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Time to assist farmers

Media reports in the past few days of rain storms around the country are strong indications that the 2023 rainy season is about to set…

Media reports in the past few days of rain storms around the country are strong indications that the 2023 rainy season is about to set in. Yet, rather than look forward to the new farming season with great hope and excitement, most of the farmers who suffered devastations from the 2022 flooding in many parts of the country are still crying for support and rescue interventions. The affected farmers need critical interventions to salvage them from the hopeless situation occasioned by the loss of their cultivated farmlands, crops, livestock, shelter and clothing; all to floods.

The bleak look into the future, especially for peasant farmers affected by last year’s flooding has, for the past six or more months, remained indelible in their minds. The long wait for the not-forthcoming support, which should have since rescued and stabilised most of the flood-stricken farmers in readiness for this year’s farming season has, instead, rendered too many of them miserably despaired.

It would be recalled that in October 2022, floods were reported in 27 out of the 36 states and the FCT, which according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) affected half a million people; displacing 100,000 people. In a statement in October 2022, NiMet said more than 300 people were killed and about 500 injured in the floods; making it the worst devastation in a decade. Barely 10 days later, the death toll hit over 600, with over 2.5 million people affected in many ways.

At a press briefing in Abuja last year, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouk, disclosed that a total of 121,318 houses were partially damaged and 82,053 others were totally damaged. She further revealed that while 108,392 hectares of farmland were partially destroyed, another 332,327 hectares were totally devastated. The failure to support this group of farmers to actively participate in the 2023 farming year could be a recipe for food insecurity in the country.

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), during the public release of the Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP) on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, told Nigerians to expect more floods this year; warning of an earlier than normal onset of rainfall. The Director-General of NiMet, Prof. Mansur Matazu, disclosed that even though the experiences of the 2022 floods were very devastating, the fact that “the water table has not gone too low and the aquifers are still very much active across the country” both point to more floods in many places in 2023; a phenomenon he attributed to an increase in climate change activities.

Now that NiMet has released rainfall predictions for 2023, the questions we should be asking should include whether or not basic precautionary environmental measures have been taken to forestall a recurrence of the 2022 catastrophic flooding. We should ask to know the extent to which long-term measures have been initiated and implemented, including the building of buffer dams along the River Benue, the siltation of the River Niger, and the once and for all relocation of residents of flood-prone areas to safer zones.

The worst challenge of all the losses suffered by farmers during the 2022 flooding is the anxiety over how to repay the loans they accessed through the various agricultural intervention schemes provided by commercial and microfinance banks. Thousands of smallholder farmers also received credit facilities from grain processors. Usually, grain merchants and rice processing companies yearly grant loans in cash, farm implements, and agrochemicals under an arrangement that farmers would, after harvest, pay back with paddy rice or maize. Unfortunately, the crops were last year washed away by floods; depriving farmers of the expected harvests from which they were to repay their loans.

About 4.8 million farmers are reportedly owing over N1 trillion in loans across the country. This includes the N744.32bn provided for 678 projects in agro-production and agro-processing under the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS). While the Dangote-led Presidential Committee raised over N11.3bn for the 2012 flood victims, not much support targeted at flood-stricken farmers has been reported. This is even as the 2022 floods were described as worse than that of 2012, for which victims and farmers received interventions. Besides, coping with the ever-high cost of fertiliser still poses a challenge to these farmers.

Whereas all agricultural loans, including those granted to farmers by the CBN through the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (ACGSF), are expected to be insured from the source by the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) in the same way that loans received from the Bank of Agriculture have insurance costs built into credit facilities, many farmers have a phobia for insuring loans received in the informal sector.

While we urge NAIC to adequately compensate farmers whose agricultural investments were insured and to possibly write off the loans taken for last year’s farming season as bad debts, we call on government to quickly provide interventions that would redeem peasant farmers from their indebtedness to grain merchants and other credit sources in the informal sector. With the rains already here, such interventions must not only be directed at the real subsistence farmers that suffered losses but should equally be provided before the 2023 planting begins.