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Food crisis looms in Anambra

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…As climate change, govt neglect cripple business for women farmers

By Aloysius ATTAH, Onitsha


IFEYINWA Mbonu, a small-scale farmer in Anambra State, finds it hard to smile these days. As the days roll by, inching towards the ’ember months’, her expectations of reaping a bountiful harvest and, in turn, completing two major family targets for 2021 are becoming a mirage, no thanks to an unpredictable rainfall pattern.

It was an early morning one Saturday when she navigated the bumpy road leading to her farm in Akaboezemo, Uruagu Nnewi, Nnewi North Local Government Area, Anambra State, to cut some vegetables to be sold in the market. To her surprise, the vegetables, which usually earned her some money at three-day intervals, had all withered, owing to high temperature and no rains.

It was towards the end of July, a supposed wet season when the state normally experienced an annual ritual of “seven days rainfall” before the August break. But this time, dry season suddenly set in, throwing everyone into confusion.

The same trend happened at the outset of the planting season in the state. There was torrential rainfall in late March and early April. Most farmers went to farm and planted yam, maize and cassava but three weeks later when the stems were supposed to sprout, sudden drought hit the state and the rains ceased, turning farmlands into dry lands.

Sighing out of frustration when the reporter encountered her, Ifeyinwa said she and many of her fellow women farmers were yet to recover from the losses they incurred after all they planted in early April died because of sudden break in rainfall, but now the situation is repeating itself.

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“The sun has been burning, not shining, at an alarming rate. All the vegetables I planted, which give me steady income, are dead and dried up. I have not recovered from the losses incurred from the cassava and yam I planted earlier in the year, which all died.  I had to remove the cassava stems and planted afresh when the rains came again after a long period of sudden drought.

“No one can predict the weather anymore this time, to the extent that we farm but carry our hearts literally in our hands because of so many uncertainties. We worry that we don’t receive government support and also don’t know which trend to follow while farming these days,” she lamented.

Ifeyinwa is not alone in her predicament, as our investigations revealed many ways in which climate change affects not just agriculture and its value chain but also women, who form the majority of farmers in the country, many of them the sole breadwinners of their families.

Women constitute 49 per cent of Nigeria’s population. According to the National Gender Policy in Agriculture, “women carry out about 80 per cent of agricultural production, 60 per cent of agricultural processing activities and 50 per cent of animal husbandry and related activities, yet women have access to less than 20 per cent of agricultural assets.”

The majority of the farmers in Nigeria are smallholder farmers and most of them are women. Smallholder women farmers contribute a lot to the food security of Nigerian households. They produce the bulk of the food that the nation eats. Unfortunately, they also face huge challenges of access to land, inputs, finance and other factors of production. Women are also involved in the agriculture value chain, from clearing of the farm, planting, weeding to attending to animals and fish, harvesting, and packaging of agricultural products.

Government at the federal and state levels is expected to take up issues of climate change seriously and also make budgetary provisions and implementations towards mitigating the effects of climate change on the environment and in agriculture.

Unfortunately, findings by the reporter during a chat with some smallholder women farmers in Anambra State, spread across five local governments, Idemili North, Idemili South, Nnewi North, Aguata and Orumba North, showed that the farmers were practically on their own.

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  Climate change, a global concern

According to a Climate Smart document from the World Bank, a growing global population and changing diets are presently driving up the demand for food. Production is struggling to keep up as crop yields level off in many parts of the world, ocean health declines, and natural resources—including soils, water, and biodiversity—are stretched dangerously thin.

 The World Bank, in its 2020 report, said nearly 690 million people, or 8.9 per cent of the global population, are hungry, up by nearly 60 million in five years. The food security challenge, it noted, will only become more difficult, as the world will need to produce about 70 per cent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated nine billion people.

The challenge is intensified by agriculture’s extreme vulnerability to climate change. Climate change’s negative impacts are already being felt in the form of increasing temperatures, weather variability, shifting agro-ecosystem boundaries, invasive crops and pests and more frequent extreme weather events.

 On farms, climate change is reducing crop yields, the nutritional quality of major cereals, and lowering livestock productivity. Substantial investments in adaptation will be required to maintain current yields and achieve production and food quality increases to meet demand.

Agriculture, the report noted, is a major part of the climate problem as it currently generates 19-29 per cent of total green house gas and there are fears that, without concrete action, that percentage could rise substantially as other sectors reduce their emissions. Additionally, one-third of food produced globally is either lost or wasted.

Olaniyi Olumuyiwa and Amujo B.T. of Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Osun State, in Open Access International Journal, 2013, described climate change as an increase in average global temperatures. The duo noted that natural events and human activities are believed to be contributing to an increase in average global temperatures caused primarily by increases in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

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Nigeria is experiencing adverse climate conditions with negative impacts on the welfare of millions of people. Persistent droughts and flooding, off-season rains and dry spells have sent farming seasons out of orbit in a country dependent on a rain-fed agriculture. Alarm bells are ringing with lakes drying up and a reduction in river flow in the arid and semi-arid regions. The result is lower water supply for use in agriculture, hydropower generation and other users. The main culprit for all this havoc is climate change.

A study carried out by the Centre for Social Justice, a non-governmental organisation that advocates financial inclusion, noted that as a state in the tropical rain forest zone of Nigeria, Anambra normally had temperature within a mild range and did not get to any extreme point. The temperature, it said, followed the two major seasons of the year, rainy and dry seasons.

The rainy season lasts from April/May to October, while the dry season is from November to March/April. In the rainy season, there is usually a drop in the mean temperature of the state, while there is an increase in the temperature during the dry season.

The state experiences heavy rainfall, especially in the months of July and August, while farming activities, as in other places, follow the seasons. Surprisingly, today, these normal patterns of rainfall or temperature can no longer be relied upon for any planning owing to the effects of climate change. And farmers are bearing the brunt.

Many of them are yet to recover from the losses suffered due to the 2020 flooding, which affected the agrarian parts of Anambra like Ayamelum, Ogbaru, Anambra East and Anambra West.

The smallholder women farmers affected by the rampaging flood not only fled from their homes but also lost their farm produce as the flood submerged rice and yam farms, leading to monumental losses.

There are fears over looming food crisis in the state this year owing to drastic changes in weather, affecting agricultural production adversely. Food prices are already on a high trend. Half paint bucket of garri, which hitherto was sold for N600, now costs N1,000 while normal size yam tuber, which was sold for N700 now costs N1,200.

Government doesn’t encourage us – Mrs. Stella Onuchukwu

Retiring from the civil service as a deputy director in education, Mrs. Stella Onuchukwu embraced farming full-time but the frustration over climate change issues and poor support from government is making her contemplate throwing in the towel.

Stella Onuchukwu and Veronica Onuma stepping out of their farm
Stella Onuchukwu and Veronica Onuma stepping out of their farm

 In her farm, located at Onneh, in Aguata LGA of Anambra State, she recounted a tale of woe: “After spending so much in cultivation, hiring labourers and paying the landowners, sudden drought came and consumed everything we planted.

“All the toil was wasted effort because we had to buy new cassava stems to plant again, since government is not giving us.  Even now, we are apprehensive because the rain has been very scanty.”

Asked whether she had received any training in how to curtail climate challenge issues, she said nobody from government circles at the federal or state level had ever given them such information or training.

Onuma Veronica displaying injury sustained in her farm
Onuma Veronica displaying injury sustained in her farm

At Ufuma, Orumba North LGA, the reporter encountered Onuma Veronica Obiageli, a 54-year-old widow with four children, who is nursing an injury she sustained on her leg from a hoe while clearing some roots in her farm. She said she lost her cassava farm to floods last year, including those already at the garri processing stage, all due to climate change.

“Our farms were flooded, including the garri processing machine. Some of us borrowed money from the cooperative to farm but we are yet to pay back. Now, this year, no one can tell whether we are going to harvest anything tangible because the rainfall pattern has been very funny,” she said.

Recently, national president of SWOFON, Mary Afan, after a two-day meeting in Abuja to popularize the National Gender Policy on Agriculture for smallholder women farmers, made a shocking disclosure that, owing to the spate of farmer/ herder crisis in the country, Nigeria records post-harvest losses of about N3.5 trillion annually. She lamented that this impedes the growth of the agricultural sector.

Afan highlighted that, according to the Cadre Harmonise report of March 2021, about 12.8 million people in 16 northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Plateau, Taraba, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara and the FCT are now faced with food and nutrition insecurity due to climate change, insecurity, famer-herders’ clashes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked about the challenge of herdsmen on their farming, Obiageli said that, before now, herdsmen used to invade their farms destroying everything, until the villagers rose in unison and drove them away.

At Umunnebo village, Nnobi, Idemili South LGA, the reporter also encountered Mrs. Ngozi Ezebube, another smallholder women farmer, who said she had a terrible experience in crop farming and piggery before she switched over to poultry. But even poultry came with its own challenges because she lost most of her birds to heat, while buying feeds to grow them has been a difficult task.

“I lost many birds due to excessive heat, high temperature, in March and April this year when the rain ceased. Buying veterinary drugs and feeds are my biggest challenges now because the feeds are so costly these days. In a week, I buy up to eight bags at the cost of N6,800, up from the N3,500 that we used to buy previously.”

Hope Ozumba in her yet to be harvested yam farm
Hope Ozumba in her yet to be harvested yam farm

At Oba community, Idemili South, Mrs. Hope Ncheta Ozumba, another SWOFON member, who lamented that climate change issues and high cost of planting leave her with little or nothing to gain from her toil, said, “I paid for farmlands, which I rented from the owners. After cultivating the ones within my homestead, the rain stopped abruptly. I was lucky that I had not planted in all the lands, so I waited until it started raining again before I continued in the other lands. We are just praying that this climate change they are talking about will not kill all our crops again.”

With changes in rainfall pattern, it has become increasingly difficult to predict the outcome of harvest and time of planting.  While some parts of the state experience severe flooding, leading to monumental losses in farm produce, other parts of the state suffer a drought period because of inconsistent rainfall.

Such was part of the pains of Mrs Ifeyinwa Anaeto of Umuezeagu village in Nnewi North Local Government Area. 

Ifeyinwa's lately cultivated cassava farm
Ifeyinwa’s lately cultivated cassava farm

Ifeyinwa pointed out that owing to climate change issues, yams supposed to have flooded markets by the end of July when this interview was conducted since many communities celebrate their new yam festival by the first week of August but many farmers are yet to harvest their produce.

She also said late arrival of any supposed farm input from government to farmers made mockery of any planned government intervention.

“Imagine now that we are waiting to harvest, government is yet to distribute fertilisers, cassava stems and what have you. Someday you will hear announcement to come to the local government for collection when they know that we don’t need those things again. In fact, leave this people, they are not sincere,” she said.

Political farmers are killing us in Anambra – Akunyiba, SWOFON Coordinator

The reporter’s encounter with the Anambra State Coordinator of SWOFON, Mrs Georgina Akunyiba, was quite revealing.  In her veterinary/feed store in Nnewi, she attends to the needs of farmers in the area and also maintains her own poultry farm.

Georgina Akunyiba, SWOFON Cordinator, Anambra
Georgina Akunyiba, SWOFON Cordinator, Anambra

Akunyiba disclosed that SWOFON members in the state operate through cooperative societies from where they pull resources together to manage a group farm and also assist each other with funding. 

The SWOFON state leader said their greatest problem in the state is what she described as “political farmers’ syndrome”. She described political farmers as those who are either in government or have relations and friends who are not farmers but receive or hijack the entitlements of farmers and convert them for personal use or for sale.

 “I shed tears the day we were invited for the distribution of cages and birds in Awka (the state capital).  We discovered that our list was made up of fictitious names and those whose phone numbers were just manufactured to fill across their names.  We saw them sharing the cages among the civil servants there.  One of us left twin babies at home and after spending the whole day, they came back with five-day-old chicks each.

“After distributing these inputs, some of them working in the ministry become emergency farmers overnight while some will just sell those things they allegedly diverted to the real farmers,” she said.

Smallholder women farmers make demands

Last year, the Anambra State chapter of Small Holder Women Farmers of Nigeria (SWOFON) presented 16 requests in her Charter of Demands to the government.  These include the allocation and access to soft loan from the government without interest, establishment of a quality control regulatory body for animal feeds in Anambra State, provision of vaccination to reduce loss of animals in ruminant rearing and the provision of gender-friendly machineries for increased productivity at subsidised rates such as tillers, ploughs, harvesters, and so on.

Other items in the charter of demands include government support of extension services for smallholder women farmers in their communities, Allocation of farmlands to smallholder women farmers and provision of hatchery machine for poultry farming. Access to quality feeds for poultry farming, allocation of subsidised farming inputs: seedlings, fertiliser, chemicals, pesticides to smallholder women farmers as well as access to water for irrigation farming and construction of boreholes for poultry and piggery farmers.

More demands from the charter included government linkage to off-takers and increased market information systems, establishment of central storage facilities for smallholder women farmers in the communities, construction of good roads for easy transportation of goods from farms to markets among others.

Government and the grim reality among Anambra women farmers

As part of efforts to encourage and enhance the productivity of agricultural sector, Anambra State government makes budgetary provisions for smallholder farmers. However, there are no specific budgetary provisions for smallholder women farmers.

The proportion of total capital allocation to smallholder farmers in total capital budget of Anambra State as at 2015 fiscal year stood at 1.25 percent; 1.34 percent in 2016; 0.86 percent in 2017; 2.98 percent in 2018 and 1.72 percent in 2019. It averaged 1.74 percent within the study period of 2015 – 2019 fiscal years.

 As a share of total executed capital projects in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, the expenditure on smallholder farmer – related activities was 0.72 percent, 2.70 percent, 0.82 percent and 0.90 percent respectively.

In the 2021 budget of Anambra State totaling N143.65bn, there is no specific budget for small holder women farmers but N1, 672,500,000 was mapped out as capital expenditure for the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization, Processing and Export.  The sum of N510, 700,000 was also budgeted for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Agency while Agricultural Development Project (ADP) took N359,407, 129.

The total 2021 budget of Anambra State Ministry of Environment, Beautification and Ecology is N2, 166,000,000.  In year 2020, it was N2, 101, 671,047. In the budget, there are some provisions for climate change related issues but the actual implementation has been a different ball game. The sum of N2,000,000 was appropriated for a state summit on environment  while zero allocation was made for a public enlightenment programme on ecological issues.  This also recorded zero allocation in the 2020 budget, though a lump sum of N17, 000,000 was earmarked for it in the 2019 budget.

For climate change adaptation and best practices, N800, 000 was budgeted in both 2020 and 2021 appropriations.

The government also established the Erosion, Watershed and Climate Change Agency under the Ministry of Environment and allocated the sum of N300, 000,000 for it in 2021.

However, Water and Environmental Sanitation Tracking took the larger chunk of the allocation with N200, 000,000 while Environmental Impact Assessment, including climate change got N20, 000,000 allocations for the year 2021. Looking at government efforts, it is doubtful if they were tailored to identify specific issues that the women itemized as their challenges.

The situation is not hopeless

The Director, Centre for Water and Climate Change at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Dr Emma Ezenwaji, advised government and farmers on what to do to ameliorate the challenges of climate change and global warming.  He said:

“There are a number of adaptation and mitigation options that the country can embark upon using the existing government institutions, which do not require any elaborate capital outlay but the right political will to ensure enforcement and compliance.”

He said agriculture and research institutions should intensify research into crops that are resistant to drought and heat while the River Basin Authorities should also commence the study, design and construction of new water projects for drought management and erosion control.

Ezenwaji also called for the provision of climate resilient farming training to improve soil infertility while access to water for irrigation farming and construction of boreholes for poultry and piggery farmers should be a must in order to mitigate its effect on agriculture.

Ironically, while smallholder women farmers in Anambra have suffered  loses owing to sudden drought and rise in temperature at the thick of the rainy season, based on predictions, the Federal Government has issued another flooding alert and  warned Nigerians to expect heavy flooding this year, listing Lagos and Osun states as likely to experience more flood-related disasters.

The Director General of Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA), Mr. Clement Nze, who gave the advice at a press conference in Abuja recently,  said about 18 states have started experiencing flood disasters at a period  the country was yet to enter the peak of the raining season.

Nze, therefore, called on states and local governments, stakeholders, multi-national companies, public-spirited individuals and philanthropists to take measures to prevent flooding menace instead of waiting to be rehabilitated as victims.

Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, while presenting the 2021 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) to the public said 302 local government areas in 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would fall within moderate flood risk areas while 121 LGAs in 28 states will be within the highly probably risk areas.

Gov. Obiano is farmer friendly – Jude Nwankwo, Programme Manager, Anambra state Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Awka.

Jude Nwankwo
Jude Nwankwo

The reporter made efforts to see the Anambra State Commissioner for Agriculture, Chief Nnamdi Onukwuba, but he referred all enquiries to the Programme Manager, Agriculture Development Programme, (ADP) Mr Jude Nwankwo.

Nwankwo said there are no discrimination of any sort against women farmers by government because Governor Willie Obiano is an agric friendly governor. Nwankwo rather attributed the gaps complained of by the women farmers as a case of misconception.

On climate change impact and untimely distribution of inputs, he said: “We advice the farmers on the best time to plant to avoid unnecessary flooding. The extension officers are there to guide them on best time to plant to minimize wastage.

“Those who have suffered loss, including flooding are compensated. Otherwise, you would have seen lots of them on the road begging. We’re also encouraging them to go into mechanised farming. The governor has assisted us in procuring some brand new tractors and lots of them are benefiting.” 

Nigeria’s GDP at risk if climate change challenges and poor funding are not addressed says expert

An Economist, Dr Uju Ezenekwe, is of the view that government needs to do more to address the challenges posed by climate change and underfunding of women farmers in Nigeria.  The twin challenges, she noted, will affect Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) drastically by 2050 if not properly addressed.

Ezenekwe, former Head of Economics Department and Deputy Director, School of General Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said low levels of government spending on agriculture and climate change means that the share of resources that women farmers can receive is already limited.

“If these challenges remain unabated, its impact could cost between 6% and 30% of Nigeria’s GDP by 2050. Furthermore, small holder women farmers are more vulnerable to the impact of this twin challenge as against their male counterparts. There is need therefore to build resilience against climate change on one hand and improve government funding to small holder farmers on the other hand.

Climate change demands new approaches to agriculture. To this end, she recommended the need to implement and adapt new technologies and agricultural practices necessary to help farmers meet the challenges of climate change with strong emphasis on agricultural extension and climate information services.

“Through multiple channels of information communication, small holder women can be reached more effectively. This can involve improving women’s access to radio, extension events, SMS and voice messages, as well as community groups, health clinics and schools” she said.

Chiagozie Udeh, Climate Expert and 2019 Global Focal Point of YOUNGO, the Youth Constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who spoke to the reporter from his base in Geneva, Switzerland, said Nigeria being a country where agriculture is largely rain-fed, the impact of prolonged drought is usually devastating. 

He advocated that women should be given more access to lands so that they can easily develop locally led adaptation approaches to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build community resilience.

“It should be a no-brainer that those most involved in agriculture on a daily basis, those that have amassed historical knowledge of the crops and land patterns and even weather changes, should have more access to land as they can more easily develop locally-led adaptation approaches to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build community resilience”  he said.

•This report was produced with the support of the International Budget Partnership, IBP and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.

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