Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: How Flood Destroyed Farmlands in Nasarawa

Lafia — Haruna Agaba Guto, a victim of the flooding that displaced thousands in Nasarawa State, lost much to the storm waters from the surging Benue River. He lost three children, a vast farm, which he had just cultivated, to the disaster which washed over 200 communities in the state alone.

The river which runs through parts of Nasarawa State overflowed its banks in a surge that ravaged the state in the past two months of heavy rains.

"We have lost our loved ones to the flooding. As if that is not bad enough, our farms and other livelihoods were washed off completely, and thousands of people who never looked up to anyone for assistance are now stretching out their palms begging for food," Guto, a farmer in Guto community of Loko Development Area, told Daily Trust.

Over 2,000 hectares of farmland were lost to the recent flooding which devastated communities along the Benue River and its tributaries. About 28 people, including women and children, died in the disaster which lasted months.

Dr. Abdullahi Idris, Executive Secretary, Nasarawa State Emergency Management Agency (NASEMA), told Daily Trust that statistics available to his agency, so far, have showed that over 2,000 hectares of farmland across over 200 communities all within the distance of about 15 kilometers from Benue River, were washed away.

Olam Nigeria Limited, a Singapore-based investor, alone, according to Dr. Idris, lost about 500 hectares of its US$900 million rice farm. It lost its rice farm in the early days of September when the river began to surge. The farm was submerged in Rukubi-Ondorie area of Doma, for weeks - about 30 days after seeding. The surge flowed about 15 kilometers from the bank of the river and covered the entire farm, as well as the communities of Rukubi and Ondorie, sacking the farm management and workers there as well as inhabitants of the host communities.

The water level rose far beyond the height of a fully grown adult. It is the worst in history along the Benue River as it submerged several towns and villages along the river, leaving nothing in sight.

Regi George, head of the multi-million investment, told Daily Trust. "We will lose this crop. But we are not losing hope. We are not resting; we are daily looking for ways to address this huge disaster."

Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, who had earlier promised "institutional support" to the investment, had expressed sadness over the disaster, when he received some of the management team in Lafia, who visited to brief him on the extent of the damage on the farm.

Projected to be Africa's largest rice farm, the mechanized investment is a fully irrigated commercial farm, where not less than 500 workers including women from the neighbouring communities are currently working in the first phase. It has a secondary school for the community, and an airstrip for light aircraft to carry out sprays including seeding, and a rice mill to be provided before the commencement of the phase II.

Rukubi-Ondorie, a farming community, has a large expanse of land running beside the Benue River in the southern zone of the state.

Three weeks ago, Governor Al-Makura, along with the NASEMA Executive Secretary, embarked on an air tour that took them to the affected communities to ascertain the extent of damage, and to meet with the displaced persons.

"The tour lasted two days, and it brought us face to face with the extent of damage. You know the governor paid separate visits to the affected communities in the first instance, but this time, he had to visit all the communities. He spoke to displaced persons and gave them hope," Dr. Idris said.

He said the visit brought the governor's team face to face with the extent of the damage, adding that the agency has made separate visits and taken records, showing that over 20 communities whose entire land was taken over by storm waters, need to be relocated to safe areas where government is planning to provide new infrastructure.

"Imagine our people returning to the same areas; imagine them cultivating new farms there during the next cropping season, and storm waters coming again and taking over. It will be too bad for our people. Therefore the governor is planning to relocate them; to get them new and safer places," Dr. Idris said.

In Toto alone, the local committee for distribution of relief to refugees presented over 19 communities; Ogbere, Igi, Aginyizi-Todo, Ozi-Tondo, Ilesenyi-Tono, Ihankpe, Keita, Iledenyi, Arkaji, Igwa, Dausu, Gbagirgo, Kanaworo, Ilenokwo, Angura, Keita-Beiki, Kwatan-Umaisha, Adaigba and Sinkar.

The communities submerged in Loko are: Loko town, Elegepeh, Ebeteh, Eigga, Keraku, Kpagabi, Gidan Ayaba, Adayi I and Adayi II, as well as Uiye, Oshugu, Ayeri, Eilegakpana, and neighbouring villages.

Ondorie, Rukubi, Akpanaja and Doka as well as neighbouring communities were affected in Doma while in Obi, Tunga and neighbouring communities were flooded. In all, the local government areas of Lafia, Awe, Doma, Keana, Akwanga, Nasarawa, Kokona and Toto, had farms washed off, according to Salisu Ugah, state commissioner for environment, who accompanied the governor and Vice President Namadi Sambo's teams when they visited some of the affected communities.

"Farms are no more in sight

They have all gone with the water," said Dr. Idris, who also relayed the visit of Vice President Namadi Sambo to the affected areas, weekend, saying "the Vice President spoke to displaced persons, informing them of the federal government's ongoing process to intervene further through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, for to relief farmers."

Ahmed Madaki, a farmer in Loko, who spoke on behalf of displaced persons, raised the issue of affected farms, and cried out to the federal government for compensation, just as he expressed gratitude that Governor Al-Makura's prompt intervention eased their predicament to some extent.

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