support.

He urged governments at all levels to provide adequate technology, and financial and information as aid to relieve the climate change challenges he and other farmers faced.

“The path forward for farmers like me necessitates a comprehensive support system encompassing information dissemination, technological empowerment, and financial backing,” he appealed. “The absence of advanced forecasting tools and financial aid magnifies the difficulties posed by climate change.”

Threat to food production

In 2023, the Federal Government noted that food production in Nigeria was being threatened by rapid population growth, and climate change among others.

The former minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Kyari Abubakar, stated that incidences of droughts, rainfall variability and desertification pose a greater challenge by putting the planet’s water resources under increasing stress.

Emmanuel Adebayo, the chief executive officer of EpiphanyFarm Limited located in Odogbolu, Ogun State, the threat posed by climate change is real and affecting the production of these crops. According to him, the rainy season is not what it used to be “and erratic weather conditions make farming difficult as crops need water to flourish.”

Narrating his experience on how climate change has impacted his farming activities, Adebayo said rainfall is not gotten at the time it is needed most. This, he explained, “automatically affects the survival of our plants” and more money is spent on irrigation to lessen the impact of harsh weather conditions on the plants.

“A farmer who depends on rainfed agriculture loses those plants. We lost a lot of millions to flood and a lot of plants to climate change because when it rains, it rains heavily which is not good for a lot of our crops,” he said, before adding that this unimaginably affected finances as “many farmers affected by such have to start from scratch due to the losses because “farming is all about patience, resilience, determination.”

Adebayo, who started farming activities sometime in 2018, is into livestock, aquaculture, and crop plantation, have, however, been able to incorporate a drip irrigation system – which means he wouldn’t depend on rainfall to irrigate his farm crops.

“We’ve been able to incorporate the raingun irrigation system which is quite expensive because we always have to fuel the machine with petrol for our crops to get enough water when they need it most,” he added.

However, according to Adebayo, the challenges plaguing the farming sector are not limited to climate change with some also economic. He noted that the cost of irrigating farmlands has skyrocketed with the rising cost of petroleum products for fueling generators.

The amount spent on fuel, he said, depends on the level of irrigation, which in turn, depends on the size of the farmland, the couple of hours it would take to be irrigated, the type of crops and how much those crops love water.

Inconsistent annual weather

Adepitan Olumuyiwa noticed each year is different in the climate. Over the years, he has observed the cycle of general weather conditions has not been regular.

“Some years, rain starts in March or April. Some in May. Some years, it starts heavily; some it starts with little or no rain for a long time until June and there will be heavy rain in July,” he said while giving a distinct observation that the usual August break of rainfall is no longer a regular feature of the weather because some years, there is no August break.

“The annual weather is no longer consistent,” said the farmer who resides in Owo, Ondo State.

He also emphasised the essence of irrigation as the sustenance of crops, adding that they perform badly when there is bad weather. However, when the weather is moist and humid, they perform better.

Olumuyiwa who started farming activities in 2019 based in Iyere community of Owo, Ondo state, is a cassava farmer and has begun to farm ginger and potato.

“Cassava is to make garri for sale. Potatoes are for consumption. I also extract starch from cassava. I am still expanding my production of ginger and plantain,” he said.

Olumuyiwa, who is currently nursing 2,000 oil palms, said he had earlier begun to water them during the dry season so they wouldn’t die and when the rain started this year, he stopped.

However, he realised they were not doing well because the rain was not enough and “I have to resume watering them and also, try to provide shade for them to survive,” he said.

He has overtime noticed hopping pests (leaves eaters) these days. This he said could be as a result of the weather or climate.

“They are dealing with my garbage which is not doing well at all. There are also a lot of grasshoppers compared to last year,” he lamented.

Climate change has not only affected his farming activities but also halted his finances and plans.

“Digging a borehole before was about N5000 per metre but now, it is above N10,000. Initially, our budget was about a million naira but now, it is 3 to 4 million for a borehole. The pump we are putting in the borehole is much more expensive. The total cost for the borehole and pumping machine, you are looking at almost 8 million naira. Also powering the pumping machine is to be considered. It is a huge investment to go into the borehole. That is why we’ve not started our fish farming activities,” he expressed.

Nigeria’s Global Hunger Index

The Global Hunger Index (GHI), ranks Nigeria 109th out of the 125 countries with sufficient data in 2023. With a score of 28.3 in the 2023 GHI, Nigeria has a level of hunger that is serious.

The World Bank in its latest Food Security report released in 2024 stated that no less than seven states across the North-West and North-East to be at crisis food security level in 2024.

According to the international body, this is a result of insecurity, and armed conflicts which are decreasing the standards of living in the areas. The World Bank listed Borno, Adamawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Yobe, Sokoto, and Zamfara as the affected states.

It further predicted that Abadam, Bama, Guzamala, Marte and others in areas in Northeastern states will experience Emergency food security levels (IPC Phase 4) as a result of limited household food stock and access to market and humanitarian aid.

Shutdown of farmland

In 2020, as the world grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic, maize yields in Ogun State fell from a projected seven tons per hectare to a mere one ton due to insufficient rainfall, Olorundero Seun, an Ogun-based farmer, said while sharing his experience with our correspondent.

Fast forward to 2023, the narrative pivoted to an excess of rain, wreaking havoc on maize harvests and leaving farmers grappling with substantial losses.

“In 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown, we had planted about 150 hectares of maize on our farm project. We had projected a yield of about seven tons per hectare as we had done about 5 tons the previous year. The rain barely came all through and we ended up getting an average yield of one ton,” he explained.

According to him, this led to the shutting down of the farm and led to him selling his farm equipment.

The effect of climate change broke the heart of Seun and his workers as they experienced excessive rainfall on the farm. They had planted maize and expected to harvest in August during the break.

Unfortunately, the rain did cease and that caused a lot of losses for Seun and his team as it was difficult to get the dry cobs off the field.

Strategies amidst uncertainty

Reflecting on these challenges, farmers ventured into irrigation, sinking boreholes to water their parched fields. Yet, the efficacy of their efforts hit a snag – a lack of substantial storage. Looking forward, they contemplated shields for watermelon havens, fortifications against the relentless downpour.

Just like Oyedele’s effort to tackle these challenges, Seun adapted a new farm practice by drilling several boreholes on the farm to run irrigation. However, he said it was not effective.

According to him, this is because, for an effective irrigation system, a large storage is required.

He, however, noted that “we are considering putting up a kind of shield in the coming year for at least five acres of our watermelon so that it can withstand the pressure of the rainfall.”

Everyone’s responsibility

The National President of All Farmers Association, Kabir Ibrahim, noted that climate change is real and it affects food production.

“It affects productivity and changes rain patterns. It brings flooding; sometimes drought. So, crops can dry up and wash away; thereby, productivity is lessened by that action,” he said.

He therefore urged Nigerians to take steps towards mitigating climate change. Ibrahim, while speaking with our correspondent added that the association is yielding to the advice of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency and advises that the “Nigerian government was committed at Cop28 to take action to mitigate climate change. Every Nigerian needs to take action towards the mitigation of climate change,” he said.

Prof. Olukayode Oladipo, a climate change expert and former lecturer at the University of Lagos State, expressed concern over the high rate of food insecurity in Nigeria.

He noted that the threat posed by climate change has the potential to further worsen the situation, given that Nigeria has 35 million children under the age of five, of which 14 million are stunted, with 24 million being anaemic owing to poor nutrition.

“From various studies, there is a serious concern that climate change could result in a decline of agricultural productivity between 10 to 25 per cent by 2080. For some areas in the northern part of the country, the decline in yield in rainfed agriculture could be as much as 50 per cent. Increased warming trends will also make the storage of root crops and vegetables challenging for farmers without access to refrigerators, thereby increasing the already high level of post-harvest loss,” Oladipo said.

Echoing Oladipo, a lecturer in the Department of Geography and Planning Science, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, Dr Olusola Adedeji, said the nation anticipates substantial climate repercussions on its water resources, agriculture, wetlands, and health sectors.

He noted that Nigeria’s populace faces a heightened risk of water stress, a predicament likely to intensify with the influence of climate change.

“The foreseeable increase in rainfall variability may lead to flooding in humid southern regions,” Adedeji said.

They suggest technology investments in agricultural research and adopting climate-smart technologies are crucial for mitigating the impact of climate change in Nigeria.

These include drought-resistant crops, precision agriculture, sustainable farming practices, IoT sensors (Internet of Things sensors), AI-driven analytics, smart irrigation systems and other climate-smart agricultural practices.

According to the dons, these developments support sustainable food production, risk mitigation, and farmer adaptation to climate change.