Yinusa Mohammed has not paid off the money he borrowed to survive a 2022 flood that ravaged his sorghum and millet farms in Zauro town of Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State.
He has no insurance and could not plant anything during the dry spell of 2023 owing to water shortages despite living in a community that has a water body.
This poses a threat to his farming business which supports his immediate and extended family as well as his ability to repay the loan he took last year.
This precarious livelihood is common among millions of smallholder farmers in Africa’s most populous country.
And while the world marks this year’s World Food Day, with the theme, “water is life, water is food, leave no one behind”, farmers in Nigeria seem left behind and frustrated by the lack of access to water for irrigation despite billions of naira spent by the Federal Government in the construction of dams and provision of irrigation systems.
“Farmers in Nigeria have been impacted by the lack of access to water to the extent that there is no real enabling environment for sustainable all-year-round agricultural production in the entire country,” said Ibrahim Kabiru, national president of All Farmers Association of Nigeria.
Despite the push for increased local food production, most dams across the country are still dysfunctional and irrigation schemes are not working.
The situation has forced some farmers to spend a large chunk of their income on manual irrigation systems and boreholes amid the high cost of petrol during dry spells. Also, it has forced many who cannot afford manual irrigation to only rely on rain-fed agriculture.
This brings to the fore the recurring questions of the usefulness of the country’s several dams, which experts say will not only boost food production but also reduce Nigeria’s dependency on food imports.
“The farmers will be better served by improvement in the utilisation of existing dams than even building new ones,” Kabiru said.
Nigeria has a total of 264 dams with a combined storage capacity of 33 BCM of water for multipurpose uses, of which 210 are owned by the Federal Government, 34 by the states, and 20 are owned by private organisations, according to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
AfricanFarmer Mogaji, chief executive officer of X-Ray Farms, said majority of the few operating river basins cannot access water because most of their canals have been blocked by sand such that the water flowing through for farmers has been reduced by more than half.
“There are river basins shut out from thousands of acres of farmlands because the people did not desilt it, and these are concrete canals that just need to be desilted,” he said.
“Some dams also need funding as they have some of their parts collapsed,” he noted.
Mogaji also said that budgetary allocations to water resources, to maintenance of canals, are trimmed at the senate because the people occupying the ministry seats are not necessarily experts, players, or professionals.
Nigeria currently has irrigation land potential of about 3.1 million hectares out of which only 150,000 hectares have been developed, according to a document on the Federal Ministry of Water Resources website.
Abiodun Olorundero, managing director, AquaShoots Limited, said most of the dams in the southwest region are not functioning.
“I have visited between three to four dams that are not active. The Oyan dam in Ogun State is only active for fishing activities and I wonder who gets the returns on such activities,” he queried.
“It’s obvious the government and its personnel can’t manage these infrastructure. So, there should be a proper bidding process for private investment with the capacity to run an efficient water process to add value to agriculture and human existence,” he added.
To boost local food production, experts say the mismanagement, embezzlement, and corruption in the country’s agriculture must first be tackled head-on before the country can attain food security.