Reduced rainfall and herders’ invasion of farms, both directly or indirectly linked to climate change, are forcing women farmers to adopt changes in Nasarawa.
One night in 2014, Victoria Alkali’s husband was killed and their house set on fire following a clash between herders and farmers in Obi Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, North-central Nigeria.
The widow and her four children immediately took shelter with a group of women who were also survivors of the crisis.
Mrs Alkali’s guinea corn farm was her family’s only asset but frequent cattle grazing on the farm meant she struggled to provide food for the children, and could barely pay their school fees. Unknown to her, an even bigger challenge was looming — the effect of climate change on farming communities in her area was becoming more rampant.
In May 2020, with the onset of rain, Mrs Alkali planted guinea corn, hoping to harvest before the herders arrived. But the rains stopped in August instead of November in what was becoming a norm, a deviation from the past. The poor harvest forced her to stop the construction of the new house she had started.
To improve the yields, she started using poultry droppings as fertiliser. She had bought 10 bags of the droppings from a neighbouring community at N5,000 per bag. To her delight, it increased the yields from 10 to 15 bags of guinea corn.
Research has shown that cow dung and chicken droppings can improve the soil structure to hold more nutrients and water and therefore become more fertile.
Smallholder women farmers in Nasarawa State like Mrs Alkali are using such means to protect their farms from the effect of desertification.
In 2017, Murna Bitrus, a maize farmer in Toto Local Government Area of the state, had also suffered declined yields from her farm due to the shortage of rainfall. Unfortunately, this was at a time a section of her house collapsed and frequent herders’ invasion stopped her from working her five-hectare farm located an hour from her home.
She eventually found two hectares close to the local government area which she rented at N230,000 per annum.
Being her only source of revenue, Mrs Bitrus sought several means to increase the farm’s yields. Later in the year, one of her friends residing in Oyo State in South-west Nigeria introduced her to the dung of a species of cow for use on her newly secured land.
The friend connected her to an abattoir in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, and they arranged frequent transportation of cow dung across over 600 kilometres to Nasarawa in the North-central region of the country.
She paid about N27,000 for a 50-kilogramme bag of cow dung and used two bags on the farm every month.
Before she adopted cow dung as fertiliser, since the reduction in rainfall, she harvested about 30 bags of maize. But in 2020, her harvest was 85 bags, almost triple her old yield from the same farm.
However, she lamented spending so much on the cow dung, citing it as the reason she could not renovate the collapsed section of her house, as she strove to keep up with other rising expenses in the house.
“Cow dung increased my farm output but the cost of the dung strained my finances. For example in 2020, I didn’t make any profit. I put all the proceeds back into the business,” she said.
In Awe Local Government Area, many farmers channel water from a dam in the area to irrigate their farms, particularly during the dry season and sometimes to supplement reduced rainfall.
For instance, Sarah Albert, a rice farmer in Awe considered going into irrigation in 2019 after successive failed harvests. She said rainfall usually starts in March and ends in November but in recent years it has been between April and October.
She paid up to N20,000 to local transporters for about 35 jerry cans of water every month to irrigate her farm.
While this is an alternative means to solve the problem of reduced rainfall that affected the growth of her crops, she realises fewer proceeds using this method than during the rainy season. She harvests about 60 bags of rice when rainfall is adequate but with irrigation, she said she hardly gets 10 bags, causing her revenue to drop from N300,000 to N30,000.
Nigerian women farmers are adopting ingenious methods to address the effects of climate change, although they lament they may not be not economically sustainable.
Female farmers make up 75 per cent of the farming population in Nigeria, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, many of them find farming increasingly stressful, frustrating and unrewarding due to the innumerable challenges they face, particularly from the effect of climate change.
Climate change makes agricultural development in Africa more challenging. Weather patterns in recent times have become less favourable and increase the volatility of crop yields. Climate change has caused rising temperatures, more extreme weather, flooding, changing rainfall patterns etc.
According to the State of the Climate in Africa 2019 Report, these changes are threatening human health and safety, food and water security, and socio-economic development in Africa.
For instance, the report said 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 projected that rice, one of the staple foods in Nigeria and many African countries, will be part of the most affected crops with a yield loss of 12 per cent by 2050.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in drought-prone sub-Saharan African countries, under which Nigeria falls, the number of undernourished people has increased by 45.6 per cent since 2012.
Furthermore, in 2019, the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs said 34 million people globally experienced food shortage due to extreme levels of climate change.
On the economic front, in April 2016, the Department for International Development (DFID) in its studies concluded that climate change will cost Nigeria between six per cent and 30 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product by 2050 worth between $100 billion and $460 billion.
In March 2021, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), the agency that documents climate and weather data, warned farmers in the North, especially the North-central zone where Nasarawa falls, to avoid planting early with the false onset of rains or they risk losing their seedlings and crops to drought.
A climate change expert, Olarenwaju Akintobi, explained that climate change was caused by the industrial age through the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
He said that while some crops depend on the gas to grow, increase in emissions reduces the quality of yields, particularly protein and nitrogen content, and as a result, causes food insecurity and a continuous cycle of poverty.
Chiagozie Udeh, 2019 Global Focal point for the youth constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that heat and drought peculiar in the northern region of Nigeria upset crop yield and also increases the prevalence of pests and vectors that affect humans and crops, citing the locust invasion that started in East Africa in 2020.
“It is a reality that we know in Nigeria. Now, we are already on a direct line to food insecurity in Nigeria if something urgent is not done to really adapt to change in climate,” he said.
For Seyifunmi Adebote, a Nigerian Youth Representative to United Nations General Assembly and international climate conventions, climate change can manifest in post-harvest losses, adding that stored crops no longer last the usual shelf life due to extreme heat.
“You can preserve a yam for four months, keeping it perfect, but because of extreme heat that makes the temperature so hot now, in two months, it begins to rotten because it is so hot.”
He said flooding, another effect of climate change, prevents easy transportation of farm produce to the markets.
Interviews with seven smallholder women farmers across five local government areas in Nasarawa State showed that their experiences with climate change and herdsmen invasion are similar. Although at the time of the visit, farmers were not on their farms because it was the dry season.