A recent report by World Resources Institute (WRI) and Food and Agricultural Organisation, (FAO) says that Green House Gas released by rice farms alongside other agricultural practices are major environmental polluters. In this piece, CHIKA IZUORA dissects experts’ opinions on a way out, as Nigerian economy shifts to agriculture.
When the administration of Muhammadu Buhari took office in Nigeria in May 2015 against a backdrop of mounting economic crises, it realized that in just one year earlier, Nigeria had overtaken South Africa to become the continent’s biggest economy, but optimism quickly faded as oil prices fell and production declined due to renewed militant activities in the Niger Delta.
The resulting economic slowdown, which was confirmed as a recession in the summer of 2016, focused minds on the long-neglected task of reducing Nigeria’s reliance on the petroleum sector, which accounts for 11 percent of GDP but 95 percent of the nation’s export revenue.
Included in the election manifesto that brought President Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) to power was a pledge to move the economy away from oil in part by reviving the agriculture sector. Analysts believe there are good reasons for the administration to focus on agriculture. First, it is a sector with high growth prospects, particularly if value chains can be developed that turn raw commodities into processed goods for domestic consumption or export.
Second, although agriculture already employs more than 70 percent of the population, there are opportunities to expand both the number and variety of jobs in the sector by making it easier and more attractive to farm. In addition, by diversifying the agriculture sector, it can be made more appealing to a vast youth population that is turned off by farming but might be attracted to processing, marketing, and other business opportunities along the value chain.
When the opportunity finally came, in June 2016, the government launched then Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) which emphasized the importance of continuing and building upon the efforts of the previous administration.
In the new agriculture policy specific goal was set to exit rice import by 2018 which throws up more activities in the area of rice cultivation. A confirmation of this came from Lai Mohammed the minister of information who told the media last year that the Nigerian government will soon attain its goal of self-sufficiency in rice production for the country, come 2018.
Mohammed, said this in a press conference in Abuja while briefing journalists on the administration’s growing achievements to revamp the economy and that Nigeria is inching closer to self-sufficiency in rice production, due to the successes recorded in the local production of rice.
He cited a report by a Thai rice export association to support his claim, saying “In fact, the Thailand Rice Exporters Association has recently revealed that within a spate of just two years – from September 2015 to September 2017 – Nigeria’s rice importation dropped from 644,131 Metric Tonnes to just about 21,000MT. “There is more good news to report: As a result of this administration’s success in local production, some investors from Thailand have shown interest in establishing rice milling plants in Nigeria, and this is sure to further boost rice production in Nigeria.
“The increased rice production has, in turn, led to the establishment of rice mills, including the 120,000MT WACOT Mill in Kebbi and the 1,000,000MT Dangote Rice Mill,” Mr. Mohammed said.
He added that Nigeria targets the production of seven million metric tons of rice in 2018’. “So what does the increased production of rice portend for the country? It means, as I said earlier, that Nigeria is very close to achieving self-sufficiency in rice. By 2018, the administration targets rice production of 7 million MT. As at 2015, rice demand in Nigeria stood at 6.3 million MT,” he added.
Agriculture As A Major Environmental Polluter
While Nigeria is focusing effort in this direction, a report points to environmental challenges from the agriculture sector. It says that when people think about threats to their environment, what comes to their mind is industrial pollution and car emission, not the food they eat but the truth is that, our efforts in poverty reduction and finding solution to end hunger, are making agriculture a major ‘killer’ of the mother earth.
Agriculture is posing one of the biggest dangers to the planet with carbon dioxide emission the main contributor to global warming. An analysis by the World Resources Institute, WRI, and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, UN FAO, estimated that between 14 and 18 percent of all man-made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are associated with the agricultural sector. Even the lowest estimate (14 percent) is still equal with WRI’s estimated emissions for the transportation sector (13.5 percent).
This means that, agriculture is among the greatest contributors to global warming, emitting more greenhouse gases (GHG) than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined. The GHG in agricultural sector is largely from methane (CH4) released by cattle and rice farms, nitrous oxide (N2O) from fertilized fields, and carbon dioxide from the cutting of rain forests to grow crops or raise livestock. So, are we being naïve to feed the rapidly growing global population, and threaten our own existence.
As in most other sectors, agricultural carbon footprint is fast increasing, since farming is expanding to produce more food for a growing world population. In fact, food production will need to double from current levels if projections of more than 9 billion people in 2050 prove correct. So meeting the growing demand for food by using more land would have serious impacts on the environment and the climate. Remember that areas that are most suitable for agriculture in most countries are already cultivated to a large extent, making fertile agricultural land a limited resource across the world.
The fact is that massive unguided farming is never the solution to end poverty, because the more we engage in such activities, the more climate change continue to affect the quality and quantity of food we Production.
The uplifted living standard and spread of prosperity across the world, especially in the world’s most populated countries – China and India, is driving an increased demand for balance diet such as meat, eggs, and dairy. This has added pressure to cultivate more foods and engage in more animal husbandry more livestock husbandry. Unfortunately, key resources such as land and water needed to produce these foods are scarce globally.
While the majority of global warming activities give off carbon dioxide – the main contributor to global warming, but it is not the only greenhouse gas to worry about, the next two most common GHG in the atmosphere are methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), primarily emitted by agricultural sector. Most of this methane are emitted by cows, which also are more damaging to the environment.
For instance, ruminant animals (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels) produce methane as part of their normal digestion system – a process known as enteric fermentation. In fact, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the CH4 produced from “enteric fermentation” (cows farting) represents almost one-third of the emissions from the U.S. agricultural sector.
Also, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report on ‘Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use Emissions by Sources and Removals by Sinks’ shows that, around 40 per cent of agricultural emissions came from methane produced by livestock between 2001 and 2011, not including emissions from manure (25 per cent of agricultural emissions). Together, these gases plus CO2 make up about 99 percent of all GHG in the atmosphere.
It is not just the actual farming that makes agriculture so detrimental to the environment. In almost every case, land use changes such as deforestation to clear space for agriculture, is also a contributor to carbon emissions and land degradation. Records indicate that 75 per cent of global deforestation comes from agriculture. So when we clear areas of grassland and forest for farms, we lose crucial habitats and make agriculture a major driver to the loss of biodiversity.
Similar to many other land-use changes, converting forest areas into agricultural land is not the right solution to end hunger. This process is a source of greenhouse-gas emissions and undermines nature’s ability to cope with climate change impacts, such as absorbing heavy rainfall, that threaten food security globally. For instance:
Solution for Sustainable Agriculture
How can the rapid growing global population be fed and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) to end poverty and hunger be met with minimal environmental footprints? The answer lies in a sustainable agricultural system – a form of agricultural technique that provides foods and industrial inputs to serve the needs of the present generation without posing socio-environmental risks and compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.
We can start to tackle food waste in economically rich countries where food waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets, as well as in developing countries where food is often lost between the farmer and the market due to unreliable storage and transportation. A shift to increase yields on less productive farmlands, using high-tech, precision farming systems, and organic farming would also be effective ways to reducing agricultural footprints.
Responding to this while speaking with our Correspondent, Bekeme Masade-Olowola, a Harvard-trained social entrepreneur and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of CSR-in-Action, an organisation dedicated to promoting the advancement and awareness of Corporate Social Responsibility, good governance and sustainable development in Nigeria, said government effort in protecting environment are very minimal.
We tend to be playing catch up on our previous environmental challenges and our leaders are more interested in reeling out figures of growth without looking at the long-term implications.
It would be easier to feed the nation with diversification to agriculture, if more of the crops we grow will end up in human stomachs. Sometimes, some crops which should have been made available for human consumption are diverted for feeding livestock or for industrial uses, and only a fraction of the calories in feed given to livestock make their way into the meat and milk that we consume.
For instance, only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly; the rest are fed to livestock (about 36 percent) or turned into biofuels and industrial products (roughly 9 percent). Nigeria needs to find more efficient ways to feed the livestock and grow meat through non-agricultural means to avoid compromising the capacity of agriculture to feed the poverty-stricken nation”.
Such an alternative, she said could be a switch from grain-fed livestock to pasture-raised livestock which would free up substantial amounts of food to be made available for human consumption in Nigeria; a shift to increase yields on less productive farmlands, using high-tech, precision farming systems, and organic farming would be effective ways to reducing agricultural footprints; and organic farming can also greatly reduce the use of water and chemicals—by incorporating cover crops, mulches, and compost to improve soil quality, conserve water, and build up nutrients.
According to her, many farmers have also gotten smarter about water, replacing inefficient irrigation systems with more precise methods, like subsurface drip irrigation. Advances in both conventional and organic farming can give us more “crop per drop” from our water and nutrients.
On rice farm pollution, Masade-Olowola stated, “We could develop rice varieties which emit less methane. Secondly, since irrigated rice farming is the other main agricultural source of methane accounting for about a fifth of total man-made emissions, switching to more heat-tolerant rice cultivars, management of water, adjusting sowing dates, adaptations to drainage regimes and mid-season drainage can help to reduce CH4 released by rice. In this way, yield declines due to temperature increases can largely be prevented, thereby reducing the effect of warming on CH4 emissions per yield.
Whereas several studies have focused on mid-season drainage (MD) to mitigate GHG emissions, early-season drainage (ED), varying in timing and duration, has not been extensively studied. However, such ED periods could potentially be very effective since initial available C levels, and thereby the potential for methanogenesis, can be very high in paddy systems with rice straw incorporation. For instance, a study by some scholars of the Universities of Copenhagen, Wageningen and International Rice Research Institute titled ‘The effective mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from rice paddies without compromising yield by early-season drainage’, tested the effectiveness of seven drainage regimes varying in their timing and duration (combinations of ED and MD) to mitigate CH4 and N2O emissions in a 101-day growth chamber experiment.
It showed that emissions were considerably reduced by early-season drainage compared to both conventional continuous flooding (CF) and the MD drainage regime. The results suggest that ED + MD drainage may have the potential to reduce CH4 emissions and yield-scaled GWP by 85–90 per cent compared to CF and by 75–77 per cent compared to MD only. A combination of (short or long) ED drainage and one MD drainage episode was found to be the most effective in mitigating CH4 emissions without negatively affecting yield”.