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Hope dims for rice harvest as widespread floods wash off fields

There are fears among stakeholders in the rice value chain that the flooding currently wreaking havoc on rice farms in producing areas will affect harvest…

There are fears among stakeholders in the rice value chain that the flooding currently wreaking havoc on rice farms in producing areas will affect harvest in this year’s rain-fed circle.

Thousands of hectares of rice farms in Taraba, Jigawa, Kano, Benue, Niger, Kogi, and Kebbi, among other producing states up North, have been reportedly washed away.

Our correspondents in the affected states report that some of the farms were either at maturing stage or nearing the stage when the waters washed them away.

Rain-fed rice harvest usually begins in September in some of the producing states. 

Rice is the most popular stable grain in the country, and the present administration has been paying much attention to its production since 2016, with indicators showing that the country is gradually becoming self-sufficient in its production.

Although the country has been experiencing flooding annually, affecting rain-fed rice farming, farmers and other stakeholders believe that the magnitude of this year’s floods might erode the country’s gains in rice production if urgent action were not taken.

Affected farmers in confusion, count losses 

Reports from Taraba State indicate that thousands of rice farmers in five local government areas have lost their farms to what some of them described as most devastating flooding that swept farms on both sides of River Benue, covering over 250 kilometres from Adamawa to Nasarawa State.

Our correspondent in the state reports that the area is the hub of rice production, and 90 per cent of the farms were destroyed by the flood.

This, the farmers fear, may cause a possible shortage of paddy rice this year.

The affected farms covered thousands of hectares located in Karim-Lamido, Lau, Ardo-Kola, Gassol and Ibbi local government areas. 

The farmers said the flood disaster was a double tragedy to them because they shifted their farming activities from the hinterland to the riverside to escape bandits’ attacks.

They said they were hoping for a bumper harvest before everything was destroyed by the flood. 

A female rice farmer at Mutumbiyu town in Gassol Local Government, Madam Rita John, said she borrowed N400,000 from one of the rice dealers, hoping to repay and make profit at harvest, but the farm was destroyed by flood.

She said she planted seven bags of rice seeds and was expecting to harvest more than 1,000 bags of paddy.

Another farmer, Abubakar Dauda, said he took a loan of N350,000 from a rice dealer and moved from the hinterland where he used to grow maize and other crops to the riverside because of banditry.

He also said the affected farmers were in dilemma because of the loans they took, which would be difficult to pay because of the situation at hand. 

Our correspondent further reports that large-scale farmers are the bigger losers because many of them had invested millions of naira on rice farms.

A member of the Taraba State House of Assembly, Suleiman Abbas, told our correspondent that he spent so much money in his three rice farms but they were destroyed by the floods. He said there was a need for the government to assist the affected farmers to reduce their suffering.

Yakuku Adamu, a large-scale farmer who used to harvest over 3,000 bags of paddy rice, also has all his farms destroyed. He said from all indications, he would not meet his target this year due to the effect of the flood.

The Chief of Mutumbiyu, Justice Sani Muhammed (retd), told Daily Trust on Saturday that his three rice farms were destroyed by the flood. 

He said his subjects suffered so much because they invested a huge amount of money hoping to make a profit, but the flood destroyed nearly everything they planted on their farms. 

“It was a double tragedy for farmers in my domain because we moved from the hinterland because of the threat posed by bandits, and now, our farms were destroyed,” the monarch said.

The state chairman of the Rice Farmers Association, Tanko Bobbi Andami, confirmed that thousands of hectares of rice farms were destroyed in five local government areas of the state, indicating a looming crisis in the rice value chain.

The Commissioner for Agriculture in the state, Dr David Ishaya, said it was a national disaster. He called on the federal government, the North East Development Commission and the National Emergency Management Agency to assist rice farmers. 

Reports from Benue State show that rice farmers are also counting losses.

Our correspondent reports that as of Tuesday, some rice farmers whose fields in Makurdi and environs were submerged are pleading with the government to come to their aid.

A farmer, Kenneth Apaa said: “I have about 85 hectares of rice farm, but water has taken it over. It is pathetic. I spent over N10 million here and it is just a waste. It is so bad. 

“I was thinking I would insure the farm this year. I have been into farming for about four years. This is the second time I am experiencing this. The first time, it was not as much as this.”

Apaa called on the government to come to his aid. 

Similarly, Zaki Dogs Shishim, a 45-year-old village head of Tyohemba, lamented that his source of livelihood had been washed away. He said he relied solely on his affected 20 hectares of rice farm to pay school fees for his children and solve other family needs.  

Another rice farmer, Olikita Ekani, who cultivated a total of 11 hectares at the Lower Benue River Basin area in Makurdi and Agatu respectively, now wonders how he would repay the loan he took to finance the farms.

Ekani said 95 per cent of his farm was affected, adding that he was forewarned but he never knew the flood would reach a devastating level.

“I took a bank loan which is being deducted from my salary monthly. This is the second time I am experiencing flood on my farm,” he said, adding that he had not received any form of relief.

Also, 50-year-old Kundushima Elias Tyolanga, who has been in farming for 22 years, is worried about workers who earn their living from the affected rice farms. 

His 330 hectares of rice farm, where at least 200 people worked on a daily basis, was submerged by flood.

“We have not seen much rain to bring forth this kind of water. We saw this and felt it was the river.  

“I have spent over N18m on the field. I was expecting to reap between 45 and 50 bags per hectare,” he said.

Tyolanga pleaded with the government at all levels to help him salvage the situation. 

The state chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Aondongu Saaku, said although lots of farms had been affected, there were no accurate figures as farmers were still counting losses. 

At the time of sending this report, the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) was yet to respond to our correspondent’s calls.

But the executive secretary of the SEMA, Dr Emmanuel Shior, recently admitted that many places had been submerged by the floods.

Reports from Niger State show the same scenario as many hectares of rice farms and other crops, including maize, have been washed away in the state in the last few weeks.

The affected farmers told Daily Trust Saturday that although it was not their first experience, the damage this year was more devastating as most of their farms that were submerged were already ripe for harvest before the flood.

In Edozhigi alone, one of the major rice farming communities in Gbako Local Government Area, farmers said over 40,000 hectares of rice farms were submerged, and most of them were ripe for harvesting. 

One of the affected farmers, Alhaji Mohammad Kudu, said he lost seven hectares to the flood.

“The issue is that we took loans to buy farm inputs with high prices. The rate at which prices of farm inputs went up this rainy season was unimaginable. And if not for this flood, we would have had cause to celebrate this year because all our farms had yielded well. But the flood destroyed all of them. Some people had even fixed days to start harvesting before the flood came.

“Many of us took fertiliser loans with a promise to pay after harvest,” he said.  

Another victim, Abdullahi Isah, said the three hectares of rice farm jointly cultivated by his family were destroyed, adding that they were yet to get any relief from the government or individuals.

“The problem with relief from the government is that it hardly gets to the victims. We had similar experiences in the past. When the government gives relief to its officials to give to the affected farmers, it doesn’t get to the real victims. So we just pray to God for intervention and look forward to starting the dry season farming,” he said.

The public relations officer of the Niger State chapter of the AFAN, who is also the state coordinator of young farmers, Kabiru Mohammed, said the rate at which floods destroyed farms this year in the state would have a deep effect on food security in the state and Nigeria as a whole. 

“Already, many farmers were denied access to their farms by bandits, and now, floods have destroyed many farms. And no support comes from the government. So, even if the affected farmers intend to wait for dry season farming, they lack facilities and input.

“Some of them took loans from banks and cooperatives and haven’t paid them back. And this year, farm inputs were sold at a higher cost than the previous years. Unfortunately, real victims and farmers don’t get relief materials,” he said.

Mohammed said the association was still collecting data to establish the accurate level of damage, which he said was devastating.

He said weather predictions from relevant agencies warning of looming disasters usually came late and most of them were not always accurate.

Rural farmers who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday said they were not aware of the warning against a looming flood disaster.

One of them, Abdullahi Isah, said: “We were not aware. If they put the report in newspapers, how would it get to us? Many of us don’t read newspapers. We only have access to radio stations and we never heard of such a warning. The only rumour we heard was that the flood was caused by the release of water from hydro dams.”

In Jigawa and Kano states, thousands of hectares of rice farms have reportedly been washed away by the floods.

In Jigawa, the chairman of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Alhaji Adamu Maigoro Haruna, said that virtually all the rice-producing local governments in the state had been adversely affected. He noted that out of the 27 local governments in the state, only five were not affected.

“It is indeed sad that the flood affected not only rice farms but all other farms in the state. Indicators have shown that there is going to be a huge reduction in harvest and a possible rise in food prices this year,” he said.

He said the association and the AFAN in the state had begun compiling a list of affected farmers, as well as ascertaining the level of losses incurred by them.

A major farmer, Dr Hussain Shehu, said that in the Guri area, for instance, about 65 per cent of their rice farms were submerged, along with others such as guinea corn, millet, maize and beans.

Shehu said the devastation was so severe that they heard some farmers suffered heart attacks because they took loans to buy inputs for their farms.

Adamu Ibrahim, a resident of Hadejia Local Government Area, said his four hectares of rice farm located in Ganuwar Kuka village were washed away.

“Few weeks remained for us to start harvesting, but the disaster came up and washed away the farm. I don’t know how to recover from the loss. But I thank God for remaining alive. Some are dead and houses were also destroyed,” he lamented. 

He said residents of the village near his farm were migrating to other places as the water had started flooding their houses.

Isah Dauda, a resident of Chiromawa village in Auyo Local Government Area said, “We have never witnessed this huge loss. We are now after lives and property, not the farms.”

Corroborating the position of the RIFAN chairman and other farmers, the chairman of the AFAN, Jigawa State chapter, Alhaji Idris Ya’u Mai Unguwa, said 70 per cent of the rice farms in the area had been destroyed.

“As I speak to you, we are watching our farms being washed away and there is nothing we can do. The places are not accessible by car, not even motorcycles. This has affected the whole state. It means there is no rice from this axis at all. You would hardly get 20 per cent of what we farm. To say that there will be scarcity is an understatement unless we invest hugely in dry season farming,” he said. 

He called on the government to support the victims to survive, while proactive measures should be taken against possible reoccurrence.

The situation in Kano is similar. The state chapter of the RIFAN said about 100,000 farmers had been affected by the flood. 

The treasurer of the association in the state, Malam Hussaini Shu’aibu, called on the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the agricultural sector to avert a food crisis in the country.

Also, the Kano State chairman of the AFAN, Alhaji Abdulrasheed Magaji Rimin Gado, said the collation of data of the affected farmers was ongoing to ascertain the damage done by the flood for upward transmission to the authorities concerned. 

An on-the-spot assessment by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) revealed that over 14,000 farms in five local government areas of Kano State were destroyed.

The director-general of the agency, Alhaji Mustapha Ahmed Habib, listed the affected communities as Warawa Gishiri Wuya, where 1,113 farms were washed away, Larabar Gadon Sarki, where 1,135 farms were affected, while 4,808 farms were destroyed in Wudil. 

Other local governments affected by the flood, according to him, include Bebeji (1,405 farms), Rano (260 farms) and Dawakin Kudu (5,775 farms).

In Kogi State communities in nine local government areas identified as flood-prone zones were affected. They are Lokoja, Kontokarfe, Ajaokuta, Bassa, Ofu, Omala, IgalaMela/Odolu, Idah and Ibaji.

Farmers in Ibaji are said to be the worst hit.

A former local government chairman who retired into farming, David Ogwu, said over 60 per cent of rice farmers in the state had lost their farms.

 He said more farms would be destroyed if the news that more water would be released from Lagdo dam in Cameroon was anything to go by, adding that Nigerians should prepare for an astronomical increase in the prices of rice and other farm produce.

Also speaking with Daily Trust, the chairman of the Kwara State chapter of the RIFAN, Ahmed Saba, said this year’s floodwater was much. 

“The effect on farmers is high. In the Shonga axis, Edu Local Government, more than 7,000 hectares of rice farms were washed away and most parts of the community are inside water.

“In Edu, Patigi and Moro local government areas, over 4,000 farmers have been affected. We can imagine the impact of that on food security in the state and the country in general. We have lost a lot of crops, animals and farmlands, but we are grateful that lives were not lost. 

Another affected farmer, Mohammed Idowu Suleiman, said the only way to cushion the effect of the tragedy was to embark on dry season farming, but added, “This is capital-intensive because we have to dig boreholes, buy pumping machines and do other expenses. And with the rise in the price of petrol, we mostly run at a loss at the end of the day. We really need the assistance of the government.”

However, the Commissioner for Environment, Aliyu Saifudeen, said the State Emergency Management Agency would visit the affected places and access the level of damage, after which it would raise relevant memos that would be acted upon”.       

What must be done to avert rice scarcity – Experts 

Stakeholders in the sector have suggested a massive investment in dry season rice farming, which will commence in most states in the North from October.

While calling for an all-year-round production to mitigate the shock of the disaster, the national president of the AFAN, Kabir Ibrahim, said the government should assist the affected farmers with the necessary irrigation facilities and inputs to enable them to commence dry season farming immediately. He said that was the only way to arrest the impending scarcity of paddy rice.

‘’The gains made so far in the country’s rice production capacity will definitely be impeded by this year’s flooding. So, some arrangements should be made to optimise dry season production,’’ he said.

Also, a Benue-based rice farmer, Kundushima Elias Tyolanga, suggested that the federal government should dredge the shrinking Benue and Niger rivers to avert flooding of farms close to their banks.

He said, “The rivers are shrinking, so whenever there is an overflow elsewhere, we feel it here. Water is not something to struggle with, such that you can call your brothers to help you. The solution is dredging these rivers, as well as providing more dams to absorb waters being released somewhere else.’’

‘Dams for irrigation’

The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, has advised state governments to make good use of dams belonging to the federal government in their states for irrigation services.

The minister, who recently said federal dams in states were not effectively utilised, noted that the only way to mitigate some of the crisis in the food value chain is to ensure all-year-round farming activities.

He said the federal government had provided the body of water that states could use for irrigation activities.

Also, an official of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture who craved anonymity said necessary measures would be made known to farmers after an assessment of the level of destruction.

“We will also be going round to do our independent assessment and come out with a position to mitigate the disaster,’’ he added.

Hussein Yahaya (Abuja),  Magaji Isa Hunkuyi (Jalingo), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi),  Abubakar Akote (Minna), Ibrahim M. Giginyu, Zahraddeen Y. Shuaibu (Kano), Ali Rabiu Ali (Dutse), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin) & Tijani Labaran (Lokoja)