Nigeria: Travails of Climate Change

8 September 2021
opinion

While Nigeria dithers on taking concerted action to combat climate change, its impact on the nation's economy is unmistakable. For instance, women farmers who constitute 70 to 80 percent of the agriculture labour force in the country are at the mercy of climate change, with a resultant effect on food security. Governments have at best been indifferent. In this special report, Omolabake Fasogbon x-rays the travails of women farmers in Lagos state and Nigeria as a whole, noting that they are hardly ever captured in key agriculture decisions and policies

A critical examination of Lagos State, Nigeria's commercial capital, and Africa's 6th largest economy, presents a classical case of irony when viewed in the context of one of the most important vocations for the survival of humanity - agriculture.

Although surrounded by water, the state still suffers from water shortages while it naturally remains vulnerable to flooding due to rising sea levels.

There is hardly any group or business mostly affected by scarcity of water and the ravages of climate change in Lagos than farmers, whose trade essentially thrives on availability of water, which underpins arable land. The situation, among other climate issues, has made farming unattractive and economically unviable for smallholder women farmers, who are equally constrained by other challenges such as access to land, inputs and finance as well as untargeted government policies.

Climate change, which manifests as flood, drought, erratic rainfall patterns as well as extreme heat and high temperature and their attendant results, such as pest and disease outbreak, has made agricultural development more challenging, its effect reflecting on the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Lagos and Climate Change

Lagos is considered one of the most vulnerable states in Nigeria to rising sea levels and flooding. With an estimated population of over 24 million, the state caters to more than 10 per cent of Nigeria's population (200 million) on a landmass of 0.4 per cent.

Latest reports predict an increase in the intensity of rainfall in Lagos state. A research led by marine physicist at the UK's National Oceanography Centre, Svetlana Jevrejeva, foresees a 90cm of sea level rise by 2100 in Lagos, if global warming exceeds 2C.

The Lagos State government, in April 2020, warned of a high intensity of rainfall of 261 days with attendant flooding across the state this year. The state's Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Tunji Bello, gave the warning during a briefing on the 2021 Seasonal Climate Predictions, and Socio-Economic implications for Lagos State.

He said, "Generally, the Seasonal Climate Prediction for Lagos State signifies that on-set dates ranged between March 17 in the earliest, and April 6, while the season-ending may range between November 20 and December 5, 2021. The connotation is that Lagos State shall experience a rainy season of 238-261 days, while the maximum annual rainfall amount is predicted to be 1,747mm.

"It is also expected that the increasing frequency of extreme weather events indicates that year 2021 will likely experience days with extremely high rainfall amounts which may result in flooding."

On the flip side, water scarcity in Lagos puts the state at risk of drought. Water is considered an important climatic factor that determines plant and livestock growth and development. The Lagos State Water Supply Master Plan puts the daily water demand in Lagos at 540 million gallons per day (MGD), whereas it can only produce 210 MGD, less than half of what is needed.

The inconsistency of rain, flood and shortage of water, indeed, suggests a tougher time for farmers in Lagos who now need a high level of preparation for seasonal change.

The Fate of Smallholder Women Farmers in Lagos State

THISDAY interactions with smallholder women farmers in Lagos State showed an unmotivated lot devastated by the effects of climate change and neglected by government, a situation that might have a telling effect on food production in the state and its environs. If the situation in other parts of the country is anywhere close to the one in Lagos State, then food security in Nigeria might be a real and possible threat in the nearest future.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), already over 9 million people in Nigeria are reportedly facing food insecurity and the figure is predicted to increase by 12.8 percent later this year.

The situation is not unconnected to challenges faced by women farmers in this report.

Mrs. Adetola Modupe is one of the over 30,000 members of the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), and specialises in fish farming. Generating water for her fish ponds tops her many hurdles. Electricity, she said, is not stable and so she relies mostly on generators to pump water to keep her business going. Even at that, the high cost of fuel with which to power the generator is killing her business. She said she had spent over N200,000 on fuel alone in six months.

But the good thing is that Modupe did not just fold her arms and resign to fate. She became innovative. She set up an earthen pond in her compound to culture her fishes, reasoning that the pond generates water from the ground. According to experts, the earthen pond, which is constructed from earth soil, presents natural habitat for fishes.

A fish expert, Benadine Nonye, explained further: "Fishes grow better in an earthen pond than in every other type of pond. The maintenance cost is cheaper and it can support different kinds of feed. It also has natural capacity to control pollution"

But it was not too long that Modupe closed down the pond. Why? According to her, the earthen pond could not withstand the pressure from flood anytime it rained heavily, leading to the fishes dying or escaping and pollution of the pond.

"This is where I used to have my earthen pond (pointing to the spot which has been covered up and now a base for one of her 14 plastic ponds), it was an economical option and less stressful to operate as a woman. Infact, fish grows faster in earthen pond and even though I have to feed, I feed less because in the pond are earthworms and other organisms that fishes can feed on. Where I used four bags of feed on plastic pond, I will only use two in earthen pond," Modupe explained.

She continued: "Despite these benefits, I've always had fish loss from flood arising from heavy rain. More to it is the fact that fishes get lost in the earthen pond and I would usually engage the service of men - the abokis - to locate them from the pit for me at a fee.

"It was so bad that the pond got the ground sinking, such that when we decided to cover it up as a result, getting to refill it with sand was tough. This also affected our borehole as we were forced to dig another borehole entirely. Thank God we are the owners of the house. Besides, fishes are always affected by cold weather when they are in hatchery. Infact, I've always recorded huge loss during this stage as a result of the cold weather."

Continuing, Modupe said, "Other than these reactions, this would have been the best option for me. I wished I had a separate land close to my house where I can be able to do this as I would not be able to leave my family for a distant location".

As another option, she later switched to a concrete pond, and that too suffered persistent water leakages before she eventually settled for black plastic ponds. Though the incidence of fish loss from flooding was curtailed as a result, she still bemoaned the huge overhead and extra physical efforts with no corresponding profit.

Mrs. Erhunmwunsee Osaretin, like Modupe, used to operate two earthen ponds to nuture fish. Her reason for this choice was not farfetched. "It is cheaper and less stressful for a woman", she said.

Visiting her farm at Aiyetoro village along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, it was obvious that the ponds had since been abandoned as Osaretin also confirmed. She said she closed down the earthen pond to switch to plastic tank due to climate pressure.

"When l had my earthen pond, l had serious challenges due to theft since the farm is not fenced round. Besides, during heavy rainfall, the pond usually over flows, resulting in loss of fish most especially when it rained at night" She confessed, however, that having to manage plastic pond has not been easy in terms of resources and physical efforts.

Women Farmers' and Weather Forecasts

Although, the Lagos State government has always disseminated weather forecasts via media platforms, not many farmers usually get hold of the information which could have enabled them to plan ahead. For the Lagos State SWOFON Coordinator, Mrs. Chinasa Asonye, who had just lost more than N500,000 worth of fishes to flood and infections in her Ijebu Farm in Ogun State, the calamity could have been averted if she had a signal that it was going to rain.

This reporter's visit to Asonye's farm was fortuitous, as she had just returned from where she went to bury dead fishes. She poured out her grievance with deep emotions.

"I lost more than N500,000 worth of fishes to the rain that fell two nights ago in Ijebu. This could have been averted if I had prior information on the weather. Then I would have quickly planned ahead of the rain. The rain came in the night when everybody had left the farm, so there was no one around to flush out water in the pond. Usually, when it starts raining, we usually fix the pumping machine to flush out water in the tanks but this happened in the night when there no one was on ground".

But, it is not just flood alone that is bringing her headaches. Asanye recalled how she recently lost both her capital and profit to excessive cold weather despite the fact that affected fishes were hatched indoors.

"During extreme cold weather, when we spawn (bringing the egg of female fish and the male sperm together, also known as external fertilisation), the fishes should come out between 24 to 30 hours but if the weather is so cold, it takes so long and in other cases, all the eggs will die. So, in the case of extreme cold, we try to heat them up. Last time, I lost almost all the fishes because of extreme cold weather and running into huge loss."

While Asonye is disturbed by flood in her Ijebu farm where she cultured with earthen pond, drought has become her major source of worry in her Ikorodu farm in Lagos, where water is indispensable to sustain not just her fishes but her crops which sit on a five plots of land.

Nonetheless, erratic power supply is another problem her business confronts as she spends more to pump water when there is not electricity.

She said, "Where we pump a tank of water for one hour with electricity, we do so for four hours or thereabouts with generator."

She also lamented low footfalls of smaller fishes during rainy season as buyers avoid stocking during this period because they fear that rain would sweep the fish away from the ponds where they are kept.

"This results into loss for me as I will continue to feed the fishes for long, yet sell at a ridiculous price of N10, N20 or N25."

Asanye believes that farmers would fall less victims to climate change should they have access to prior weather forecast which she said is lacking.

"We are looking at the Nigerian Meterological Agency (NiMet) to create a network where they can assist farmers to send weather update on a daily or monthly basis directly to our phone so that we can plan proactively. Although, there is usually general information passed through the mainstream media, this does not suffice for farmers as it is not all that can access or interpret it", she said.

The SWOFON coordinator recalled how pig farmers lost millions to Africa Swine Fever in 2020 because government could not get hold of the information on time, let alone reaching out to the farmers.

She lamented, "Otherwise, they would have sold off their pigs and escaped the huge loss. But because this caught them unawares, they started selling pigs of 100kg at a ridiculous price of N1,000 and N2,000. Yet some women borrowed up to N10 million for the business. Infact, we lost not less than five women farmers, including a pregnant woman because of the tragedy, as they could not refund the loans they collected."

"The Nigerian Incentive Based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture Lending, NISRAL, actually extended the farmers loan moratorium for six months but where on earth would they get the money in six months. Many of them are still yet to recover from the shock and loss.This is why lately, the CBN is talking about COVID-19 loan and all that, but we can't even access the loan. Infact, we are afraid of taking the loans. We can't talk about food security without government involvement. Farmers need grants and not loans", Asonye averred.

Like Asonye, Mrs. Onabajo Nofisat was oblivious of the weather forecast sent through the Lagos State government or from any other source that could have prepared her for the ravages of weather change.

She however had put this into consideration when setting up her plastic pond. She has the partial indoor aqua culture system, which according to her, is deliberate and strategic.

The indoor aqua culture is a form of fish rearing inside a building or a shelter and it is strongly advised to protect fish against adverse temperature. With an aluminum covering and wall less pond, she has been able to shield her fish from the heat of the high temperature and contend less with flood from rainwater.But has issues with generating water to sustain the fishes in the ponds.

She shared with this reporter how she once lost all her fully grown fishes because she could not get water to refill her ponds as her generator had a fault and electricity supply had ceased.

"I tell you, if electricity was regular, 50 percent of farmers' problems is solved", she said.

Another female farmer, Mrs. Adejobi Olanike, had no idea of what the 2021 weather information looks like. But, somehow, from the onset, she planted a number of banana trees around her farm.

Although she was ignorant of the climate cushioning effect of the trees, experts say having such trees around fish pond would temper the effects of strong wind and high temperature.

She however said that she has less flood issues with her concrete fish pond just because she was always available to flush out water during heavy rainfall, except when she occasionally travels.

Against her wish, Olanike has had to sacrifice being with her family in Ikorodu to cater for her fish farm in Agbado area of Lagos, as she has to be around to monitor her fishes from the vagaries of the weather. She does not have the resources to own a land in Ikorodu, but has the luxury of a large expanse of land bequeathed to her by her late father.

As big as the farm is, only 11 of her 17 concrete ponds are filled with fish. She obviously was not happy with the situation when she said that business has turned upside down since the outbreak of COVID-19.

She relays her plight thus, "Before the pandemic, it is that demand was more than supply but now, market has shrank and the few ones that are buying are not offering good prices. My motivation for this business has dropped and it's only the passion that is sustaining me."

Olanike, who has been a member of SWOFON for five years, said that other than training that had nothing to do with climate change, she is yet to enjoy any benefit from government. She particularly pleaded with government to assist with grant and possibly help to subsidize the exorbitant price of feeds.

"I will also appreciate that government buy our products at wholesales and help us sell it out so we don't run at a loss over low patronage," she added.

On her part of Mrs. Atulomah Abosede, who is into crop and poultry farming, said drought has limited her farming capacity, hence, she decided to restrict her planting to the rainy season.

"You know because there is no water and I don't have the resources to build a borehole, I had to time my farming activities to the rainy season. During the dry season, I usually fetch water inside gallons from my home to water crops on the farm, but this can't be as effective as having irrigation equipment."

Abosede, who farms on five plots of land leased to her by her church in Ajuwon, a boundary community between Lagos and Ogun states, said she would appreciate getting grant support from the government to build a borehole so she can be able to do her farming on a full and large scale. With her poultry farm presently empty, she said she is waiting on the proceeds of her crops to plough back to the poultry business.

Sounding so committed, yet pitiful, she said she wished she could "own a very big poultry farm and operate nonstop but the earnings from the crop have not really been sufficient to operate a poultry farm of my dream."

"Asides the problem with water, I've had issues with rodents that destroy a lot of my crops just as you can see (Pointing to her maize crops that were consumed immaturely by rodent). I've ran into huge losses as a result of rodent attacks and I wish I had enough money to fence the farm round," she lamented.

Climate change not well managed will heighten hunger, economic crisis - Experts

Change in climate and global warming are considered threats to food security in most developing nations, including Nigeria. Although inevitable, experts say farmers would have to be innovative in their approach to manage the natural phenomenon.

A Professor of Aquaculture Nutrition, Department of Fisheries, Lagos State University, LASU, Morenike Adewolu, submitted that if not well managed, climate situation will lead to decrease in food production, scarcity and, consequently, high prices of staple food even worse than presently witnessed in the market.

She added that the situation would also heighten risk for agricultural investors and stir poverty and hunger.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), already, not less than 9.2 million people in Nigeria are food insecure amid the effects of armed conflicts, COVID-19 and climate change. FAO maintained that climate change would continue to affect food security in West Africa. This, no doubt, will lead to increase in prices of foodstuff.

Adewolu, who took the reporter on a tour of LASU fish farm, said that fish farmers can indeed conquer the effect of harsh weather without breaking their bank by simply being innovative and creative.

For instance, in the case of earthen pond, which is more prone to fish loss as a result of flooding, she suggested grassing of the dyke.

"Grassing the dyke will prevent the soil from moving into the ponds just as we have on our farm here.High temperature affects the physiology and reproductive behaviour of fish, thereby decreasing overall fish production. It is thus recommended that during extreme high temperature, feeding of fishes should be suspended, and water should be changed to a recommended level and then put the fish to rest for like 24 hours before commencing feeding, otherwise, one may lose all the fishes," she stressed.

To break the effect of strong wind, Adewolu said, "farmers can deliberately plant trees like banana trees around the pond just like we have in our farm here too".

She also suggested the idea of indoor aquaculture for smallholder women farmers.

Above all, she urged government to provide a comprehensive training on climate change for women farmers. "Hence they will be knowledgeable enough to know what to do when they are confronted with weather challenge," she reasoned.

Like Asonye, she believes that a simple regular update on weather changes would avert crisis for farmers arising from sudden changes in weather.

Cost of renting generator, maintenance, fuel and feed bite harder than climate change in Lagos

Beyond climate change, are other challenges that seem to have pushed women farmers to the wall. The mumble of these farmers, who see to over 70 percent farm work in the country,npredicts a gloomy picture for food security and, consequently, the economy.

For instance, for Osaretin who is already thinking about closing up her farm, the de - motivating factors were insecurity, staff infidelity, high cost of feed and water supply. She quickly added extremely bad roads to the list. When this reporter took a motorcycle ride on the overly marshy and narrow road that leads to her farm in Aiyetoro, she held closely to the rider so as not to fall.

Asked how goods are transported from the farm to the main road and then to the market, the motorbike rider answered as though the question was strange, saying, "farm produce are conveyed with motorcycle no matter how heavy or huge they are. We lift them directly from the farm and drop them to a better part the road before they are moved away in vehicle"

On the porous farm were empty fishponds, chicken coops and goat sheds except for one white fowl playing around the farm. Osaretin, who lives in Arepo, about 55 kilometers away from her farm in Aiyetoro, finds it hard to supervise her farm due to insecurity, essentially product and equipment theft.

"Just three weeks ago, they removed two of my pumping machines from the well. Presently, I have to move my fish from the farm to my tanks at home", she lamented

Bemoaning government neglect, she said, "if government can support me with grant or soft loan to enable me fence my farm and also increase the scope of farming, the turnover will be worth it irrespective of cost of feed"

Lamenting again, Nofisat said, "We generate our water which costs more with generator. Apart from feed prices that have skyrocketed, other heavy expenses go to fuelling, repairing and maintenance of generator. Besides, sales have been too poor since COVID-19 outbreak, infact, as I speak, I have disengaged my driver because I can no longer pay his salary."

For Nofisat, whose fish farm is almost half empty, getting grant support from government would fix her problem significantly.

She said, "I need to refill those empty ponds especially now that the market has started picking gradually, but there are not much on ground to sell. I will appreciate if government can help with grant and not loans. A lot of people who took loan couldn't pay back because of situation of things in the country.

"Besides, government should help subsidise the price of feed like it's done in advanced countries. They should try and support feed manufacturers who will in turn sell to us at cheaper rate while we can sell directly to consumers at prices they can afford. The idea of giving one bag of feed which goes for a minimum of N5000 to a maximum of N12,000 as empowerment is not it at all."

Modupe is tired of government's empty promises and is skeptical of help from that quarter.

"In any case, if government is ready to assist, let them support with grant and not loan. The only way government has been assisting is in form of loan at two or three digits, I don't really subscribe to this. For once, let them give us grant, so we can turn it around into something meaningful. I've been in SWOFON for three years, training is all I've benefitted."

For Abosede, she requires a grant and mechanised farming tools which is one of the major demands of SWOFON. Others are: access to free or subsidized farming inputs, provision of gender friendly machine, access to grant, storage facilities, security and good road networks.

Government Paying Lip Service to Agriculture

In October 2019, when the Federal Government instituted the National Gender Policy in Agriculture (NGPA), expectations of women farmers were lifted. The NGPA sought to help women farmers to access faming inputs and improve their participation in the agricultural sector.

At the launch of the policy, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Nanono, assured that the policy would address issues relating to women biases in agriculture as well as close the gender gap in the sector.

Following this announcement were anticipated great changes. Sadly, their present situation seemed aggravated. Inrecent times, it is not unusual to see headline as: 'Government restates commitment to Agriculture', FG commits huge sum to Agriculture; and, most recently, '2.2 million farmers to benefit from FG's N12.3 billion Agric subsidy'. The reality on ground, however, shows that the farmers who are targeted beneficiaries of these government initiatives never get them or at best get a tip of the iceberg.

This is more evident in the federal and state budgetary allocation to the sector, which is far and regrettably below 10 percent agreed to at the Maputo and Malabo declarations and signed by the federal government in 2003 and 2014.

Checks revealed that not only has government been unfair with the budget allocated to a promising Agric sector but also in the cash releases to the sector.

For instance, between 2015-2019, of the total budget for these years, the sector received a meagre 0.90.1.25. 1.82, 2.23 and 1.85 (percent) for the five years respectively, which is not anywhere close to the 10 percent agreement.

The percentage of capital allocation to the sector for the said period stood at 21.62, 60.91, 76.57, 73.49 and 65.02 respectively while the actual release for capital project during the said period stood at 50.66, 67.11, 66.27, 40.35 and nil percent. The movement of the allocation yearly depicts government insensitivity to the sector. More worrisome is the injustice done to the meagre allocation by way of outright withhold of budgeted amount.

Of the actual capital release between 2015-2019, women farmers who does almost all farming activities in the country were offered a consolatory allocation of 4.07, 0.97,5.09, 6.31 and 3.73 percent respectively.

The year 2020 budgetary allocation did not make any difference either. A paltry sum of N160.45 billion, representing 1.48 percent of a total budget of N10.81 trillion, was set aside for the sector.

And despite yelling from stakeholders at different quarters, the sector attracted a low N280.31 billion, representing 2.06 percent of a total budget of N13.59 trillion in 2021. And of the N211 billion earmarked for capital spending, a meagre N15.7 billion representing 7.44 percent of the total capital share was left for the women workforce. Sadly, three months to the end of 2021, not many women have been able to testify to have a feel of the budget either in terms of infrastructure or in input.

Indeed, women farmers who constitute more than half of agriculture workforce, became the most hit of government policies judging from the conditions under which they work and their plight.

Every year, SWOFON has kept on presenting its demands to government and still doing. This is because the authorities are yet to yield to its demands, the major reason why Abosede in her late 50's suffers health challenges as she still uses hoes and cutlass on the farm. She feels the pressure because she does most of the activities on her farm except once in a while when her children are on holiday.

She told this reporter, "I don't make enough money to talk of employing workers. There is hardly a week that I don't visit the hospital because the physical efforts tell a lot on my body. But what do I do? I spend a larger percentage of my meagre profit on drugs. How I wished I had the resources to get mechanised tools. It will do a great deal".

Asonye stated that the association has been knocking endlessly for their demands to be met.

"We went all the way to Mount Kilimanjaro to express our grievance. Infact, we all went as far as dropping our hoes and cutlasses to be replaced with mechanised tools. We were eventually remembered in April this year when we were told to come to take delivery of some mechanised tools. Although, we are yet to receive it because it is yet to reach Lagos from Abuja, what was portioned for us is insignificant compared to the number of women farmers in the country.

"Each state is expected to get between 3-4 rice stretchers, cultivator machines, collapsible tanks and pumping machines. With a state like Lagos having over 30,000 members, how will 3-4 machines circulate among us?" she asked rhetorically.

Meanwhile, a breakdown of the 2017 Lagos budget saw agriculture as one of the sectors with the lowest allocation of N350 million out of a total budget of N812.99 billion. Surprisingly, a whooping N360 million was devoted to Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission, LASIEC, for local government electionsonly, and with a budgetary allocation of N252 million, the Lagos State House of Assembly Service Commission stood so close to the total share of the entire agric sector.

The state's 2021 budget of N920.5bn has employment creation and enhancement of food security as one of its key focus areas. The analysis of the budget presented to the media in January by the state Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Sam Egube, did not disclose the specific allocation to the agriculture sector or give a breakdown of what goes to women farmers.

With a woman Commissioner for Agriculture in Lagos State came relief for women farmers who had always prayed for one of their kind to be in charge of agriculture affairs in the state.

Asonye said, "We've just had our gender policy recently to look at how women would be carried along when formulating agriculture policy. Women should be included in decision making and implementation process. This is our agitation. We don't just want decision to be imposed on us, we want women farmers to be included.

"Thank God we now have a woman Commissioner in Lagos state; we hope her tenure would bring significant changes to women farmers in the state".

But the hopes might be misplaced. When contacted to comment on the plight of women farmers in the state, the Agriculture Commissioner, Abisola Ogunsanya, refused to respond to this reporter's enquiries sent to her personal email given on the ministry's website.

When this reporter later called one of the numbers on the website, the unidentified man who spoke to her directed her to the Public Affairs Manager. When the reporter called the manager and intimated him of the purpose of the call, he dropped an email address for the reporter to send her enquiries. This reporter sent questions to the email address on June 18, 2021, which was neither acknowledged nor answered.

THISDAY followed up with phone calls which were never picked after which a reminder email was sent on July 2, 2021, but this was also not acknowledged nor attended to up to the time of filing this report.

*This report was produced with the support of the International Budget Partnership, IBP and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR

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