Thursday, December 2, 2021

Climate Change: Rice farmers count losses as drought bites off yield

Rice farmers in Bauchi shared their sad experiences on low yields from their farms this year, blaming drought.

• November 20, 2021
Dry rice farm
Dry rice farm

Rice farmers in North-East Nigeria have reported low yields in the 2021 harvest season, blaming it on climate change which continues to shrink water availability in arid regions of the country.

Many affected farmers, especially in Bauchi State, told Peoples Gazette that drought has been a major constraint in rice production in the state even as the federal government ramps up efforts for local production of the food commodity which is Nigeria’s staple diet.

International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in a research, revealed that rice can be grown in Northern Nigeria in both lowland and highland areas but requires a lot of water for optimum growth and yield.

The research institute further revealed that rice requires about 1200 mm to 1600 mm of rainfall evenly distributed throughout its growing period.

However, the menace of drought in the rice production hub in Nigeria- Northern Nigeria; is one of the ecological disasters affecting rice productivity in the country, which has made many farmers record huge losses over the years.

Despite the government’s ban, the country depends heavily on rice importation of over three million tons annually, IITA research revealed.

A rice farmer, Amina Benjamin told The Gazette: “I planted three bags of rice of which I normally used to get between 40 to 50 bags of rice after harvesting but, unfortunately, this year (2021), it was a disappointment, I only got nine bags.”

Mrs Benjamin, a 42-year-old mother of five who depended mainly on farming, looked forlorn and frustrated as she narrated her losses to The Gazette. She told our reporter that her rice farm witnessed low production output this year due to the drought experienced in Bauchi State mid-August.

“Around mid-August, the rain ceased for completely two or more weeks which demoralised the rice and couldn’t yield much,” she lamented.

Some rice farmers in the state disclosed to The Gazette that a bag of paddy rice in the state immediately after the last harvest sold for N13,000 but spiked to around N30,000 around July.

Aminu Tukur, a former member of Bauchi State House of Assembly, who is a big time farmer, shared his experience over the loss he incurred on rice farming this season.

“I experienced so much loss this season in two ways, firstly I was unfortunate to purchase substandard herbicide and the farm was overrun by weeds. I have never wasted my money on herbicide like this year and it was ineffective.

“And secondly, drought; it was the major reason for the high loss we experience despite the fact this year’s farming season came very late, and then unfortunately at the crop point of maturity, there was drought. Just yesterday, I was discussing with one of my brothers, he was telling me that what he got this year is 60 per cent below what he got last year,” Mr Tukur explained.

“Personally, in one of my farms last year I got 178 bags but this year I could not get up to 50 bags, that’s to tell you we are in big mess as a state and even the country at large” he lamented.

Talatu Jumbo, an experienced rice farmer who has been cultivating rice for over 10 years in Dass Local Government Area (LGA) of the state said she “lost everything.”

“I have lost everything this year, I spent over N300,000 on tilling, fertiliser and herbicide but ended up getting only three bags,” she said.

“It was in the middle of August that the rain ceased for almost three weeks and it badly affected the rice production, later when the rain came it couldn’t revive,” Ms Jumbo insists.

A former civil servant who went farming after retirement, Salina Elkana, also described her ordeal in the last harvest. 

“For me it was a blast (disease affecting rice because of drought) that destroyed more than half of my farm. A farm that I used to get 70 bags I couldn’t even get 10 bags this season. It was unfortunate for me,” she said.

In the northern part of the state, rice farmers have different experiences. Saminu Sani who has been farming rice for more than a decade narrates his ordeal saying it was a flood that came and washed off  a large portion of his farm, harvesting little or nothing in the end. 

“The causes of current climate change are largely human activity, like burning fossil fuels, like natural gas, oil, and coal. Burning these materials releases what are called greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere” said  Ezikiel Ngag’Almaya, Programme Manager of WODAS, a non-governmental organisation responsible for creating awareness on climate change in Bauchi state.

“The factors associated with climate change are the continuous felling of trees without planting which leads to lack of adequate carbon sinks which also affects evapotranspiration. This is the main reason for low rainfall and increasing sandstorm resulting in desertification” Mr Ngag’Almaya said.

“More so, lack of alternative energy that is clean and sustainable is resulting in continuous domestic, commercial and industrial use of fossil fuels. This is increasing carbon emissions, imposing a threat to the environment.”

The climate expert lamented that coping with these challenges is to ensure that promises made by leaders at the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow (COP 26) are fully implemented. 

“Stakeholders should also prioritise planting trees to reclaim the lost environment from the desert. Nigeria can borrow a leaf from China and other countries that have successfully made an impact in this regard,” he advised.

Homes, businesses and industries should be provided with clean and sustainable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, Mr Ngag’Almaya recommended.

He concluded by saying achieving a sustainable environment is the responsibility of all. Thus, the need to make the strategies inclusive is not to be compromised.

The federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2015 placed a ban on importation of 41 items including rice. 

Rice is one of the most consumed foods in Nigeria across the six-geopolitical zones and socioeconomic classes. With the government’s ban on importation, and climate challenges on local production, the staple food is getting out of reach of everyday Nigerians as prices continue to jerk up.

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