The Anambra State government last year said more than 1,00 active erosion sites across the state have become a major natural disaster.
On a sunny Thursday afternoon in October in Ifite Nanka, a town in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State in South-east Nigeria, Felicia Okpara sat on a chair, taking a nap in a stall in front of her family compound with her two hands on her head.
This reporter’s greeting woke Mrs Okpara, who dropped her hands, replied to the greetings, stood up and yawned.
The massive erosion site behind her house was what drew the reporter’s attention to Mrs Okpara, who is a smallholder farmer.
“Hunger is dealing with me,” she lamented when asked how the erosion site had affected her farming business. “The erosion is so disturbing that I can’t farm. It has affected my farmlands where I plant cassava and yam.”
Gully erosion in Ifite Nanka, according to researchers, started around 1850. A 2019 study by the American Journal of Geographic Information System revealed the depth of the site to be 66 metres deep, 2,900 metres long, and 349 metres wide, occupying lands meant for farming and threatening food production.
As a result of the erosion, farmers who live around the area could not farm. Mrs Okpara’s farmlands were not affected initially in the last decade but are now being gradually consumed by the erosion.
She was married into the Okpara family in the 1970s and met the erosion site, which had not started impacting the family’s farmlands then. In early 2000, the erosion site started to expand gradually to her farmlands. She thought the erosion would not affect the crops but her hope was dashed.
“We use fertilizer on the farms but whenever it rains, the rain will wash away the fertilizer, leaving me with nothing,” she lamented.
The South-east region of Nigeria has long suffered erosion, mostly as a result of heavy rainfall leading to flooding. The change in climate has been referenced as the cause. Many farms, homes and other buildings have been affected.
According to the World Bank, South-east Nigeria is a hotspot for massive erosion, an advanced form of land degradation.
The Anambra State Government last year said more than 1,000 active erosion sites spread across the state have become a major natural disaster.
A lecturer at the University of Nigeria’s department of soil science, Benedict Unagwu, said water is the main cause of erosion in Anambra State.
“Rain washes away the topsoil. Nutrients are lost due to the process of movement of those soils. The intensity at which it falls impacts on the soil. This hits the soil and displaces topsoil,” he said.
Rapidly expanding gully complexes have resulted in extensive impacts, including farmlands, he said. Erosion has very significant effects on farmlands such as poor growth/harvest of crops and development of fragmented lands, shortage of land for other uses, loss of biodiversity, and reduction of farmers’ income.
Mr Unagwu said the implications of erosion to agriculture in the state are numerous.
“Farmlands are lost,” he said. “It raises the land and the farm loses its soil nutrients. It is a huge loss to lose nutrients in the soil because to regain those nutrients, the farmer needs to buy fertilizer. If you do not have money to replace it, the yield for that year is lost or if you do not lose it, then the gain will be very minimal. Even the capital spent on the farmlands is lost.”
He said farmers will suffer economically due to the destruction of farms caused by erosion, which will in turn affect the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of the country.
“When the yields are poor, the profits will be poor. Once erosion occurs, the available products will be sold at a very high price in the market and the public will bear the brunt. At a larger scale, the GDP of the country drops because there is no agricultural production.
“It will always affect food security because when we are talking about food security, it means securing the foods that we produce. If you do not have the abundance, there is insecurity, then we need to import because farmers are losing their products to erosion,” he said.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said the world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050. To feed that number of people, global food production will need to grow by 70 per cent. For Africa, which is projected to be home to about two billion people by then, FAO said farm productivity must increase at a faster rate than the global average to avoid continued mass hunger.
But erosion is exacerbating food insecurity in Nigeria and destroying farmers’ livelihood.
Towards the end of February 2020, Mrs Okpara planted yam on her farm with the hope to harvest it in September. But her hope was dashed when she started to harvest the crops.
“The big tubers of yam did not produce well because of the erosion,” she lamented as she poured the yam tubers inside the basket on the floor for the reporter to see. The size of each tuber is less than one-third the ideal size expected from a normal harvest without erosion.
“The erosion sucked the life out of the yam,” she said. “Had it been my farms and crops were doing well, I would sell them but now I can’t.”
“I can’t even get the crops I will eat,” she lamented. “Later the government will say we do not work hard but we do. It is the little things I sell outside the house that I use to eat. Farmers are struggling.”
Mrs Okpara’s fate is similar to that of Amaobi Nwankwo. The farmlands he inherited from his father 15 years ago in Ifite Nanka, which he was supposed to be farming on to make money, has been taken over by erosion.
“I am supposed to have farmlands of my own but I lost the land to erosion. Those who have the money go outside to buy land to farm while people like me who do not have cannot buy land. It is painful that such is happening,” said Mr Nwankwo.
As a result, he has lost his desire to be a farmer and contribute to the production of food in Nigeria to address food insecurity.
Now in his 40s, Mr Nwankwo repairs electronic appliances in front of his family house. As he spoke to the reporter, he was repairing a television set a young man had brought to him for repair.
A few kilometres from Nanka is a gully erosion site in Agulu community that has destroyed large farmlands the people call Uhuana (land for cultivation). The land was used to plant cassava and cocoyam in the past until floods started to turn the farmlands into an erosion site. The erosion has created a deep hole that is difficult to access.
Chikaodoli Obikiri sat on a chair waiting for her daughter whom she sent to buy snacks she would sell. Mrs Obikiri was one of the farmers who usually cultivated cassava and cocoyam on the farm, but after the farmlands were destroyed, she opened a small stall, where she sells groceries.
Mrs Obikiri last cultivated on the farms five years ago. According to her, as it rained, gullies were created and they kept expanding. “It has been more than five years since I planted crops on my four hectares of land because there are no roads and lands for farming as a result of the erosion,” she said.
“The erosion site has driven me away. Nobody goes there to farm anymore. Everywhere has turned to an erosion site,” she said.
“Then, whenever I harvested the crops, I would take them to the market and use the money to feed myself and my family. It affected me because there is no other land I have to farm to feed myself and my family. Sadly, I have farmlands but I can’t farm on them but rather go to the market to buy cassava,” Mrs Obikiri lamented.
A massive erosion site at Dim Ubana village in Oraukwu has taken a large chunk of the land, including the cashew farm. In the past, elderly men and women in the community usually went there to pick cashew to sell to make money to cater to their needs.
“The cashew farm used to be our oil well,” said 30-year-old Mmaduabuchi Onuora. “People used to pluck the fruit and the nuts. Our poor parents usually pluck them and sell in the markets and use the proceeds to feed themselves.”