Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Limiting the impact of flooding on Nigeria’s food system 09 Nov 2022

Over 600 deaths and displacement of about 1.4 million people were reported towards the end of last month following the devastating flood that ravaged several communities across 31 states of the Federation, according to the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. The states severely affected include Bayelsa, Benue, Rivers, Kogi, Jigawa, Kebbi, Delta, Anambra, Cross River, and the Federal Capital Territory. More than 2.5 million people, including children, have been affected by the crisis, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

In September, cholera outbreak was triggered by flood in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states where over 7,700 cases were reported including 324 casualties. This unpleasant occurrence forced President, Muhammadu Buhari to issue a directive to the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, to coordinate with the Ministries of Environment and Transportation and governors of affected states on comprehensive flood prevention and response plan within the next three months.

Considering the huge impact of flooding events on agriculture and food security, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development should have been included in the presidential directive.

In the peak of the rainy season every year, excessive rainfall destroys lives, food crops, and properties in different parts of the country. This year, the release of water from the Lagdo dam in Cameroon – without a buffering system to absorb released water – and excessive downpour allegedly caused the flood event, the worst since the devastating flood in 2012. Mr. Adamu claimed that about 80 percent of the floods in Nigeria result from excessive rainfall and flooding of rivers Niger and Benue, while the annual opening of the dam in Cameroon only account for one percent of the crisis.

Floods are caused by a combination of factors. The most concerning cause is now climate change, which brings about more intense rainfalls than usual, and causing a rise in sea level, overflowing of rivers, storm surges, collapse of dams, among others. Whatever may have been responsible for it, the intense flood event of last month has increased suffering and could worsen the alarming food insecurity and malnutrition situation in the country over the long-term.

Nigeria was ranked 103 out of 121 countries in the 2022 Global Hunger Index and was grouped in the “serious” hunger category. The country has sadly maintained this position for two consecutive years. To worsen the situation, more than 400,000 hectares of farmlands across Nigeria have been totally or partially destroyed by flood including those owned by the country’s largest agri-business companies, according to the United Nations. Rice producing farms in Nasarawa, Taraba, Kano, Jigawa, Benue, Niger, Kogi, Kebbi and others in the Northern part of the country have been overtaken by flood. Many farmers have lost huge number of poultry birds and livestock as they could not access feed, medicine and other essentials following the isolation of many farming communities by flood. Hundreds of fish farmers have also lost their ponds and fishes to the flood. These highlight why the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development must be fully involved in tackling this menace.

In response to the devastating event, governmental and non-governmental agencies have been evacuating victims to safe places and providing relief materials, emergency shelter kits, and other needed support across the country. More efforts are under way to lessen the hardship faced by survivors and their families.

However, this current flood episode could take a lasting negative toll on our food system if prompt action is not taken. Government must find ways to reduce the impact of the current disaster on national food security. There are predictions by the United Nations that the recent flooding events could result in a 3.4 percent decline in cereal production compared to 2021. The floods could also increase agriculture production cost, diminish agricultural productivity, and worsen insecurity in affected places. These imply that the already high cost of food items might become higher, further increasing the hardship of citizens as many farmers and other food producers affected by the flood struggle to get back on their feet.

One of things government and other supporting organizations should do to curb food shortages, prevent hike in food prices, and rehabilitate livelihoods to prevent the situation from becoming a food emergency, is to provide grants for primary producers especially farmers and agribusiness companies hardest hit by the flood nationwide. This will help them to restore their farms and production systems and rebuild essential infrastructures damaged by the flood. Such repairs should be to standards that can withstand flood in the future.

For smallholder farmers who rely chiefly on land for their income, especially women whose main occupation is to provide agricultural labour, recovering from flood disaster could be very difficult. Many of them work with loans from banks, friends, and family. So, financial support for farmers is key at this crucial time. They should be incentivized to return to their farm locations as flood water recedes and encouraged to begin planting again using groundwater where possible. Monetary support should not only cover the cost of production but also the profit that could have been made if the flood did not occur.

Another measure that could be adopted to reduce or prevent the effect of flood on food security is for government and other stakeholders to support the development of flood resistant seed varieties. Recently, the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria announced the development of maize, sorghum and other crops seed varieties that can withstand flood. Research interventions to strengthen the country’s food system must be encouraged to mitigate flooding and other harsh environmental conditions. Farmers in flood-prone agricultural communities should be provided flood-resistant seeds at affordable rates.

Flooding in Nigeria has become an annual occurrence except that the intensity varies from one year to another. Most of the time, the same communities or areas are affected over and over again. By now we should have a functional national flood insurance scheme for farmers and food producers that will cover flood damages in flood-prone communities. In addition to helping food producers recover faster after floodwater has drained off, the scheme will support farming communities prone to flood by enforcing flood management regulations to mitigate the effects of flooding. Capacity building for all categories of farmers – food crop farmers, fish farmers, poultry farmers etc. – should also be covered by the scheme to enable them respond more effectively to reduce flood risk and improve preparedness.

It is imperative for concerned government agencies to ensure that necessary structures such as dams are put in place as a preventive approach to lessen the impact of future flooding events. Building and maintaining complex physical infrastructures in flood-prone communities for the acquisition of flood water, and floodwater field distribution channel networks to enhance irrigation during periods of drought, could limit the damage to food security.

The dry months will soon be upon us. They are usually short of rainfall and result in drought in some parts of the country. As a mitigation approach against drought, we must put effort into conserving floodwater.

Providing adequate drainage systems and improving drainages by continuous removal of accumulated debris and sediments during both dry and wet seasons to maintain water flow can greatly help to reduce flood risk, including on farms. Although many cases of flooding might be difficult to prevent, planning ahead makes it easier to recover from flooding episodes. Warning signals to alert farming communities before excessive rainfall results into flood could create enough time for evacuation of farm workers, livestock, poultry birds and other farm animals to reduce losses.

A comprehensive plan to prevent or limit the impact of flood in Nigeria must have food security and the interest of farmers and other food producers at its core. We all need food to survive.  

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.