Okechukwu Onwuma still remembers the painful day heavy floods destroyed his small farm in southern Nigeria’s Delta State.
He explains: “It was November 2012, and the flood didn’t spare anything in this community…. Farmers cried bitterly, and nobody helped us. The water covered our farmlands and homes, and displaced thousands of people.”
Flooding is a recurrent problem in Nigeria, particularly in the southern states where the Benue and Niger rivers converge.
In 2012, the unprecedented levels of flooding affected 30 of the country’s 36 states, causing damage estimated by the government at $16.9 billion. Rivers overflowed their banks, washing away farmland, settlements, and crucial infrastructure. By mid-October, at least 431 people were dead and 1.3 million displaced from their homes.
Alice Daniel is an 80-year-old farmer who lives just two kilometres from the Niger River. She says, “The flood destroyed our entire farmland and submerged my cassava, yam, maize, and groundnut crops.”
Three years later, in 2015, floods in Cross River State displaced more than 1,200 families and destroyed 4,500 farms.
Flash floods are particularly common in southern Nigeria during the May-to-September rainy season. The floods can remove topsoil and reduce fertility. But rising sea levels that risk bringing salt water onto arable land are becoming a persistent problem. The changing climate means that farmers in coastal areas are at greater risk now.
Due to global warming, it is anticipated that sea levels will rise between 50 centimetres and one metre this century. According to one report, the Niger Delta could lose more than 15,000 square kilometres of land by the year 2100 because of sea level rise.
Anthonia Ifeyinwa Achike is a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. She says climate change will have a huge effect on farmers, including the destruction of crops, livestock, homes, and equipment. She predicts a reduction in yield, buildup of diseases, contamination of water, and poorer health of farmers.
Farmers like Mr. Onwuma are taking measures to mitigate the effects of climate change on their farming business. Many farmers have varied the time of year they sow, and sow seeds more deeply into the soil. They are also using quick-maturing crop varieties and cover crops such as melon to conserve soil moisture.
Mr. Onwuma says: “Since we know that the flash flood comes around September every year, we try to begin planting improved varieties at least by January and harvest between August and the first week of September.
Mrs. Daniel adds, “Since we started planting and harvesting in line with the climate conditions, farmers don’t suffer much losses anymore.”
This story is based on an article produced by IRIN titled, “Flood-ridden Nigeria farmers need more help adapting to climate change.” To read the full article, go to: https://www.irinnews.org/feature/2017/05/03/flood-ridden-nigeria-farmers-need-more-help-adapting-climate-change
Photo credit: IRIN