In Nigeria, as in the US, people are looking for ways to fight food insecurity and maintain agricultural production amidst climate change and the changing rainfall patterns—including increased flooding—that it is triggering. The intense flooding that the US dealt with at the start of this year has been commonplace in Nigeria for decades, but this past September, Nigeria saw particularly intense and frequent flooding that destroyed homes and crops, causing massive displacement and food shortages. Though they receive little government help, Nigerian farmers have begun to pick up the pieces by exploring new strategies for climate-smart farming, strategies that US farmers can implement to help build a more resilient future.
This past September’s flooding was devastatingly similar to historic flooding that took place in Nigeria in 2012. September’s floods displaced 1.4 million people and partially destroyed over 176,000 hectares (approximately 434,900 acres) of farmland. That’s about the size of 510 New York City Central Parks. More than 392,000 hectares (approximately 968,650 acres) faced total destruction, detailed Sadia Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, in a Punch report.
Nigeria is among the top-20 largest producers of rice in the world, but recent flooding puts the country at risk of losing its top grain-producing spot. The floods are also straining Nigeria’s $10 billion in imports, which make up for the country’s agricultural and food-production shortages. Thirty-four out of 36 states in the country were impacted, exposing the country to severe food shortages in the coming months.
Some farmers are still grappling with the destruction. “I reside in Bayelsa [a state in Southern Nigeria], one of the worst hit states by the flood, and it affected over 80 percent of its populace,” says Elohor Akaka. Akaka’s family cultivates common food crops like yam and maize. Floods destroyed their homes, farms, and properties. For farmers like Akaka, the impact of floods has been damning.
Nguvan Dorcas, a small-scale rice farmer in Benue state, otherwise known as “the food basket of the nation,” said she was just about to cultivate her rice farm, which covered two hectares of land (approximately five acres) before the floods came. She had spent up to 400,000 naira (USD $1,000) on equipment, seeds, and fertilizers to ensure healthy crop growth, but nothing could be salvaged from the floods.
“My crops were the healthiest this year and the best set I have ever planted, but the water took everything away,” she said. For sustenance, Dorcas and her family have relied on her husband’s farm, which was less impacted by flooding.
Local farmers have started adopting proactive measures to combat the impacts of floods and drought and are using changing rainfall patterns as an opportunity to influence high-yield crop production and combat food scarcity.
The Nigerian government has a $2-billion ecological fund to tackle environmental problems, such as floods and drought, but much of that money cannot be accounted for. In a report by The Guardian, House of Representatives member Mark Gbillah reveals that a portion of the fund—specifically set aside for preventing and mitigating the impact of floods—was diverted through corrupt practices. With climate change intensifying and African countries already suffering the brunt of its effects, which are only expected to worsen regionwide—for example, rainfall across Nigeria was 20 percent more intense in 2022 than average, the World Weather Attribution concluded—it will be crucial to have resources like the ecological fund readily accessible.
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Strategies for Food Security
Farmers are a vital part of a climate-resilient future—in the US and globally. The effects of climate change cannot be mitigated without innovation from farmers, yet a resounding theme shared by farmers is that they receive limited resources to support their agricultural efforts. Despite this, local farmers have started adopting proactive measures to combat the impacts of floods and drought and are using changing rainfall patterns as an opportunity to influence high-yield crop production and combat food scarcity. Strategies like dry farming, spate irrigation, floodplain agriculture, and inundation canals are low-investment and low-skill interventions that farmers are turning to.
Spate irrigation is a water-diversion and irrigation technique that uses gravity to distribute floodwater to farmland. Its helps manage destructive flash floods by diverting excess water downstream and allows farmlands to store that excess for use during dry spells. Floodplain agriculture allows floodwaters to deposit nutrient-rich sediment across a wide area. Generally flat land, floodplains are areas bordering a stream. Over time, floods deposit silt, sand, and organic materials in these areas, making the land extremely fertile. Lastly, inundation canals—used only during floods—are dug next to rivers and divert excess floodwater from them.
Agroforestry can reduce the impact of flooding on farmlands as the thick roots, trunks, and stalks of perennial plants reduce the speed and flow of storm runoff, allowing water to percolate into the soil and lessening erosion.
These methods do not require large amounts of external funding and can be easily implemented by farmers looking to protect their crops during floods and increase yields. They all utilize excess water and help to irrigate farmlands long after floods and rainy seasons have passed.
Climate Reality leader and agroforestry advocate, Deborah Elesie, believes that Nigeria will soon see rising poverty and unemployment as its agricultural sector suffers from climate impacts. However, she notes that agroforestry offers a way forward. Agroforestry is a general term for land-management systems where trees and other perennial plants are grown around crops and pastures. Climate-smart practices under the agroforestry umbrella include alley cropping, or planting trees alongside crops, and silvopasture, which integrates trees and livestock in a mutually beneficial way. Agroforestry can reduce the impact of flooding on farmlands as the thick roots, trunks, and stalks of perennial plants reduce the speed and flow of storm runoff, allowing the water to percolate into the soil and lessening erosion.
In one of the country’s most flood-impacted regions, farmers are also preparing for droughts. In Northern Nigeria’s Adamawa state, farmers are using a climate resiliency strategy called dryfarming. Instead of relying on artificial irrigation, this type of farming utilizes drought resistant crops, like cowpeas and rice, and helps such crops thrive during dry seasons by utilizing moisture that is already in the soil. Using this method, farmers “train” their crops to reduce their water loss, allowing the crops to thrive on little water.
Floodwaters can also be redirected to farming areas that have water shortages, notes Ibrahim Kabiru, national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, in a Punch report. He also notes that farmers can use residual moisture through relay cropping, an agricultural management strategy that allows water left at the root of the first crop to be used by the second crop, maximizing crop production, particularly during dry seasons. However, these practices must become more widespread for Nigeria to fully tackle food scarcity.
Researchers are also working to develop climate-smart agriculture by tapping into the System of Crop Intensification, a climate-smart methodology aimed at resource conservation and increased crop yields. Some of these practices are already producing positive results. For example, in November 2022, after conducting a series of tests, the National Root Crop Research Institute helped grow and harvest a first batch of geoengineered potatoes that are immune to late blight fungus, which is caused by water mold—a common after-effect of flooding. In 2021, over 2000 farmers grew genetically engineered cowpea, the country’s staple legume. These engineered crops are one way researchers hope the country can reach food security.
According to Mongabay, as in Nigeria, agroforestry is growing in popularity in the US as the United States Department of Agriculture recently launched a Climate-Smart Commodities funding program aimed at investing over $60 million in farmers’ agroforestry efforts. Agroforestry can be adapted to various types of farms and ranches and is crucial for long-term sustainable agricultural production, according to the USDA. Considering the Western US’ drought and water scarcity issues, farmers can also turn to dry farming and residual moisture strategies to meet food demand amidst climate change. In the context of Nigeria’s changing climate, implementing flood mitigation strategies such as floodplain agriculture and spate irrigation will be key to maintaining agricultural production, surviving droughts, and lessening food insecurity not only for farmers but the entire country.