President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s efforts to contain rising food prices may suffer a serious setback if his government is unable to convince the government of Cameroon to be measured releasing water from the Lagdo Dam.
The president, had on July 13, 2023 declared a state of emergency on food security to curb rising prices and more recently, has released five truck loads of rice to each of the 36 states of the federation as part of efforts to ameliorate the impact of the removal of subsidy on Petroleum Motor Spirit.
The presidency had in a statement on July 13 said it planned to deploy some savings from the fuel subsidy removal into the agricultural sector.
Those efforts are however being threatened by the opening of the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, which could lead to devastating floods and destroy thousands of hectors of farmland across no fewer than 13 states in Nigeria.
Already, a large number of Nigerian farmers with farmlands along the areas prone to flooding, particularly those in close proximity to River Niger and River Benue are being forced to decide whether to prematurely harvest their crops before losing everything to floodwaters due to the opening of the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon or leave them to mature.
The federal government had on August 21, 2023 informed the National Emergency Management Agency of plans by the Cameroonian government to open the Lagdo Dam, asking the agency to take precautionary measures in states likely to be affected.
The most vulnerable states include Kogi, Benue, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Niger, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Edo, Delta, Anambra, Cross River, Rivers and Bayelsa.
Last year, Cameroon also opened the dam adding to the misery of many Nigerians, who were already grappling with record rainfalls. Hundreds of lives were lost with thousands of communities displaced.
An estimated N700 billion in economic value was lost to damages caused by the 2022 floods in the Nigeria’s agricultural-related sector.
These include the loss of 8.4 million tonnes of fourteen crop varieties output valued at N384.4 billion with the fish sector accounting for the loss of N100.2 billion, while over N93.04 billion was also lost in the livestock sector.
In addition, the overall lost to the impact of the floods on agricultural structures and farmlands amounted to over N120 billion with 863,648 hectares of farmlands affected.
An assessment conducted last year by the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on the 2022 flood in Nigeria and its implication on agriculture revealed the above.
A farmer in Emelego community in Abua/Odual local government area of Rivers State who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that there is panic harvesting of cassava and other farm produce in communities in Odual due to the NIMET warning.
“There is panic harvesting of cassava and other farm produce in our communities due to the recent release by the NIMeT.
“The farm produce are not yet mature but people in Odual communities prefer to harvest prematurely and recover some of their farm produce, especially cassava, plantain, banana, yam and potatoes instead of losing all to the flood,” she said.
According to experts, the incident is expected to submerge thousands of hectares of farmland including significant loss of income and farmers’ livelihoods.
The floods could also destroy crops and livestock which could lead to food shortages and higher food prices in the country.
Last year, nearly 110,000 hectares of farmland were completely destroyed by flooding in August.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, the national president of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc Kabir Ibrahim expressed concerns over the development.
He said that the release of water from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon portends uncontrolled flooding of farmlands, which could wash away the plantations thereby making farmers more impoverished.
He noted that the release of the water has become an annual event in recent times, most likely due to climate change, which has resulted in heavier rains than envisaged.
“To reduce the effect of this, Nigeria has to deploy climate change-mitigation techniques as well as water harvesting for utilisation in off season agricultural production by using residual moisture when the flooding recedes.
“The hydrological management agency needs to factor this in its flood forecasts as it has become a threat factor to our quest for the attainment of food security in Nigeria,” he stressed.
A rice farmer in Ogoja LGA of Cross River State, Chief Paul Ofana, expressed concern that there is fear of losing their rice field to the high volume of water that would be caused by opening of the floodgate from Lagdo Dam by the Cameroonian authorities.
According to him, once this happens, he is sure that the state is likely to experience food shortage due to low output.
Ofana stated that they are already constructing barricades locally with earth dug with shovels and embalmment to protect their rice field from being swept away by flood.
“Though this is not a 100 percent remedy to halt the flood water from destroying our rice farm, for now, this is what we think can be done to protect our crops from being washed way when the flood finally visits.”
A cocoa farmer in Bendeghe Afi Community in Ikom LGA, Mr Nelson Takim said that with the information about the expected flood water, he and his workers no longer keep their heaps of cocoa pods in areas that are close to the bank of the river which passes close to his farm.
“By so doing, this will prevent the flood water from sweeping the coal pods away with flood.
“We have decided that our heaps of cocoa would henceforth be gathered at the upland region of our farms in places where water can hardly reach no matter the volume of water that passes through our farms,” Takim maintained.
In some states, communities still reeling from the effects of last year’s flood are determined to learn lessons from their bitter experience but maintained that they make their living in these areas.
In Kwara State, though the flood ravaged 12 local government areas in the state last year, destroying farmlands, Ilorin East and Patigi local government areas were the worst hit.
Even after flood waters displaced entire communities, and their crops completely washed away by water, victims returned to their homes immediately the flood water receded.
A community leader in Isale-Koko, Ilorin East LGA, where the flood displaced many residents, Malam AbdulRasaq Baale said “We all returned to our houses immediately after the rainy season.”
Also, Mr Usman Mohammed from Patigi said all the victims have returned to their ancestral homes because “that’s where our sources of livelihood are located – fishing and farming.”
Similarly, Delta State may lose over 3,000 hectares of farmlands to flood if the Lagdo Dam is opened by Cameroon, according to some officials
The areas that could be affected in the state are Patani, Isoko South and North, Ndokwa East, Bomadi, Burutu, Oshimili North and South, Ughelli North and Ughelli South local government areas which would lose thousands of hectares.
During last year’s flood in Delta State, rice farmers lamented the loss of over 300 hectares of rice farms to ravaging flood at Omeligboma, Oko in Oshimili South local government area of the state.
The then commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Delta State, then, Godfrey Enitahe inspected a 100-hectare rice farm taken over by flood at the Benin-Owena River Basin Authority in Ngegwu, Ajaji – Illah, Oshimili North local government area of the state.
In parts of two local government areas in the state, over 300 hectares were lost by only rice farmers, now 12 other local governments could be submerged from the possible floods.
“By farming calendar, the dry season farming for rice would have commenced this November in the area but if the land is flooded. Farmers in the community would have lost over 300 hectares of rice farm to the flood.
“It takes about 120 days (three months) for this variety to mature, and these have reached 72 days when the flood came and as you can see, there is nothing to salvage from the farm. Going by the average of five to seven tonnes of rice per hectare, the gravity of loss is colossal,” he said.
Farmers however, advised the federal government, as the manager of river basins and inland waterways, to construct the needed dams along the River Niger/Benue Basin to absorb the waters that cause havoc along the states in the area.
A member of the council of chiefs in Tombia Community in Yenagoa local government area of Bayelsa State, Chief Godday Otobotekere, said that almost all indigenes of the community were displaced during the devastating 2022 flood.
Otobotekere stated this while reacting to the warning from the federal government about the impending flood, adding that the water came up from the back of the houses and they were all submerged from the main junction to the Bayelsa State School of Nursing and Midwifery Basic compound.
He said that apart from the news they heard from the television and radio, nobody has notified them officially about the coming flood and expressed fears that Bayelsa State was mentioned among the states that will be affected.
Otobotekere noted that the community indigenes that left their submerged houses during last year’s flood returned immediately the water went down, adding that they all came back to repair their houses.
“The damages are much; the government could not come and do anything. They only sent small things in the name of palliatives. It was a group of medical doctors that came and gave our people blankets, drugs and all that. Another NGO also came and brought mosquito nets and food items for nursing mothers and children.
“That was all, apart from that, nothing has come. I cannot ascertain if there are people who have not returned to their home. The worst cases happened within this area down to the school compound. But I believe all Tombia indigenes affected have come back home.
“We have heard about the coming flood. From the information, Bayelsa State was mentioned and we are expecting it to come. Apart from the news we heard from the television and radio, nobody has notified us about anything.
“The impact of the flood is unbearable. What can help us to make it a bit manageable is only sand filling; sand-fill the dam areas higher than the normal level or sand-fill the bush across the road so that people can relocate there. That’s the only solution if not everyone will suffer. If the federal and state governments can combine and do some sand-filling and piling of these communities, then possibly remove the sand from the River Nun, elevate the upper side, then it will be a bit okay,” he said.