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Cultivating resilience: Addressing food production in a climate crisis

September 25, 2023
topic:Food Security
tags:#Nigeria, #Niger-Delta, #food security, #climate crisis, #Sustainable Agriculture, #floods
by:Ekpali Saint
Climate disasters have heightened food insecurity across Nigeria. This state agency claims it discovered a solution.

Climate change is emerging as a significant contributor to food insecurity in Nigeria, as it continues to affect the pattern and intensity of rainfall, which in turn poses a threat to agricultural production. When rainfall exceeds the soil's capacity for absorption, it leads to flooding.

According to researchers at the World Weather Attribution, flooding, an annual occurrence in Nigeria, is now 80 times more likely to take lace in the country due to the climate crisis.

In 2022, Nigeria witnessed its most severe flooding in a decade, impacting 34 out of the country's 36 states. This catastrophic event affected over 2.8 million people, resulting in the displacement of 1.3 million and the loss of over 600 lives.

The flood wreaked havoc on crops and farmlands, and resulted in significant economic losses for farmers. A recent report by the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services estimated the economic value of agricultural-related losses caused by the flood to be approximately N700 billion.

In Nigeria's Nasarawa State, the Olam Rice Farm, the largest in Africa valued at over USD 15 million, reportedly suffered a loss of more than 4,500 hectares of farmland due to the 2022 flood.

Although official statistics about food insecurity resulting from floods in the country are hard to come by, a 2022 Cadre Harmonisé analysis showed that nearly 25 million Nigerians are were at risk of facing hunger between June and August of 2023 alone. Experts project that this trend, which they attribute to climate change, is likely to increase, considering that over 33,000 people were already affected by floods in 2023.

Sunday Akpan, associate professor of agricultural economics at Akwa Ibom State University, told FairPlanet that "food production [in Nigeria] is not matching up with the population."

In the Niger Delta, an oil-rich region that spans across nine Nigerian coastal states, numerous communities have continued to endure the adverse impacts of flooding, which have resulted in the loss of lives and properties.

Between January 2018 and June 2022 alone, flooding caused over 70 fatalities in the region, according to data provided in the October 9-15 2022 weekly update of the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), a non-profit that promotes peace and equitable economic growth in the region.

PIND also noted that over 15 deaths were recorded in the Niger Delta as a result of the 2022 flood, which reportedly displaced about 100 communities in the region.

The region has also seen several hectares of farmlands being washed away due to flooding, which led to a reduction in local crop production.

A 2020 study by Nigerian researchers from the University of Port Harcourt confirmed that "flood increases food insecurity, unavailability of staple food and malnutrition."

But despite the growing awareness of this trend's connection to the climate crisis, farmer’s adaptive capacity remains low.

Introducing improved crop seedlings

In order to enhance farmers' resilience, boost crop yields, and facilitate adaptation to erratic climate conditions, the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Development Programme (AKADEP) introduced climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices in the Niger Delta's Akwa Ibom State.

The agency does this through the dissemination of agriculture-related information, organising free training and workshops and providing farmers with improved crop seedlings to help them plant and harvest crops early - before flooding hits.

"The climate is changing, [but] that should not stop farmers from going on with their farming activities, Imoh Akpannah, AKADEP’s director of extension services, told FairPlanet. "We introduced early maturing crops, [which] farmers will plant and [harvest] within a short period of time [before the floods]" 

Once flood water recedes, he added, farmers will resume their agricultural activities. "They take advantage of the situation, not allowing the situation to weigh them down and throw them out of business."

Founded in 1988, AKADEP is a state government agency officially tasked with training farmers on improved agricultural technologies. It was birthed from the Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs), which was first launched in 1972. Funded under a tripartite agreement that involved the World Bank, federal government and state government, ADP existed to simultaneously increase food production and raise the income of small-scale farmers in the country.

Throughout the duration of the ADP's operations, Akpannah noted, all Nigerian states received training facilitated by the World Bank. During this training, participants learned various technologies and approaches aimed at helping farmers increase crop yields and bolster food security. Due to the success of the pilot schemes, he said, state governments assumed ownership and management of the project.

Today, AKADEP covers areas like agro-forestry, crops, fisheries and livestock. It works with agricultural research institutes to develop improved crop seedlings specific to the terrain of farmlands, and subsequently distributes them to farmers at subsidised rates after providing free training.

The entire state of Akwa Ibom is divided into six agricultural zones, which are sub-divided into 274 cells. For efficiency purposes, AKADEP deploys 274 extension agents who monitor farming activities in each cell, which includes six to eight villages. These extension agents identify problems farmers face and report them to AKADEP.

"By doing so," Akpannah said, "we handle issues that come up in the field that are challenging to the farmers and come up with solutions. [The] result is usually improved agricultural production."

He added, "We come up with different [improved] varieties [of seeds] that enable the farmers to stay in the business and produce, [therefore] addressing food insecurity."  

Meanwhile, Professor Akpan from Akwa Ibom State University shared that AKADEP’s intervention, has shown clear and demonstrable benefits for farmers, adding that he and his colleagues gauge the program's success by measuring its consistency overtime. "The adoption [of CSA practices] has helped to improve their welfare and confidence in what they are doing, and has increased their income."

This year alone, 2,000 of the state's 685,095 farm households have benefitted from the training and improved crop seedlings AKADEP provided. 

By next year, Akpannah said, AKADEP aims to reach 20,000 farm households in the state. However, this target is largely dependent on the agency's commitment, said Oladimeji Adeniji, professor of agricultural extension at the Federal University of Oye-Ekiti. 

"It depends on the determination of the donor agency [AKADEP]," Adeniji told FairPlanet. "If they are well determined, they can cover as many [farm households] as possible."

He added that merely offering farmers improved seed varieties to enhance crop production is not enough. The government, he believes, must also ensure a secure environment where farmers can conduct their planting activities without the fear of potential attacks.

"People [used to] work till evening [and] sleep in their farms; but not anymore," Adeniji said. "If you go to your farm by ten in the morning, you must return before 4:00 pm for fear of [armed] herdsmen [and kidnappers]. The government must provide an enabling environment for farmers."

Hope for farmers?

Ikemesit Orok is one of those who benefitted from AKADEP’s intervention in Akwa Ibom. Orok shared that he would experience a decline in crop production frequently, largely as a result of climate change-related impacts. 

"In the previous years, we used to [plant] cassava. But we observed that we don’t get the expected yield," he told FairPlanet. Following the most recent harvest, Orok said, only seven tonnes of cassava were gathered out of the anticipated 14 tonnes.

However, things changed in the aftermath of AKADEP's intervention last year. Orok explained that AKADEP’s team introduced a different method of cultivating cassava, plantain, maize and watermelon, which now grow on his farm.

"They brought improved seedlings and workers to do the planting," he said. "AKADEP has done a lot of replacement. I am impressed."

Another problem he used to frequently grapple with in the past was the decimation of crops by pests. "We used to have a lot of insects in this location before," Orok said, pointing his right hand to a section of the farm that had previously been heavily affected. "But AKADEP has taken care of it. They use [insecticide]."

Akpannah said it was ongoing collaboration and the forging of partnerships with research institutes that contributed to improving agricultural production in the state. As an example, Akpannah referenced a case where farmers had suffered a loss due to a disease that affected crops such cassava, saying that AKADEP promptly contacted the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). IITA provided improved cassava varieties resistant to the disease, ultimately leading to a successful harvest and improved cassava production in the state.

But Akpannah named access to funding as a major challenge facing AKADEP. Although funding primarily comes from the state government, Akpannah said, it is insufficient to effectively monitor farming activities across the six agricultural zones in the state. "Going to the rural areas requires [considerable resources]," he said. "Extension agents need mobility to reach out to farmers in different villages."

It is his hope that AKADEP will receive external funding support from organisations and individuals to help it realise its goal of improving the livelihoods of farmers and enhancing food security in the state.

Until then, he said, the agency is committed to reaching more farmers with "improved technologies that have been researched and certified to be good for farmers."

Image by Ekpali Saint.

Article written by:
Ekpali Saint
Ikemesit at his farm.
© Ekpali Saint
Ikemesit at his farm.
Imoh Akpannah.
© Ekpali Saint
Imoh Akpannah.