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Climate change: A nation in the threshold of hunger (1)

Experience from across the world has shown that women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Female farmers in Niger State have raised the alarm that Nigeria might experience the severe food crisis beginning from this year because of the adverse effects of climate change, insecurity and other challenges. In this report, DANIEL ATORI examines stakeholders’ views and solutions suggested to avert food crisis

Many states in Nigeria rely on rain-fed agriculture, which makes a larger number of small-scale holder farmers vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. In Niger State, North Central Nigeria, female farmers told our reporter that late rains have an adverse effect on their farming. “We were always told to plant early and use improved seedlings.

We used the improved seedlings and planted early but the rain which did not come has adverse effects on our farms,” one of the women said. She added: “The rising global temperatures, regular flooding and rising water levels are parts of the impacts of climate change. We are helpless and survival is critical at this time.

Things are very hard; even to get food to eat is difficult, let alone to find money to buy seedlings for farming again.” In the 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Nigeria ranks 98th out of the 107 countries and with a score of 29.2. This shows that the country has a serious level of hunger.

A tour of five local government areas – Edati, Lapai, Lavun, Magama and Shiroro – in the three senatorial zones of Niger State exposed the need for urgent intervention from government and other stakeholders. Nigerian rural female farmers account for nearly 70 per cent of agricultural workers and 80 per cent of food producers but are at the receiving end of the negative impacts of climate change at the moment.

Counting their losses, many of the farmers said the rains have delayed and farming has not started because of the drought. Mairo Abdulmumini, Coordinator, Small-scale Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria, (SWOFON), and 24 women including, Dina Daniel, manage a farmland at Tawale-Gwada in Shiroro Local Government Area, where their major crops are cassava, yam and groundnuts. Abdulmumuni told our reporter that there won’t be enough food as from this year except the government intervenes. She said: “We had multiple problems last year and this year, insecurity and drought are affecting us.

Our prayer is for the rain to come, because if it does not rain, we will die of hunger. Gaskiya (honestly) I tell you the truth, there will be hunger from this year. “Another major problem we face in Shiroro is insecurity and drought. We have been able to fix the ridges, but the rain has not started coming. We pray the rain does not take too long otherwise we will lose our yam seeds to drought.”

During the rainy season, the farmers experience heavy floods which sweep away their crops and the current insecurity challenge poses a big threat to food production. “There are times we have insecurity challenges and we get scared of going to farm. The bandits usually attack, steal our produce, destroy our farms and produce and even our stores,” Abdulmumini said. When our reporter visited their farms, the women farmers had planted yam but they are afraid that if it does not rain on time, the yam will dry up and eventually, they will lose their crop for the season. The women lamented that cassava is not ready and work cannot be done without rain.

“Our plea is that we need water and things that can help us such as caterpillars or tractors. You know now even if we do the ridges, cassava requires water, if you don’t have water, you can’t work on cassava. “When it finally rained, it resulted in heavy flooding that swept away our rice farms. Even our cassava farm was flooded.

There is likely to be a food crisis because right now prices of foodstuffs are going up even in the local markets,” Abdulmumini added. The women appealed to the government to create more awareness and sensitisation for those of them in the rural areas so that they can have full knowledge of climate change for better and improved farming.

The fear of kidnapping is another major problem faced by women farmers on Marafa Rice farm at Maraba community in Lapai Local Government Area. According to Eunice Adeditan, SWOFON Coordinator in Lapai, most women farmers feel vulnerable and are afraid of going to their farms because of fear of attack by herders or bandits. She said: “Most of our women will not come out except we get men and security agents to follow us.

The reason is that these Fulani herdsmen used to bring their cows into our farms and eat everything and if you talk, it becomes a problem.” However, the farmers are hoping that the rainfall will not be too much so that flood does not wash away their rice farms. “The major challenge we have is flooding. We have been able to have our first harvest this year (2021) but our fear is that when the rain starts, the flood will wash away all the produce.

“The challenge we have here during the dry season is that we don’t have water for our rice, we usually look for a place to get water but during the rainy season our crops get swept away due to heavy flooding,” Adeditan said. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), the government agency saddled with the management of weather and climate data, said in one of its climate review bulletins that evidence of climate change abounds in the country in the form of rising temperatures, more frequent and persistent heat and cold waves, severe coastal and inland floods and the ravaging wind storms.

Michael E. Mann, one of the world’s most influential climate scientists, submitted that the world has “finally reached the point where it is not credible to deny climate change because people can see it playing out in real-time in front of their eyes”.

Nigeria was the world’s 17th biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2015, the second-highest in Africa after South Africa. The Nigerian Carbon Brief profile said Nigeria has pledged to reduce it to around 720 million through actions to tackle climate change. And, if it receives international support, it will try to keep its 2030 emissions to around 495 million tonnes. According to the Cardre Harmonise (CH) reports on food security and nutrition analysis released on November 5, 2020, about 9.8 million Nigerians were suspected to be in a hunger crisis or worse between November and December, as 16 northern states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), were identified as worst hit areas. The 16 states include Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Yobe. However, Zamfara is not included as their report is still being finalised. About 13.8 million people in Nigeria will face acute food shortage crisis between June and August 2021. It said the number could grow to about 14 million if measures are not taken in time to avert the hunger crisis. Nigeria is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, aimed at tackling climate change.

The country ratified the agreement in 2017. It pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2030, when compared to “business-as-usual” levels. This pledge rises to 45 per cent on the condition of international support. In other words, if Nigeria was to follow a “business as usual” pathway, it would expect its emissions to reach around 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030. Mrs. Grace Disa, the SWOFON leader in Niger State, who said the female farmers are about 14,000, spoke about the impact of climate change on her members. She said: “Truly, climate change has affected us, because the last harvest was very poor and we are expecting rain this season.

The weather is too hot, especially for the yam farmers. You cannot go and plant yam now, otherwise the seeds will get rotten especially now without rain. “How can one farm, because we have not started irrigation farming? We don’t have irrigation pumping machines and other things.” Disa said soon, SWOFON members planned to meet so that every local government will write their challenges, which they will send to the Permanent Secretary, Niger State Ministry of Agriculture. She added: “Currently, most farmers are complaining that they can’t plant because of the hot sun; no rain.

This could be a sign that there won’t be harvest and there is going to be hunger in the land. “Although something can change, because like this year’s weather, this heat, we didn’t expect that it will be very hot this year… God can decide to do something and the whole thing might just change. “The state government needs to factor in smallholder women farmers in its policy and budgetary decisions.” Disa pointed out that one of the biggest problems they face, access to inputs, has not been addressed. She said the state government has not fulfilled the promises it made to farmers in the state.

“We have not been able to access funds in terms of the agriculture budget at the state Ministry of Agriculture. I met with the Director handling Planning, Agriculture Services, he told me this in March after I requested a photocopy of the portion that deals with SWOFON. “So, he explained to me that they have not really pointed out that this is SWOFON allocation. He said the state Ministry of Agriculture under the Mechanised Section, has something for us, but they will not give us funds directly; they will use the money the government allocated to SWOFON to buy gender-friendly machines for us. That is the promise, which the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, made to us.

“But till now, nothing has been given to us. We are planning to meet him soon because I told him we are coming.” Insecurity, particularly attacks by cattle herders, is another major factor that will cause a food crisis in the country. Many of the women farmers complained of the attacks by herdsmen; saying that they cannot go to their farms without being escorted by men. In Shiroro and Edati local government areas, Fulani herdsmen disturb the farmers and sometimes their cattle destroy crops. It was learnt that one female farmer died in Edati after they tried to confront the herders.

They were attacked which led to the death of the woman. The state Coordinator, Disa, said that many women farmers have been forced to abandon their farms and homes, with some relocating to other places. She added: “We know Niger State has security problems, even the SWOFON national headquarters knows about it, especially in Shiroro here. Most of our women farmers are no longer in their villages; some of them are in Kuta, some are in Minna here. SWOFON alone cannot handle the insecurity challenges.

We have complained to the Ministry of Agriculture, but they said it is a state problem. “I have fears that there may be a shortage of food, because women that farm maize, groundnuts and rice from Shiroro, almost all of them cannot go to their farms. Even with their husbands, the women cannot go to their farms. The same thing happens in other local government areas. The state is aware of all these things, I told our women in these banditry-afflicted areas to stop going to the farm, rather than losing their lives.”

Some of the SWOFON members, especially those in the rural areas, task themselves during dry season farming to, as much as possible, do some farming. In Magama Local Government Area, the heat wave experienced by this reporter was nearly unbearable as he sweated profusely and then the bottled water he bought was so hot that he could not drink it. Getting to Sulka in Magama Local Government Area, it became very obvious that the kind of heat and drought that farmers experience is severe. The field is very dry, no plain lands. According to the smallscale women farmers, the rains will not start until later in June and sometimes when the rains do not come early, they have no choice than to wait before they start farming. For those who keep animals, feeding them is difficult. The farmers have to resort to remnants of grains from last season to feed the animals. The animals are led down to the river bank kilometres away from the farm land before they could get water to drink.

The Coordinator of SWOFON in Magama Local Government Area, Dorcas Jagaban, while expressing fears, said “we went to the farmlands and we saw for ourselves how drought and the dry season have really affected us. We don’t have any assistance. During this dry season we don’t have anything to do in the farm because there is no support. We want the government to help us so that we can do farming even during the dry season. They can provide boreholes. “Since we didn’t get any support this year, we could not go to the farm. If we don’t farm, there will be no food for us to eat.

Definitely, as a result, prices of food will be high; even now it is high. We are praying to God so that the government can support us, so that we can find something to do this year, if not, we cannot do anything,” she said Head, Women in Agriculture (WIA) under the Niger State Agriculture and Mechanisation Development Authority (NAMDA), Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mrs. Rose Saba, said there are extension agents in all the 25 local government areas of the state to assist, serve and ensure that the farmers undergo training to boost their farming during the dry and rainy seasons. Saba disclosed that during the dry season, farming is actually not very easy because “when a farmer decides to start, they need to have inputs and also the irrigation system, which is very difficult for now”. According to her, there are ways through which the government can assist the women. She said: “But for now, things are so difficult that even the government is finding it difficult to distribute inputs to the farmers.

“Today, we bought most of the inputs from the market and that is the main reason we have our extension agents around them to direct them to where to get inputs, because we have agro dealers in the market where they can purchase from. But for now, those from the government are not forthcoming.” According to her, at times, inputs get to the farmers late for the season so they find it difficult to meet the production demand. “Thus, at the end of the day there will be poor harvests,” she added. Saba said that the state government is trying its best because a lot of loans are being given through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which is free interest.

•To be continued

•This report was made possible with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP)

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