Flooding Menace: Implications For Food Security



Going by what climate change is doing to Nigeria this year, we certainly have a rough 2013 ahead. The rains were unrelenting, the dams could not contain, the rivers overflowed, the coasts were swamped, the hinterland flooded, the mainland deluged, and the whole nation has a firsthand feel of the wrath of Mother Nature; for sure, the sour taste shall definitely take a long time to clear from our system. With the recent announcement by the Minister of the Environment, Hajiya Hadiza Mailafiya, that more than 5, 000 farmland in many states have been washed away and there could be food shortage in the country, we cannot afford to have illusions about the precarious future we face now as a country because of climate change.

As leaders from over 130 countries met in Brazil in June this year, in the United Nations Rio +20 Conference, to discuss sustainable development, a startling research-based revelation unfolded before them: the number of undernourished women and young children could increase by 20 per cent and will affect one of every five within a decade because of climate change. According to the World Health Organisation and other groups, as countries continue to get hit by massive flooding, droughts, extreme cold snaps, extreme heat, tornadoes and hurricanes food production will be affected; and this is an increase to the tune of 20 per cent by 2020, just eight years away. And by all indication, Nigeria has joined this statistics because of the rampaging flood.

The WHO analysis 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 will live in developing countries by 2020, boosting 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 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.

Here in Nigeria, when Benue State, the food basket of the nation, was flooded, we saw farmers cry over the washing away of their usually healthy farmsteads and the state Governor beseeching the Federal Government for a quick intervention. When Kogi State was overrun, we watched helplessly as the fishing communities were stripped naked of their livelihoods, and the rich aquatic ecosystem totally dismantled. When the River Niger surged into Anambra State, entire 200 communities were chased out, and their popular vistas of mini pyramids of yam farms obliterated. As I write this piece, Bayelsa State is under an unrelenting deluge, of a state-wide proportion that even the Government House, and the very mansion of our President in Otueke is almost submerged by flood water.

As a direct aftermath of the above and even more unreported calamities, hunger is threatening the affected communities; the usual food supply chain route from the North to the South of the nation is dwindling daily; the cost of basic nourishing food as beans has shot up from N150 a standard measure to N500 [that is more than 300 per cent increase]; camps are set up for the ecological refugees and in these camps social vices such as rape have appeared because of the peculiar circumstance of the rampaging unengaged hitherto young agrarians; as a result of depression from loss of their livelihood and investments, farmers are now reportedly committing suicide on a daily basis. What is more, the Federal Government’s proposed policy thrust of local production of rice in 2013 now suddenly becomes a mirage as acres of land used for rice production both by government and private individuals have been overwhelmed by flood.

Experts have since averred that climate change will affect all four dimensions of food security: food availability, food accessibility, food utilisation and food systems stability. It will have an impact on human health, livelihood assets, food production and distribution channels, as well as changing purchasing power and market flows. Its impacts will be short term, resulting from more frequent and more intense weather events, inspiring uncertain economic indicators where adaptation infrastructure is nonexistent; and long term, caused by changing temperatures and precipitation patterns, which affect food production culture and entrenched agricultural behaviours. It is also a fact that in Nigeria, the people more affected by the flooding are subsistence farmers, coastal dwellers, and the already vulnerable class of the citizenry who even when they return to their homesteads face the risk of increased crop failure, new patterns of pests and diseases, lack of seeds and planting material, and loss of livestock – and this is a potentially damning situation for a country like ours whose GDP is largely agriculture-based.

Therefore, bearing in mind that the best approach to save the nation from the looming danger is an integration of mitigation and adaptation strategies, I suggest three key aspects of a strategic intervention by the government and organised private sector, which must go beyond mere fund-raising for relief to victims. A well-structured framework must be adopted by the Federal Government to strengthen the resilience of rural people in order to help them cope both in the short term and long term. The Minister of Agriculture has already announced government’s intention to introduce flood resistant seedlings and fast yielding stocks to offset the food deficit that will arise from the flooding. I suggest that it should also incorporate effective drip irrigation farming, so as to utilise the dry season as a food production time to balance the deficit.

Furthermore, there is no better time than this to introduce appropriate insurance culture and sustainable fall-back mechanisms to our many farmers. The banking sector and individual lenders should also afford to give one year grace on interests to farmers who are already indebted considering the bad ecological year we are witnessing. This will help to stem the rising reports of suicides in the camps of flood-affected farmers, as most of them are prodded by the depressing prospects of facing their creditors and losing their entire livelihood.

Finally, the nation should re-appraise its climate change policy with a view to integrating well-structured adaptation features in the area of flooding. More dams should be constructed as buffers and containers in floodplains and in dry regions where irrigation farming shall be introduced to shore up our food reserve; while the existing dams should be maintained now more than ever before. But fundamentally, I am of the well-founded opinion that it is now the duty of the government to target the youth population in all its plans to face the current challenges. It must therefore utilise this moment to introduce agriculture-based entrepreneurship programmes and incentives in order to forestall the imminent rural-to-urban migration, and unavoidable terrorism, as a result of the flood-induced collapse of many rural and coastal settlements.

Culled From: The Punch

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