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More Mouths, Less Food

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Following a series of natural disasters this year, Nigeria is now listed as one of the countries threatened by hunger.

By Pita Ochai  |  Nov. 19, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

Nigeria has never been listed as a food insufficient nation by any world body such as Food And Agriculture Organisation, FAO, since the country gained independence in 1960. Unlike some countries in the sub-Saharan Africa, where drought and famine persist, Nigeria’s food security has never been threatened by extreme weather conditions. But this has ended this year when the country witnessed unprecedented flooding which ravaged hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland nationwide. The flood not only displaced citizens in different parts of the country including Adamawa, Benue, Kogi, Niger, Edo, Delta, Anambra, Rivers, Cross River, Rivers and Akwa Ibom, among others, it now poses a serious threat to food security in the country.

Joseph Tsavsar, coordinator, Ashi Foods Limited, Benue state, is yet to come to terms with the fact that an estimated N500 million invested in rice farming has gone with the flood. His company invested in improved varieties of rice and processing machine but lost to the flood. Also lost to the flood are 64 metric tonnes of federal government assisted rice seedlings to Ashi Foods Limited. The loss of investment of Ashi Foods would affect more than 6,000 farmers from Benue and Nasarawa states who cultivate rice along the coast of river Benue and its tributaries. These farmers operate under the out-grower scheme of Ashi Foods.

Tivfa Mender, a 66-year yam farmer in Logo local government area, lost his two hectares of farm to the flood. Mender invested about N250, 000 in his yam farm which was almost the total revenue generated last year. Mender is still worried how his family of sixteen would cope with the loss of farms to the flood. “I wonder how I would be able to feed my family when all my investments are gone with the flood,” he said.

Counting his losses, Hycienth Nyakuma, director, Tinker Farms, Logo, described the devastation on his huge rice farm simply as a total loss of his investment. “As you can see, famine is presently staring us in the face and except the pronouncements of the federal government are backed with action, we can’t escape starvation,” he said. Last year, despite the quantum of rains which many believed would affect the production of rice, Nyakuma harvested 870 of 50 kg sacks of rice from the farm. This year, the rice farm of 150 hectares was targeted to yield 1500 - 50 kg-sacks, that is 72 a percent increase over the previous year. But the unfortunate floodhas ruined that projection.

The tale of mishap is not different from other states affected by the flood. When the alarm was first raised from the north-eastern part of the country, nobody thought it would reach a frightening level until homes, farms and business located kilometers away from the coast of the River Benue and Niger were submerged and washed away.

The spirited efforts and financial commitment by the Federal Government to ensure that Nigeria does not experience food scarcity after the flood will not prevent food shortage next year. Tunde Ojei, Oxfam GB Associate Country Director in Nigeria, a charity organization, confirmed that the timely intervention of the federal government and other stakeholders would only mitigate the negative impact of the floods, but might not fully prevent food shortage next year.

[caption id="attachment_696" align="alignright" width="386"]Flooded farm Flooded farm[/caption]

After an assessment visit by Oxfam GB to one of the states badly affected by the floods, Ojei made it clear that the efforts by government to provide inputs in form of hybrid seeds and funds to the farmers would serve as immediate relief to the affected farmers but that when the crop barns and livestock washed away by the floods are taken into consideration, the likelihood of food shortage may not be ruled out. But others believe that if the current commitment shown by the Federal Government is sustained and complemented at the state level, the food shortage gap might be reduced.

The flooding started with the River Benue which flows through Adamawa and Benue State. The flood was as a result of the release of water from Lagdo dam, located in Cameroon. Most residents along the river in the two states woke up on that morning to discover that their homes and farms were submerged with water. Most local governments in Adamawa state including Fufore, Yola North, Yola South, Demsa, Numan, Lamurde, Guyuk, Shelleng, Girei, Michika, Mubi North and Mubi south were all affected by the flood. It is estimated that about 70 percent of the population of the local government areas depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The state is especialises in the production of onions, lettuce, tomatoes, rice, maize, millet, etc.

The flood also sacked communities in Makurdi, Apa, Agatu, Otukpo, Guma, Buruku, Tarka and Kasina-Ala local government areas of Benue state. More than 250,000 persons were displaced with thousands of farmlands, houses and huts either submerged or washed away. The flood ravaged and swept away anything within 10 kilometer radius of the bank of River Benue. The state, known as “the food basket of the nation,” might have its basket empty during the dry season because the yams, rice, cassava and fruit crops were all submerged by the water. Except the water subsides, dry season farming will also be seriously affected in the state. Most of the dry season farming which involves the cultivation of vegetables and fruits are done along the River Benue which might still be filled with the flood water for sometime.

With more release of water from the Shiroro dam in Niger state, the flood has spread to the south east and south-south parts of the country. Four local government areas in Anambra State – Ogbaru, Anambra West, Anambra East and Ayamelum – were virtually submerged by flood. It began in August this year with the flooding of farmlands in Anambra West.

While the state government was making efforts to assist the victims, the misfortune affected three other council areas. Due to the devastation, Peter Obi, Anambra state governor, had to suspend the Independence Day celebration to meander through the flooded Onitsha-Osomala road in Ogbaru and Nmiata road in Anambra West to supervise the evacuation of people trapped in their communities by the menacing flood. It is estimated that one million hectres of rice and maize were destroyed following the sacking of 86 communities by the flood.

As a direct consequence of the above and even more unreported calamities, the usual food supply from the North to the South of the nation is weakening daily. As a result, the cost of basic nourishing food as beans has shot up from N150 a standard measure to N500, about 300 percent increase.

An analysis by the World Health Organisation, WHO, shows that of the 495 million women and children under five who are already undernourished, 150 million live in Africa, 315 million in Asia and 30 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. It expects about 465 million more to live in developing countries by 2020. Invariably, this will boost food demand. The report also reveals that food prices have already been affected by climate change, with an eight per cent increase in the first quarter of 2012 alone. This has been due to the extreme cold in Europe which affected wheat crops. Excessive heat in South America has lowered production of sugar, maize and soybeans. It is predicted that the number of people affected by climate-related disasters is expected to reach 375 million per year by 2015.

Globally, everyone will be affected by rising food prices and possible food shortages. But the most affected by food shortages will be those in under-developed and impoverished countries. According to a recent report, by 2030, climate change could push food prices up by 50-90 per cent more than they would otherwise be expected to rise.

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