A mood of despondency sets in as Mallam Abdullah surveys the devastation to his farmland. The 56-year-old farmer lost all 13 farms to flooding at Taloka village, Goronyo Local Government Area of Sokoto State, northwestern Nigeria. Rice, millet and pepper investments worth millions of naira were submerged and destroyed.
Torrential rains had led to significant flooding, causing widespread destruction to farms in the locality where the majority rely on agriculture for sustenance and income.
Abdullahi is among thousands of farmers across Sokoto State hard hit by the flood that was recorded in virtually all the 23 local government areas.
However, Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in Sokoto, Dr Gagadu Minanata, identified the worst-hit areas to include Sokoto North, Sokoto South, Wamakko, Silame, Wurno, Isa and Sabon Birni.
Many farmers were still reeling from the adverse effect of banditry and coronavirus pandemic when flood ushered a new setback, resulting in multiple challenges for farmers in Sokoto.
One the farmers who were displaced by bandits, Aliyu Nasiru, recalled how insecurity made farmers to flee their communities. He adds: “For months, bandits’ attacks hindered many us from accessing our farmland and engaging in other agricultural activities, which are our sources of livelihoods.”
On the other hand, the COVID-19 lockdown has had varying effects on farmers. A watermelon farmer, Isiyaka Musa, from Unguwar Lalle, Sabon Birni Local Government area, revealed that he recorded a massive loss to coronavirus pandemic.
“We bought inputs at high prices owing to border and ports closures and ended up with glut that ruined our hope for appreciable income.”
Isiyaka spent over N400,000 on inputs such as fertiliser, chemicals and fuel for water pumping machines. Unfortunately, almost 50 per cent of the harvest went bad following the coronavirus lockdown.
“I harvested over 2,000 watermelons and almost half of them wasted while waiting for off-takers who were constrained by COVID-19 restrictions.” He voiced the experience of another watermelon farmer who lost all during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“A friend toiled to produce a truck-load of watermelons and paid money at many checkpoints before arriving Oyo State in Southwest Nigeria,” he narrates.” The moment the vehicle entered the town, hungry resident mob the driver and the owner. They took all the contents; it was the peak of COVID-19 shutdown.” Muhammad Kada of Kwalkwalawa village, a vegetable dealer, says he lost all his capital of N50,000.
“Right now, I am without capital because the moment our customers from Lagos/ Ibadan axis could not reach us due to shutdown occasioned by COVID-19, glut crept in and our resources dwindled to zero points,” Kada revealed.
“I used to purchase spinach, tomato and pepper from farmers worth N40,000-N50,000 and transport them to the Ramin Kura village market in Sokoto city where customers await our arrival. I made N5,000 – N7,000 profit daily. Now, I only attend the market to socialise and collect some hand-out from concerned colleagues,” he said.
Labour shortage with resultant negative consequence on agricultural activities was another drawback recorded by Sokoto farmers owing to COVID-19.
“Many abandoned their farming activities and remained indoors, even the youth who earned a living from working on people’s farms. The situation was such that even with your money, you can’t get workers to work for you,’ Yakubu Adamu disclosed.
“I invested in onion and pepper production, but after planting the crops, there were no people to work on the fields. As a result, I lost all I invested, amounting to N200,000 owing to COVID-19,” he lamented.
Notwithstanding COVID-19 lockdown, some other farmers had expected a bumper harvest but flooding dashed their hope. Mohammed Balarabe Sambo of Bakin Kusu village said border closure and COVID-19 encouraged the hike in prices of agricultural inputs such as seedlings, chemicals and fertiliser.
“But COVID-19 also encouraged hoarding of food items, and their prices skyrocketed. So, no matter the cost of input, a farmer could realise good profit following a bumper harvest. For instance, we spend N4,000-N5,000 to harvest a sack of rice which currently sells at N17,000, enabling a profit of N11,000, which is comfortable. But the current flood issue poses a significant danger to bumper harvest expected across the state.”
The previous year, a farmer in the locality, Isa Musa, realised 87 bags of rice paddies. This year, he rented additional acres of land to boost his yields. Unfortunately, the flooding dealt a severe blow to his investments and expected income.
“I can barely get 14 sacks of rice now with the devastation on the farm. This is the reality we are facing,” he said. As the Sokoto farmers continue to lament the disruptions to their normal activities and loss of their sources of livelihood, they seek pathways out of the privation.
But the AFAN chairman said the association had taken statistics of affected farmers and contacted appropriate authorities for necessary action. The last report from an AFAN team, according to the chairman, indicated that the flood had submerged over 25,000 hectares of farmland.
Rice and maize are among major crops adversely affected by the flooding. The chairman of Maize Farmers Association of Nigeria, (MAAN), Sokoto State chapter, Abubakar Danfoloti, disclosed that all their members with farms on the coastlines lost their produce to flood.
He put the number of maize farmers in Sokoto affected at roughly 2,650. Rice farmers, who lost an estimated 61,197.5 tonnes of the crop worth about N27.5 billion to flood in 2018 in Sokoto are also among worst hit in the latest flood incident.
The chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Sokoto State chapter, Ibrahim Salihu said that 80 per cent of their members were affected in the recent flood disaster.
Sokoto-based entrepreneur, Hajiya Aisha Muhammad, pointed out that the combined effects of flooding, COVID-19 and insecurity could threaten efforts towards the achievement of SDG 1, 2, 3, which revolve around poverty eradication, zero hunger and good health/wellbeing.
She observed that more impoverished communities are most vulnerable to the impact of disasters which exacerbate existing poverty, hunger and undernourishment.
Aisha underscored the need to emplace mechanisms to effectively tackle banditry, flooding, as well as mitigate flood impact on food production and build the resilience of livelihoods to disasters.
However, MAAN and RIFAN expressed satisfaction over the recent move by the Veritas Kapital Assurance to ensure prompt settlement of the insurance premiums to cover their losses under the Area Yield Index Insurance (AYII) exercise.
AYII covers all forms of disasters that might affect harvest, Managing Director, Kenneth Egbaran revealed. Already, the agricultural insurance company has undertaken an assessment visit to affected localities in Sokoto with an assurance of its commitment to the provision of good disaster cover to farming communities in Nigeria.
On its part, the state government plans to construct three dams in areas worst hit by flood as a measure to tackle the menace. It urged the Federal Government to desilt the major dams of Goronyo and Bakolori.
The state governor, Aminu Tambuwal, pointed out that currently, the dams are congested with a lot of sand and debris, thus limiting their carrying capacity and increasing the chances of overflowing with rainwater.
Tambuwal explains that his administration would support dry season farming extensively and introduce a special package to cushion the effect of the losses.
The expectant farmers said they were praying to get back on track in food production, and urged more commitment to improving agricultural production to enhance food security.
“We look forward to the actualisation of these promises,” Abdullahi said. “We await a significant upturn in our agricultural yields and a boost in our financial capacity.”