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Forced into loan debts, Niger farmers lament climate change woes

Farmers in Niger State are experiencing the harsh realities of climate change that has had a telling effect on their agriculture endeavors. To sustain them,…

Farmers in Niger State are experiencing the harsh realities of climate change that has had a telling effect on their agriculture endeavors. To sustain them, most now turn to banks and lending organizations for loans as they struggle to sustain their businesses.

Abubakar Aliyu, a 56-year-old farmer in Loguma, Niger state has been cultivating crops for over three decades, but his recent experience with severe consequences of climate change have changed his life for the worse.

Aliyu, who used to be a successful rice, maize, and melon farmer has now resorted to borrowing to sustain his farming enterprise. His borrowing started in 2022.

 Abubakar Aliyu

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He belongs to the Ekogbagi Farmers Association, a registered group of over one hundred and sixty members, encompassing both men and women farmers. Officially registered with Lapo Microfinance bank, the association cultivates diverse crops—rice, beans, melon, groundnut, maize, cassava, and beniseed. Leveraging individual contributions, the association provides resources to enhance members’ farming endeavors, fostering mutual support during harvest periods.

Since he first borrowed in 2022, Aliyu have taken loans up to two hundred and fifty thousand naira. His predicament started in 2018.

“For the past five years, irregular rainfall has been the order of the day and has contributed to low yields. Last year, 2022, the maize and melon I cultivated on two hectares of land ended up with very low yields. What I ended up getting in return was less than the amount spent on farming.

“The invasion of pests on the farmland was also a contributor to the low yield and additional cost for me,” Aliyu lamented.

“This resulted in my seeking extra funds to augment the farming costs through a loan of two hundred and fifty thousand naira from Lapo Microfinance Bank last year. I used part of the loan to purchase pesticides and fertilizers.”

Despite the borrowings, Aliyu said he couldn’t get even a bag of maize and melon from his farm. This forced him to commit to repaying the loan from the proceeds he makes from his other job as health officer at Katcha LGA

Aliyu is not alone, other farmers in Katcha community are contending with debt incurred in their effort to sustain their farms.

Farmers lament

Bilkisu Umar, a 37-year-old farmer from Katcha community, Katcha LGA, Niger State, shares similar experiences, attributing low yields and indebtedness to unpredictable weather patterns.

 Bilkisu Umar

Umar is into the farming of maize, groundnut, guinea corn, and rice on her three hectares of farmland. Like Aliyu, irregular rainfall has significantly impacted her in recent years.

In 2021, Umar secured a loan of N100, 000 from Lapo Microfinance Bank to enhance her farming venture. However, the proceeds from the sale of her agricultural products fell considerably short of the borrowed amount.

“It is very difficult to predict the likely outcome in terms of yield from farming, unlike before when the weather conditions were favorable for crops to strive for a good yield. The available option for me at the moment is to renegotiate with the lender to further extend the remittance period of the loan,” she said.

The far-reaching impact of climate change reaches even seasoned farmers like Mama Hadijah, a 58-year-old rice farmer in kuya community, Karu LGA, Nasarawa State. For her, rice farming, once a source of joy, has evolved into an unpredictable venture marked by escalating costs. Debt has become a constant companion, turning the pursuit of making ends meet into an ongoing struggle.

 Mama Hadijah & Family

“Rice farming is more like a family business, as my children also join me during the weekend and holiday periods to ease the stress of cultivating, weeding, and harvesting. My rice farming covers five hectares of land. At my young age, farming was very exciting, as what you get in turn at the end of the farming season is far more than the resources put into it. However, the trend is gradually changing as the farming calendar and yield are becoming more unpredictable.

“The most noticeable weather event that has played out over the years is erratic rainfall, which has affected my rice farming. Rice farming requires a lot of water, and the drop-in rainfall has brought extra costs to me in sourcing water from a long-distance river and renting a generator to pump water into the farm. Most times, the cost of farming outweighs the yield you get at the end of the farming season.”

“Since 2020, I have witnessed losses in my rice farming in terms of yield and huge indebtedness to the tune of two hundred and fifty thousand naira. I have struggled all along to repay the loan I collected from the bank. At a moment, I have to combine the selling of bread with farming activities to pay off my debt and meet the daily needs and demands of the family,” she said.

Similarly, Amina Abdullahi, a 44-year-old farmer in Katcha, was also thrown into debt. Abdullahi has been farming for close to two decades. She is into bean, groundnut, maize, and rice farming, covering three hectares. Abdullahi also attested to the negative impacts of climate change on her farming yield. She also owes N100, 000 and has no funds to continue farming.

 Amina Abdullahi

Climate change is significant variations in weather patterns, especially when climate variables such as rainfall, atmospheric temperature, and solar radiation are no longer predictable for an extended period of time, usually a decade or more.

Nigeria faces heightened vulnerability to climate change impacts, ranked 160 out of 181 countries in the 2020 ND-GAIN Index. Compounded by a substantial population growth of 2.5% annually with projection to reach 262.9 and 401.3 million people in 2030 and 2050, respectively.

However, climate change projections paint a grim picture for the agricultural landscape in sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria. By 2050, a foreseen 22% decline in crop yields threatens to exacerbate existing challenges, notably driving up poverty levels. The adverse effects of climate change on agricultural output pose a direct threat to food security, thereby intensifying the economic hardship experienced by vulnerable populations and compounding the overall poverty scenario.

Baba Mohammed, a 63-year-old farmer and vice chairman of the Ekogbagi farmers’ association said that climate change has drastically reduced his yields, making loan repayment a near-impossible task.

 Baba Mohammed

“At a moment, I am contemplating a shift to trading as a way out of debt,” he said.

Mohammed has been in the rice farming business for close to fifty years, learning the practice from his late father. He cultivates varieties of crops such as maize, cassava, millet, and rice on his ten hectares of farmland. Mohammed said the farming business is not as exciting as before due to adverse climatic conditions over the years. To scale up the rice farming business, he took a loan of N400, 000 from Lapo Microfinance Bank with a repayment timeline of two farming seasons.

“The yield from the farming product has been unstable for close to a decade down the farming lane. In rice farming alone, prior to the glaring impact of climate change, I normally got up to sixty bags during the farming season but dropped to between 25 and 30 bags in the last five years, making loan repayment difficult.”

He noted the climate change crisis has brought so much pain, economic losses, indebtedness, and an unforgettable farming experience as farmers continue to count their losses and the sharp drop in their income.

“From 2021 to July this year, flooding has been consistent in this farming community, and rice farmers are at the receiving end,” Mohammed added. “The flood washed away parts of the farmland and rice I planted. The flooding situation has affected the yield at the end of the farming season. Often times, what you get is far less than the total input into the farm.

“The common strategies farmers in my association have adopted to augment their debt profile are installment payments, storing some portion of their farming products during harvest until the hike in price and resale, and using the gain on it to pay some portion of their debt.”

A Call for Action and Collaboration     

Dr. Chinwoke Clara Ifeanyi-Obi, a climate expert and senior lecturer from the Department of Agricultural Extension and Development Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, emphasizes the need for access to information and collaboration among stakeholders to help farmers adapt to climate change.

“Mainstreaming research findings into policy and practice can provide practical solutions to the crisis faced by Nigerian farmers.”

“Farmers’ lack of knowledge about climate change makes it challenging for them to adapt and repay loans. Equipping farmers with knowledge, technology, and support is vital for their survival,” Dr. Clara noted. “But if we build their capacity so that they are able to adapt their farming system to climate change, then with a little support, they will be able to upset those debts and begin to produce at a profit instead of running at a loss.”

“The plight of these farmers is real, and the need for support, education, and adaptation is urgent”. The future of Nigerian agriculture hinges on the ability to address the challenges posed by climate change and ensure that farmers can thrive in the face of uncertainty,” Dr. Clara added.

Mr. Umar Ali, staff of the Lapo Microfinance Bank branch in Lapai, Niger State, said the bank is committed to assisting the farmers to pay off their loans with ease.

“The ongoing impact of climate change on farmers has prompted the microfinance bank to ‘readjust’ its terms of loan repayment,” explained Ali. “This strategic adaptation allows for extensions beyond the original due date, demonstrating the bank’s commitment to supporting farmers in the face of the climate change crisis.”

Additionally, there has been a concerted effort to strengthen partnerships with farmer associations, getting them “up to speed” with best practices and enabling them to effectively adapt to the changing realities of climate change, Ali noted.

 

Credit Statement: This reporting was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development.

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