14 October 2012

Nigeria: Flood - Stark Hunger Stares Nigerians in the Face Next Year

Photo: OXFAM
Sahel farmers are finding ways to reclaim the desert.

That the floods have come with ferocious ravaging effect on parts of the country is no longer news. With several lives lost, houses and farmlands submerged even in the face of government and corporate palliatives aimed at salvaging the grim situation, BLESSING ANARO and BUKOLA IDOWU take an overview of what the aftermath of the floods portend for food security in the Nigeria.

It is good news that the federal government has pledged some money to victims of the flood disaster that has ravaged almost every state in the country. But unless something more than usual rituals of giving money and paying lip service to problems is done, and very fast, the kind of hunger that drove nations to Egypt in the old testament of the bible might be repeating itself soon.

One, a lot of human capital; that is human beings have been lost to the flood in most part of the country. Secondly, crops have not only been lost, but the seedlings that would have been planted next planting season have also gone with the ravaging flood which has not shown any sign of abetting yet.

This flood disaster is not only a challenge to the various tiers of government, but one that is putting to test a 'Nigerian System'.

For instance, how bank loans would have gone down the drain as a result of the flood, and how useful is the Nigerian insurance industry in event such as this?

Although heavy rains and huge floods had been predicted by the metrological 'soothsayers', the government and people of Nigeria were not prepared for the torrential overflowing waters that have taken over major areas of the nation's food basket.

Lagos had witnessed the first session of the floods claiming lives and property, but that was soon overwhelmed by the Ibadan and Jos disasters. Many had believed that the worst had come and gone until last month when the Niger River overflowed its banks, halting travellers in their tracks and sending many out of their homes.

Nature continued its rage as water levels rose in many states in the north, east and western parts of the country, submerging businesses, residential and farmlands. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is having its hands full with one rescue mission after the other, emergency camps are overfilling and donations keep pouring in from government, non-governmental and charity organisations.

The chief servant of the country, President Goodluck Jonathan had in his last Tuesday national broadcast announced the release of N17.6 billion as direct financial assistance to the affected states and some Federal Government agencies responsible for disaster management.

He also announced the constitution of a National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation to assist the Federal Government raise funds to mitigate the pains and ensure the effective post-impact of rehabilitation of victims.

Despite the rescue and relief efforts, there seems to be one issue that is yet to be mentioned or addressed: food security. It is quite evident that most of the affected states are the major food baskets of the country.

Many farmlands that ought to be either in planting or harvesting season are now many feet under water. Germinating crops have been overtaken by water and are presumably rotting away, while soil nutrients are being flushed away.

The lives of some farmers are being saved, though some were lost, their farms and investments are already laid to waste. Properties and investments may be lost, but lives are important and must be rescued.

According to Director, Kogi State Ministry of Information, Mr. James Adedoyin, the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) had revealed that an estimated 152, 575 hectares of farmlands were destroyed in 344 communities which were completely submerged by the flood.

Although Osun state said it had been able to protect its farmlands, other states affected by the flood were not so lucky with one local government in Katsina recording the loss of over 146 farmlands to the floods.

However, one question silently looms; what happens when the floods recede?

Nigeria is endowed with bountiful natural resources; 91 million hectares of land of mangrove and tropical forests in the South and the savannah and sahel in the North support a variety of food and cash crops. However, only 42 per cent is put to use. Once a country self-sufficient in food and a major exporter of farm produce, Nigeria has since become a major importer of food items, raw and processed.

The blame is the neglect of agriculture, spiked by bumper revenues from oil that swamped earnings from cocoa, rubber, groundnuts, oil palm. Until recent years focus had shifted from agriculture and many farmers had to shift their line of businesses as assessing credit became harder.

Banks are always wary of granting loans to farmers due the unpredictability of nature. A shortage of rain or excess of it may reverse the order of events and an overnight event can overturn a prospective bountiful harvest into a huge loss.

Due to this, farmers rarely get loans, as bankers are aware that when a farmer records loss, most times it is such that he cannot repay his loan. Most farmers are also not aware of agriculture insurance which would help cover for their losses, thereby making their losses absolute.

The lack of adequate insurance for the agric sector has further made getting finance for farmers a herculean task, as banks are more prone to grant loans to oil companies and others who could easily be covered in case of disasters or unknown circumstances.

Agriculture is peculiar for its long gestation period for production while most of the funds held by the banks are short-term instruments. Besides, farming is subject to the vagaries of nature "climate and natural disasters, made worse by climate change.

The failure of large-scale mechanised farming to take root here means that the 65 per cent of the nation's total workforce estimated to be engaged in agriculture are small holders with little asset base and capital, and far less financial and management savvy.

This had made government intervention in the agric sector paramount as grants, incentives and the likes are always provided for the sector. Bankers are also optimistic that the newly-created or re-tooled agric departments and desks in the deposit money banks will be able to make significant impact in the coming years.

But making money available for lending is only a part of the solution. The problems of agric credit are multifarious. There is, of course, an economy-wide credit squeeze, fallout of the global meltdown and internal crisis in Nigeria's financial sector.

The Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has made efforts to ensure that farmers are adequately financed by instituting the N200 billion Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS). According to the CBN, a total of N198 billion has so far been disbursed under the scheme as at July, 2012.

In the second quarter of 2012, the CBN said N1.591 billion was granted to 13,363 farmers under the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS). Food crops received 75 per cent, the largest share of the funds. A total of 12,018 food crops farmers had assessed N1.192 billion under the scheme.

Last week, cocoa farmers had said the rains would affect the nation's output this year, not only that, the All-Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) had appealed to agricultural stakeholders to render adequate assistance to farmers affected by floods.

President of the association who is also the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the National Agricultural Foundation of Nigeria, an NGO, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria last week noted that the importance of agriculture insurance has come to fore with the recent developments.

Adamu who said the affected farmers needed all the help that could to get back into business, noted that agricultural insurance would play an important role in achieving the goal, just as he stressed that farmers were at this period, desperate to benefit from such a window.

The Federal Government had in 1988 instituted the National Agricultural Insurance Corporation, for such a time as this, when farmers would be overwhelmed by nature and be desperate for help. However, farmers say the corporation has not lived up to expectation in this regard.

Adamu who appealed to the corporation and other insurance companies to ensure the settlement of affected farmers said "we hope they will sharpen the edges of their performance and other insurance companies will also cushion the situation. And we do hope that they will be humane because now the issue of insurance will come to the front burner.

"Experience has shown that each time you have this type of situation, people try to capitalise on it in the negative sense to exploit; we hope this will not be the case. We do hope that the national insurance company will advise government as to what can be done."

Speaking on how farmers could benefit from agricultural insurance, he said "premiums can deliberately come down; government can decide to subsidise deliberately, because of the very special circumstances that the situation has brought to us.

"Some other measures that professionals in the practice of insurance can bring forth to bear, so that we can bring some relief as much as we can to those people that have been most affected by the disaster."

As a way to bring succour and rehabilitate the displaced, the federal government said it will release N17.6 billion to the flood affected states. The money allocated for the mitigation of the effects of the flood on Nigerians, would be shared among the states which have been divided into categories depending on how badly they were affected.

President Goodluck said while states will receive N13.3 billion, the Federal Government agencies will receive N4.3 billion. According to him,"all category A states will receive N500 million each; category B states, N400 million each; category C states, N300 million each, and category D states, N250 million each."

Category A states include Adamawa, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Kogi, Oyo and Plateau, while Category B states include Bauchi, Cross River, Edo, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger and Taraba.

Category C states are: Abia, Ebonyi, Gombe, Katsina, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo and Rivers, while Category D states include Akwa- Ibom, Borno, Ekiti, Enugu, Kebbi, Osun, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara and Federal Capital Territory.

The President said to further intensify their intervention activities, the following agencies of the Federal Government have also been allocated funds as follows: Ministry of Works, N2.6 billion; National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), N1.1 billion; Ministry of Environment, N350million; National Commission for Refugees, N150 million; and technical committee on flood's impact assessment, N100 million.

With these funds being doled out, it is hoped that it would be directed at the right quarters helping farmers and inhabitants of the flooded areas settle back. Hopefully, the disbursement of the funds by the various state governments would not be politicised or laundered by government officials.

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