Reduced rainfall and herders’ invasion of farms, both directly or indirectly linked to climate change, are forcing women farmers to adopt changes in Nasarawa.
One night in 2014, Victoria Alkali’s husband was killed and their house set on fire following a clash between herders and farmers in Obi Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, North-central Nigeria.
The widow and her four children immediately took shelter with a group of women who were also survivors of the crisis.
Mrs Alkali’s guinea corn farm was her family’s only asset but frequent cattle grazing on the farm meant she struggled to provide food for the children, and could barely pay their school fees. Unknown to her, an even bigger challenge was looming — the effect of climate change on farming communities in her area was becoming more rampant.
In May 2020, with the onset of rain, Mrs Alkali planted guinea corn, hoping to harvest before the herders arrived. But the rains stopped in August instead of November in what was becoming a norm, a deviation from the past. The poor harvest forced her to stop the construction of the new house she had started.
To improve the yields, she started using poultry droppings as fertiliser. She had bought 10 bags of the droppings from a neighbouring community at N5,000 per bag. To her delight, it increased the yields from 10 to 15 bags of guinea corn.
Research has shown that cow dung and chicken droppings can improve the soil structure to hold more nutrients and water and therefore become more fertile.
Smallholder women farmers in Nasarawa State like Mrs Alkali are using such means to protect their farms from the effect of desertification.
In 2017, Murna Bitrus, a maize farmer in Toto Local Government Area of the state, had also suffered declined yields from her farm due to the shortage of rainfall. Unfortunately, this was at a time a section of her house collapsed and frequent herders’ invasion stopped her from working her five-hectare farm located an hour from her home.
She eventually found two hectares close to the local government area which she rented at N230,000 per annum.
Cow dung fertiliser
Being her only source of revenue, Mrs Bitrus sought several means to increase the farm’s yields. Later in the year, one of her friends residing in Oyo State in South-west Nigeria introduced her to the dung of a species of cow for use on her newly secured land.
The friend connected her to an abattoir in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, and they arranged frequent transportation of cow dung across over 600 kilometres to Nasarawa in the North-central region of the country.
She paid about N27,000 for a 50-kilogramme bag of cow dung and used two bags on the farm every month.
Before she adopted cow dung as fertiliser, since the reduction in rainfall, she harvested about 30 bags of maize. But in 2020, her harvest was 85 bags, almost triple her old yield from the same farm.
However, she lamented spending so much on the cow dung, citing it as the reason she could not renovate the collapsed section of her house, as she strove to keep up with other rising expenses in the house.
“Cow dung increased my farm output but the cost of the dung strained my finances. For example in 2020, I didn’t make any profit. I put all the proceeds back into the business,” she said.
In Awe Local Government Area, many farmers channel water from a dam in the area to irrigate their farms, particularly during the dry season and sometimes to supplement reduced rainfall.
For instance, Sarah Albert, a rice farmer in Awe considered going into irrigation in 2019 after successive failed harvests. She said rainfall usually starts in March and ends in November but in recent years it has been between April and October.
She paid up to N20,000 to local transporters for about 35 jerry cans of water every month to irrigate her farm.
While this is an alternative means to solve the problem of reduced rainfall that affected the growth of her crops, she realises fewer proceeds using this method than during the rainy season. She harvests about 60 bags of rice when rainfall is adequate but with irrigation, she said she hardly gets 10 bags, causing her revenue to drop from N300,000 to N30,000.
Nigerian women farmers are adopting ingenious methods to address the effects of climate change, although they lament they may not be not economically sustainable.
Female farmers make up 75 per cent of the farming population in Nigeria, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, many of them find farming increasingly stressful, frustrating and unrewarding due to the innumerable challenges they face, particularly from the effect of climate change.
How Climate change births food scarcity
Climate change makes agricultural development in Africa more challenging. Weather patterns in recent times have become less favourable and increase the volatility of crop yields. Climate change has caused rising temperatures, more extreme weather, flooding, changing rainfall patterns etc.
According to the State of the Climate in Africa 2019 Report, these changes are threatening human health and safety, food and water security, and socio-economic development in Africa.
For instance, the report said that under the worst climate change scenario, there will be a 13 per cent reduction in crop yield in West and Central Africa, 11 per cent in North Africa and eight per cent in East and Southern Africa.
It also projected that rice, one of the staple foods in Nigeria and many African countries, will be part of the most affected crops with a yield loss of 12 per cent by 2050.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in drought-prone sub-Saharan African countries, under which Nigeria falls, the number of undernourished people has increased by 45.6 per cent since 2012.
Furthermore, in 2019, the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs said 34 million people globally experienced food shortage due to extreme levels of climate change.
On the economic front, in April 2016, the Department for International Development (DFID) in its studies concluded that climate change will cost Nigeria between six per cent and 30 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product by 2050 worth between $100 billion and $460 billion.
In March 2021, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), the agency that documents climate and weather data, warned farmers in the North, especially the North-central zone where Nasarawa falls, to avoid planting early with the false onset of rains or they risk losing their seedlings and crops to drought.
A climate change expert, Olarenwaju Akintobi, explained that climate change was caused by the industrial age through the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
He said that while some crops depend on the gas to grow, increase in emissions reduces the quality of yields, particularly protein and nitrogen content, and as a result, causes food insecurity and a continuous cycle of poverty.
Chiagozie Udeh, 2019 Global Focal point for the youth constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that heat and drought peculiar in the northern region of Nigeria upset crop yield and also increases the prevalence of pests and vectors that affect humans and crops, citing the locust invasion that started in East Africa in 2020.
“It is a reality that we know in Nigeria. Now, we are already on a direct line to food insecurity in Nigeria if something urgent is not done to really adapt to change in climate,” he said.
For Seyifunmi Adebote, a Nigerian Youth Representative to United Nations General Assembly and international climate conventions, climate change can manifest in post-harvest losses, adding that stored crops no longer last the usual shelf life due to extreme heat.
“You can preserve a yam for four months, keeping it perfect, but because of extreme heat that makes the temperature so hot now, in two months, it begins to rotten because it is so hot.”
He said flooding, another effect of climate change, prevents easy transportation of farm produce to the markets.
Local women farmers groan
Interviews with seven smallholder women farmers across five local government areas in Nasarawa State showed that their experiences with climate change and herdsmen invasion are similar. Although at the time of the visit, farmers were not on their farms because it was the dry season.
Sarah Shambuwa recalled that farming used to be a lucrative business for her as proceeds from the farm paid her university fees up until 2012 when she graduated. With no white-collar job in sight, she continued farming and got married.
After relocating to Wamba Local Government Area in Nasarawa State, she cultivated guinea corn, maize, rice, cassava, and groundnut on her farm and the returns helped her in training her five children.
Things were good, she recalled, until 2020 when her husband retired from the civil service. His income fell to his N10,000 monthly pension, which was also inconsistent as the last payment was in November 2020.
With the new development, coupled with the hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs Shambuwa hoped earnings from the farm would support the rising bills. However, 2020 came with an unprecedented change.
After she had prepared for another planting season, the rain started in April and ended in August against the usual end of November.
Devastated by the drop in output, she visited her farm to harvest what she could get while wondering how she would cover her other expenses for the rest of the year. On getting to the farm, she met her worst nightmare. She saw that almost all her crops were gone after cows grazed on them overnight.
Climate experts say that weather changes are some of the baseline causes of the clashes between herders and farmers because desert encroachment reduces the availability and quality of pasture for the animals and the amount of cultivated lands available for farmers.
The farmer-herder crisis in northern Nigeria is age-old. An attempt to solve it in Benue State with the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 triggered more conflicts in Nasarawa as pastoralists migrated there from Benue and caused a series of clashes. Many local farmers were displaced and many people killed in the calamity.
Due to the low yield from the effect of climate change, Mrs Shambuwa harvested less than a bag of rice, two bags of guinea corn, and three bags of maize in 2020, unlike in 2019 when she got four, seven, and four bags of the crops respectively.
“Even for cassava, we have the problem of herders. I get nothing from cassava. I cannot even go alone to my farm. The herders will either injure or kill you. The government has not helped farmers to solve the herders situation in Wamba,” she said.
In the midst of her troubles, for the first time, her children were sent home from school over unpaid fees.
Trying to solve her financial predicament, she took a teaching job in a primary school and only now goes to her farm in the afternoon.
In Obi Local Government Area of the state, farmers’ experience with desertification and herdsmen attack is worse.
Grace Christopher, a groundnut farmer, and her husband had to leave their first home after it was razed in 2017 during a farmer/herder clash.
She narrated that in Iposoge, where she lives, residents live in fear as cows continually graze on their farms. This is apart from the drop in her yields in recent times from 15 to 10 bags of groundnut caused by the shortage of rainfall.
She said most times, farmers in Obi harvest their crops before they are ripe to aver cattle grazing their farms.
“Herders are the problem we are facing in our community. During the rainy season, their cows destroy our crops on our farms. If you challenge them, they will follow you to your house or even right there on your farm they will kill you,” Mrs Christopher said.
These female farmers say they have never considered relocation due to the security challenges because they worry about how to restart their lives in a strange land.
In places like Awe and Toto, when such cases arise, the local authorities ask the herders to pay the farmers for their cows feeding on crops. Even though they oblige, they return to the farms, making the farmers more helpless.
To alleviate the sufferings, the governor of the state, Abdullahi Sule, deployed security officials to Toto in 2019. But the attacks continued because the security operatives could not cover everywhere.
Incomplete data on rainfall pattern from NiMet
To verify the claims of reduced rainfall in Nasarawa by the female farmers, PREMIUM TIMES on May 4 requested from NiMet data on rainfall pattern in the North Central region between 2015 and 2020.
But the Director of Applied Meteorological Services of NiMet, Yusuf Mailadi, said the agency does not give out data because it is its “only source of revenue,” but it would release it to the reporter because she was “working for public interest.”
“You can get that (data) but it will not tell you much. We will give you the patterns. Can you just write in follow up to this letter, can I have an interview with the DG.”
On May 26, an official of the agency’s legal department, Nwogo Udeozo, sent infographics of the data but not the raw data of rainfall pattern requested, in breach of Section 1 (1) of the FOI Act 2011 under which the request was made.
Mr Udeozo said: “You are not in meteorology, you can’t handle raw data and we don’t give raw data free of charge. It is that processed data you should be given. We don’t give that to outsiders. Those are data we store in our archives. My advice is for you is to see the Director Applied Metrological Services so they can interpret the processed data for you.”
The letter requesting an interview with the Director-General of NiMet was not replied to.
However, PREMIUM TIMES’ data desk interpreted the processed data and it showed changing rainfall patterns over the years.
“Between 2015 and 2020, rainfall peaked at about 700mm in August 2017. This is followed by the same month of 2019 with about 600mm. The lowest amount of rainfall was recorded in November and December 2020 as well as April 2018.
“On average, overall, rainfall was relatively lowest in 2015. Relatively, too, 2017 had the highest rainfall.
“In all the years, there was a consistent increased pattern of rainfall from May to September before they fall in October and continue to dip till the end of the year,” Yusuf Akinpelu, Head of Data Desk explained.
Alleged Diversion of government’s allocation to farmers
The female farmers in the state accused local government officials of diverting agriculture supplements meant for them.
For instance, in Wamba, Mrs Shambuwal confirmed bags of fertiliser are sent to the local government for distribution. However, she alleged that most were given to ‘big men’ who sell them at an expensive price to local farmers who ought to be the beneficiaries.
“Even when they send fertilizer, they sell it to those that have money but we poor farmers, we go and buy at a higher amount in the market,” she said.
“They give maybe a bag or five bags of fertiliser to the ward but if you look at the number of people in that ward, if they share it, it is only one kilogramme a person will get and if you have a big farm, it won’t be enough”, she said.
Mrs Bitrus also attested to similar happening in Toto saying, “When the government brings fertiliser, they will say they are sharing it from ward to ward but before you know it, the fertilizer have been given to politicians who will sell it to us at a higher price.
“This year, we bought fertiliser at N13,000 per bag, and the government’s price is between N5,000 and N6,000. We complained severally at a series of workshops but it has not yielded any result.”
Call for more government intervention
The farmers want access to loans, increased security on their farms, adequate provision of fertiliser and improved seeds and herbicides.
They also urged the government to tackle diversion of farm supplements meant for them, provide gender-friendly mechanized equipment, and establish irrigation system for them to farm during the dry season.
How Nasarawa govt is responding to climate change crisis, herdsmen invasion
On its efforts to reduce the impact of climate change on farmers, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Water Resources, Otaki Alanana, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said the state government engages NiMET to get information on weather changes and they pass same to farmers for preparation.
Also, he said the state government flagged off a dry season programme where it provides supplements and inputs to farmers alongside encouraging those living close to river banks or own boreholes to make use of irrigation system.
“We are partnering with NiMet in Abuja. Before a cropping season, we have a conference on what to expect in the rainy season, areas that are susceptible or at risk. When we get this information, we pass it to the farmers in the rural areas. This is the best we can do to make sure we have a better season.
“We encourage our farmers who are living by the river bank to go into irrigation. For places that don’t have this opportunity but they have borehole, we encourage them to irrigate their farm using their borehole. Climate change definitely is a reality we have come to live with.”
The chairman of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly Committee on Agriculture, Ibrahim Akwe, told PREMIUM TIMES that the parliament will collaborate with the executive to make more materials available for farmers during dry season.
“The last time they launched the dry season fertiliser, they also gave some pumping machines that will supply water for irrigation. We will bring out laws and collaborate with the state government in order to ensure these materials are made available for the farmers to be involved in dry season farming.”
With respect to insecurity, the commissioner said the state government “is on top of it.”
He said it holds security meetings and ensures operatives are deployed when a disturbing signal is received to restore normalcy through collaborative efforts with the farmers and security agents.
“To surmount (insecurity) is not a day’s job. We are praying to God everything will be brought to normalcy,” he added.
The lawmaker said they were also proposing bills to regulate the activities of farmers and herders and to control the movement of livestock within the state.
Mr Alanana said he was unaware of the diversion of fertiliser, but promised to investigate and deal with the perpetrators.
“Where people will collect and go and sell it (fertiliser), I am not aware. When His Excellency flagged off the distribution of fertiliser, he sounded a tough warning into everyone’s ears that no one should sell the fertiliser at a higher rate. But I want to assure you that if anybody is caught, he will definitely be brought to book,” he said.
Responding to this, Mr Akwe said his committee would start monitoring areas where the fertiliser have been distributed to ensure people do not “shortchange the government” and the input reach the real beneficiaries.
He also said the state lawmakers would encourage more female participation in agriculture.
“With this discussion, we have to start up writing something that will enable our women full participation in agriculture because of their creativity which will help in terms of the food insecurity we are facing in the country,” the lawmaker said.
Way forward for climate change, insecurity
To mitigate the effect of the climate crisis, Mr Akintobi, who is also a farmer, advised other farmers to form farm estates, which he likened to a cooperative, to pool funds to get irrigation services on their farms.
He further proposed that farmers make efforts to get information around weather patterns and in places affected by flooding, farmers should plant on ridges instead of plain land.
“They themselves need to understand that there is something that is called climate change. They need to understand the challenges and how to overcome them.”
Mr Adebote urged farmers to explore value chains such that harvested crops can be reproduced in other forms so they can benefit from the main crop while protecting it and its variants.
“Cocoa for instance, has over 20 derivatives. Farmers who have these products in Africa, if they can come together to say they do not want to sell the cocoa in the pods but process it and add to the value chain and then sell it. That way, the crops will not get spoilt with the high temperature and they can sell at better prices and make more gain,” he explained.
Olumide Idowu, Chief Executive Officer of International Climate Change Development Initiative, tasked the government to provide capacity building for small income farmers to support their production and access to finance.
Mr Idowu urged them to look into farm prices, invest in transportation of crops from farm to market and create friendly policies for farmers that want to export their products.
“The bigger farmers should be able to partner with the small scale farmers so that they will be able to produce more and get more food to the market,” he added.
To tackle herders’ invasion on farms, Mr Udeh endorsed cattle ranching, although he indicated that it causes deforestation.
“Studies have shown that cattle ranching across the world release approximately 340 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and that will give you around 3.4 per cent of global greenhouse decimation.
“That does not mean you will not graze cattle so you need to find a sustainable way. Know where you are sourcing your cattle feed from. In growing the grasses, you are making sure, you are not depleting the biodiversity of the area. There has to be a sustainable way where the forest and the cattle feed must coexist but not be done recklessly.”
He also called on the government to re-green the northern part of Nigeria to limit the movement of cows on farmlands