For many years, farmers in Nigeria’s semi-arid far north have invested in irrigation facilities, using pumping machines and holes to grow crops amidst rapid desertification exacerbated by climate change.
Despite the environmental challenge, Hamzat Mohammed, a rice farmer in the predominantly agricultural town of Goronyo in Sokoto State, and his colleagues could work all year round with irrigated farming they had devised for adaptation, and each day stay on their farmlands dawn to dusk.
As the sun set, they could still be seen, busy, making the best of the irrigation and contributing to national production but that was before. Worsening insecurity is forcing them out of the farm, eroding the value of the climate change adaptation method – irrigation – they had developed.
“On a regular day, myself and other farmers should be on our farm working by this time but that isn’t our reality in Goronyo anymore,” said Mr. Mohammed, who acts as the local chairman of Goronyo Farmers’ association.
“I had to run for my life the first time I experienced the bandits’ invasion. We were chased from our farms unexpectedly. In that incident alone, hectares of crops were destroyed as farmers scamper to safety,” he added.
In Nigeria’s northwest and parts of the northcentral, extremely violent armed gangs are called bandits, inviting counter-actions – that remain ineffective – from the country’s armed forces. Rural communities like Goronyo have been the worst hit.
Climate change on agriculture
Nigeria’s far north, which is part of the Sahel, is vulnerable to impacts of climate change.
As climate change worsens due to the emission of greenhouse gases from gas flaring, open burning, vehicle emissions, deforestation, and use of fossil fuel, different sectors including the agriculture sector are not spared.
It has caused rising temperatures, more extreme weather, flooding, changing rainfall patterns, etc.
These changes, the State of the Climate in Africa 2019 Report, said threaten human health and safety, food and water security, and socio-economic development in Africa.
The report projected that under the worst climate change scenario, there will be a 13 per cent reduction in crop yield in West and Central Africa, 11 per cent in North Africa and eight per cent in East and Southern Africa.
It also alerted that rice, one of the staple foods in Nigeria will be part of the most affected crops with a yield loss of 12 per cent by 2050.
Corroborating the report, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), the government agency that documents weather and climate data says there is evidence of climate change in the country.
“These pieces of evidence are in the form of rising temperatures, more frequent and persistent heat and cold waves, severe coastal and inland floods and the ravaging wind storms,” the agency said in one of its climate review bulletins.
A climate justice advocate, Nasreen Al-Amin, said that climate change has many impacts on agriculture, ranging from slowing plant growth to reducing the nutritional value of most food crops.
Al-Amin said, “Climate change on agriculture extends to livestock and fisheries, where extreme heat can increase the risk of disease outcomes or even kill some animals. Some of the most visible and prominent among farmers in Northwest Nigeria are low crop yields. This season, farmers have experienced low rainfall compared to previous years, which as we all know will have a devastating impact on the farmer’s income and their livelihoods.”
Adapting to climate change – irrigation systems
In the north, rain falls from June to September. The rest of the year is hot and dry. To grow crops, irrespective of the seasons, many farmers channel water from a dam to irrigate their farms, particularly during the long dry season.
Muhammad Marzuq, a guinea corn, watermelon and lettuce farmer in Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina state said farming used to be a lucrative business for him as he feeds and trains his children from the proceeds but the impact of climate change has negatively affected his production and revenue.
Due to the low yield from the effect of climate change, Marzuq, harvested three bags of guinea corn, and two bags of watermelon in 2020, unlike in 2019 when he got four, and three bags of the crops.
Marzuq, who has farmed for 15 years, said he has been able to sustain his production through the irrigation system as he waters his farm at least three times a day.
“I had a poor harvest for about two years due to the harsh weather. My harvest started picking up since I adopted the use of the irrigation system to supply water to my crops as at when due.
“Another challenge I have to contend with is preservation after harvesting, the crops get spoilt very fast due to the excessive heat,” Marzuq said.
Ahmed Bube, spinach and tomatoes farmer who is also in Jibia, was going to abandon farming due to losses attributed to the climatic effects on his farmland until he started making use of the irrigation system in 2018. He said that the extreme temperature took a toll on the farming he practices.
“I have farmed for about 10 years but the quality of crops has been decreasing in recent years. Though I’m closer to the edge of the river, the well I dug dries fast because of the change in weather. I had to buy a generating system to pump water on my farm.”
In Goronyo, Sokoto State, Hamzat Mohammed, a rice farmer also suffers the same plight. His business, rice farming, is traditionally planted in large clumps in flooded fields but the weather pattern in his region is unfavourable to him.
For his grains to grow and also get rid of pests and weeds, Mohammed needs approximately 4,000 to 5,000 litres of water per kg of grain produced. This, he has been able to achieve by getting water supply from the Goronyo Dam.
Bandits bar farmers from accessing the facilities
Nigeria’s northwest region – particularly states of Zamfara, Sokoto, and Katsina – have in recent years seen a deterioration in the security situation, marked by an increase in banditry and violence such as kidnappings and killings.
Farmers have found a way to adapt to the impact of the changing weather and climate conditions on their agricultural practices but the insecurity in the region has continued to undermine their efforts.
Hamzat Mohammed, who lives in one of the worst-hit towns by the insurgents, said insecurity had resulted in low farming production and limited access to the climate change mitigation facilities.
“Until the security challenges in Goronyo, we can go to our farms and work a full day without any hassles. But because the bandits strike in the evening, we only work from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm. This has been challenging for my rice farming as it needs to be well-fed with water.
“The pipe I connected to the Goronyo Dam for the purpose of irrigating my farm was once damaged by the bandits, leaving my crops destroyed.”
Mohammed Saliku recalled how his customers, mostly from the neighbouring Niger Republic, used to visit his farm for purchases but that rarely happen because of the security situation.
“Our community is not safe and this has reduced my revenue because residents now contend with how to stay safe rather than engage in buying farm produce. Even customers from the Niger Republic are now afraid to come and buy from us due to the uncertainties.”
Mustapha Lawal added that despite efforts to inform the government about the incessant attacks by the bandits on their farms, nothing had been done.
He added that farmers have not been given any preferential treatment as far as he was concerned.
“I used to be among the large-scale irrigation system farmers but look at how the land has reduced, even if we have the products people don’t come to buy anymore.”
An aggrieved farmer, Danladi Bashar, also faulted the government for not paying the required attention to irrigation farming, noting that the large vast of land and the dam in Jibia have not been fully utilized.
Nigeria’s food security is threatened by climate change and insecurity as both continue to disrupt farming activities.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the humanitarian impacts of climate change will be a catastrophe in decades to come if there are no drastic efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It said in 2019, 34 million people globally were acutely food insecure due to climate extremes.
The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Environment while quoting a report by the Department for International Development (DFID), said the impact of these changes without adaptation could cost between six per cent and 30 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP by 2050.
The climate-induced shortages of water and farmland will also heighten the risk of violence as cattle herders from northern Nigeria have been pushed to the South to find land to graze livestock, causing friction with farmers.
To mitigate the effect of climate change on farmers in Kastina State, the Special Adviser to Governor Bello Masari, on Agriculture, Dr. Abba Abdullahi, said the state government had sourced for dry season inputs for farmers and also installed automatic weather stations across the Local Government Areas in the state.
“The state government has supported farmers by sourcing for dry season seeds to aid their outputs. We are also rehabilitating all our irrigation systems across the state.
“To prevent losses of farm inputs, we have installed automatic weather stations in the state. Data generated from the stations are used to get information on weather changes and pass across to farmers for preparation.”
Dr. Abdullahi admitted that farming had been badly hit by insecurity despite the efforts of the government and security agencies to bring normalcy to the state.
He said the ministry of Agriculture has been working round the clock to ensure that the state is food secured.
“Insecurity has affected farming activities in Katsina State. In 2020, about 58,330 hectares of farmlands were deserted which translated to about 30 per cent of our food production. No fewer than 159,613 cattle were rustled. This has made things difficult for farmers and affected food security.”
Forging Ahead – climate change, insecurity
Nasreen Al-Amin, the Executive Director of Surge Africa, said agricultural practices such as agroforestry can help farmers devise new methods and strategies on how to locally reduce the impact of climate change through nature-based solutions.
She said that due to the environmental challenges, new destructive varieties of genetically modified seeds known as GMOs are making their way into the market and farms.
According to her, the GM seeds are widely known known as hybrid seeds or “improved varieties” that harm human health and nutrition, quality of food, and soil health in general.
“Farmers are keen to use them because the environment is changing rapidly, less water and less arable soil make farmers desperate for new seed variety or even new farming.
“Therefore, as we can see, climate change in an agricultural context does not only threaten environmental factors like land and water but our food sovereignty including the freedom to choose what we eat and how we eat it.”
Al-Amin also attributed the surge in climate migration to the current insurgency in the Northwest region.
“Many families in large numbers are forced to move from village to village looking for a haven. When these so-called victims lose their homes, livestock, and means of livelihood, they also resort to violence, which is why the number of bandits, as well as the level of insurgency, keeps rising.
“To remediate this, the government must protect citizens from such insurgent attacks and ensure that incentive or support is provided to victims of such insurgencies.”
This story was produced under the NAREP Climate Change Media 2021 fellowship of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.