Makurdi/Jos/Awka/Enugu — Although the Federal Government has offered a N17.6 billion direct financial assistance to flood-ravaged states and set up a panel to assist it to raise funds to mitigate the pains and ensure effective post-impact rehabilitation of victims, DONATUS NADI, Lafia, SOLOMON AYADO, Makurdi, ACHOR ABIMAJE, Jos, DAVID-CHYDDY ELEKE, Awka and NNAMDI MBAWIKE, Enugu report that famine and hunger threat looms large in the affected states.
As the nation continues to grapple with the immediate effects of flooding across many states, there are poignant indications that the disasters have damaged the fragile food supply chain in the country beyond a quick fix.
To be sure, with the millions of tonnes of food crops washed away by the flood in such traditional "food basket" states like Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau, LEADERSHIP WEEKEND investigation has revealed that a specter of famine and consequent deprivation loom large over the country as never witnessed in our history.
And although President Goodluck Jonathan has released N17.6 billion to flood-ravaged states and even set up a National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation to tackle the devastation nationwide, flood victims across the states have expressed concern that these official measures could be plagued by "the Nigerian factor," leaving them high and dry to a bleak post-disaster life.
While the government's attention, and indeed media focus, has largely been on the humanitarian crisis engendered by the floods, the destruction of thousands of hectares of ready-to-harvest staple food crops like cassava, maize, rice, pepper, tomatoes and yam poses a greater danger to the wellbeing of the general population and the country food security scheme in the nearest future.
A cursory overview of some of the affected states should suffice in laying bare the imminent food crisis creeping on the country and the need for concerted official intervention beyond a presidential broadcast and throwing money at the problem.
Nasarawa is largely an agrarian state with big settlements along the banks of the river Benue, which has had more than a fair share of the recentflood disasters causing severe destruction across six local councils
Over 70 percent of residents engages in farming, hence agriculture is the economic mainstay of the state. However, farmlands and settlements in Awe, Kokona, Doma, Nasarawa, Toto and Lafia local governments of the state are currently submerged in floodwater as a result of torrential rainfall and rivers breaking their banks in the last couple of months. The situation was made worse with the release of excess water from Ladgo dam in Cameroun.
Chairman, Transition Management Committee of Loko Development Area, Ismail Mohammed Umar, who took the media on a tour of the affected areas, said rice, yam, maize and cassava nearing harvest were swept away by the rampaging flood.Worst hit was the Loko-Udege axis in Nasarawa Local Council where over 57 agrarian settlements were affected.
Umar disclosed that farmers who were lucky not to have lost everything to the flood were forced to dig out their yams prematurely to avoid total loss.
This, however, proved not to be any respite as the harvested premature yams rotted away, posing health hazards to the communities. The food supply chain in the state is currently ruptured.
Umar put the farmers' loss to the flood at N130million, stressing that this has aggravated the grim economic hardship being faced by the people.
Umar, in his submission to National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials, noted that "over 100 hectares of cultivated farmlands were destroyed, leaving over 30,000 people displaced in Illah, Opato, Adayi, Iwali, Guto, Abatuku, Gidangiwa and Isankpe villages."
In Doma Local Government Area of the state, which hosts the largest rice plantation in West Africa owned by Olam Integrated Rice Farms Nig. Ltd the floods also destroyed homes and farmlands, including the rice farm
Sitting on 95,000 hectares of land cutting across the Ondori, Rukubi and Ijowu communities, the rice farm was expected to supply 2.4 million metric tonnes of rice towards the national needs of 5.3 million metric tonnes.
General Manager of the $100 million, fully mechanised facility, George Reji, declined to comment on the extent of destruction at the farm, whose owners planned to use it to stem rice importation in the country.
The floods also brought a huge deposit of water hyacinth to the state, which Director Erosion and Land Reclamation with the Nasarawa State Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Jonathan Kwaghkaha, said the would posed additional danger to the expected rice yield.
Lamenting what befell his community, Chairman, Transition Management Committee, Udege Development area, Simon Abagu, also said farmers and fishermen in the area lost their crops and fishing equipment to the flood.
Abagu, who listed the worst-hit communities as Maigami, Gidan Adiku, Kuture, Kuture Mallam, Ogeni, Igbenyi, Gidan Musa, Gidan Kabawa, Angwar Hausa and Akpamu, estimated the victims' loss at N150 million, stating that the development had dealt a huge blow to food security in the state.
District Head of Tunga in Awe Local Government, Mallam Umaru Shuaibu and Secretary, Tunga Development Association, Mr Iliya Salulu Tunga, said farmers who accessed loan facilities to the tune of N50 million through the agricultural bank were in a quandary on how to settle the debt now following the loss of their crops.
But Special Adviser to the Governor on Food Security, Abubakar Gada Mohammed, said the state government was making spirited efforts towards mitigating the looming food shortage crisis, including putting up irrigation facilities to support farming during dry seasons.
Not only had the farmers in Benue lost their crops to the flood, they are now in a fix as to how to pay off millions of naira in loans they took and expended on the lost farm produce.
A total of about 5000 hectares of farmlands used to cultivate cultivate rice, yam, potatoes and vegetables worth more than N1 billion were completely washed away by the floods. Most of the farmers affected were on the out growers' scheme facilitated by Ashi Foods Limited, owners of Ashi Rice Mill, which operates the biggest rice processing plant at Anyiin, the hometown of Governor Gabriel Suswam, in Logo local government area of the state.
About 600 farmers operated under the federal government rice policy for which Ashi Foods received 64 metric tonnes of rice seedlings for the 2012 planting season.
Project Coordinator, Ashi Foods Limited, Mr. Joesph Tsavsar, estimated the firm's loss to the flood at about N500 million and expressed concern that the rice mill would not be back in use this year.
He said: "This flood is devastating and I want to call on the federal government to intervene and look into the damage this disaster has done to this year's harvest."
Similarly, 100 hectares of rice farmland belonging to Tinka Farms were washed away by the flood.
Managing Director, Tinka Farms, Hyacinth Terkimbi Nyakuma, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND:"The damage done by the flood is astronomical. I have been in farming for more than six years and I have lost over 100 hectares of rice farmlands. I was expecting a better yield this year but unfortunately the flood has dashed my hope. I harvested 850 bags of rice last year and I was expecting 1500 bags of rice by December which is harvesting time. My farm was completely submerged.
However, Nyakuma said the floodwater had started to recede from the farm.
His words: "We have started seeing the water drying up but it has not be sufficient enough for us to access the farm and see whether we can salvage anything."
As regard the loans taken by the farmers, Nyakuma said: Many people will not be able to repay the loans. Many people would be jobless and it means that the federal government should go back to the drawing board to reassess the terms of the loans."
Southern plateau will not forget in a hurry the month of August 2012 following the flood that ravaged the area, which washed away farm produce valued at N500 million.
Plateau state chairperson of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mrs Serah Chuwang, said many farmers in the area lost their means of livelihood and their homes.
She lamented that the development had affected the prices of foodstuff in the market, warning that all residents would feel the pinch in the nearest future "because the harvest for this cropping season will be very poor compared to last year."
Chuwang noted that food crops like maize, beans, rice guinea corn and millet were destroyed in the flood, which shot their prices up by as much as 300 percent.
She added that apart from natural disaster like flood, civil unrest in the state had also dealt a serious blow to farming, as some farmers could not go to their farms for fear of being killed.
She added: "At times, some of these enemies of progress would invade farmlands and destroy the crops."
Chuwang said food security in the state was also in jeopardy because the flood has washed away roads and bridges that farmers in pockets of unaffected areas could use to transport their crops to markets and urban centres.
She appealed to the state and federal governments to assist the affected farmers with loans and other incentives to start a new life.
In the same vein, Chief Whip, Plateau state House of Assembly, Hon. Timothy Golu, raised the alarm on a looming threat of famine across the state following the flood, which destroyed large-scale farms in Plateau.
Golu, who spoke with LEADERSHIP-WEEKEND, stressed the need for a large-scale dry season farming scheme to meet the looming food shortage crisis in the state.
However, he commended the Shendam local government authority for its return to large-scale dry season farming, which scheme he said would mitigate the effect of flooding.
Chairman, Management Committee, Shendam local government, Hon. Kemi Nshe, whose council is the "food basket" of the state and was worse hit by the flood, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that over 500 hectares of rice farm were destroyed in the local council alone.
According to him, "with this development, there will be poor harvest in the area this farming season, which implies that many farmers will not be able to feed themselves talk less of feeding the larger society."
Against this background, Nshe said the council had to procure some equipment for irrigation farming, which would be distributed to farmers to enable them commence dried season farming on a large scale in the area.
A farmer who fell victim to the flood at Lalin village, Langtang North Council, Mr. Joefrey Shalgam, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that he used to harvest 50 bags of rice and groundnut from his washed-away farm.
Farmers in the largely agrarian communities in Anambra North and parts of Anambra Central are currently counting their loss following the destruction of their farmlands by River Niger, which broke its bank after the Lagdo dam was opened to release trapped water.
A local farmer in Ogabru, Mr Uzondu Uga, said: "People who planted yams for example have already harvested their produce before the flood came, so they did not suffer any loss. But then it is not the same with rice farmers because the flood came at a time when their crops were still in the fields.
So the likelihood is that the state will not have rice next year. But then some yam farmers were also heavily affected because they had not harvested their crop before the flood came.In all, it is a huge disaster for our people."
Chairman, AFAN, Anambra State chapter, Mr Nnamdi Mekoh, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that the lost crops could be worth billions of naira.
Mekoh added: "We think there will be famine in Anambra State next year. But what we are doing is to run around and rally the farmers because the water is receding now and we want them to get back to work immediately. They must start by planting cassava, which will be used next year to ameliorate hunger before the yams and other food items are harvested."
Mekoh said his organisation has volunteered to give free seedlings to farmers to plant late yams in November "to see how they can grow enough food for the state to cover for the ones destroyed by flood."
Two farmers have reportedly committed suicide in Mmiata Anam, Anambra West Local Government following the flood disaster.
One of the deceased borrowed N250,000 to cultivate rice with the hope of offsetting the loan after harvest, which the flood dashed.
Bishop of the Niger Diocese, Anglican Communion Onitsha, Anambra State, Rt. Rev. Owen Dozie Nwokolo, urged citizens to store food items against looming famine following the flood disaster.
Nwokolo also enjoined Nigerians to offer material and financial assistance to victims of the floods.