Saturday, 27 June 2009

Supporting Nigerian farmers to do well

How can small scale farmers be supported to build resilience and effectively respond to the devastating effects of climate change in Nigeria? Making a case for small scale farmers is most urgent at this time because they constitute a large portion of extant poor farmers in Nigeria today.

In an analysis of those most at risk from climate change, the Environment and Urbanization journal had identified poor people as most vulnerable as they are least able to avoid the direct or indirect impacts of climate change by for example, having no irrigation facilities in their farms; living in poorly built homes, living in neighborhoods without drainage systems that prevent flooding, and have limited options to expand their livelihood activities etc. In contrast, wealthy individuals can effectively reduce these risks by having safer housing, have irrigation facilities or rainwater harvesting structures, have insurance, live in good neighborhoods and have variety of livelihood options etc.

But then, how many of us ever give a thought to such concerns. It remains to be seen, how privileged people really appreciate the plight of the poor. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said, and I agree perfectly with him that the wealthy would always be able to look after themselves; and that it was people at the other end of the economic scale i.e. the poor that the government ought to be helping.

In Nigeria, increasing changes in rainfall patterns as a result of climate change is already threatening local agricultural cultivation and making it pretty difficult to plough farm lands after the very first rains. This is generally the case in both North and South as severity is relative in different contexts.

In the South; Uboma is a rural farming community in Ihitte/Uboma local government area of Imo State, Nigeria. The community is noted for its lowland rice fields, the biggest in the entire state. Rice here are transplanted or seeded directly in the soil on level to slightly sloping fields with variable depth and duration of flooding depending on rainfall. Most of these farms are located mainly along the flooded valleys of the Imo River. Most of the rice farms are privately owned as they are cultivated in private family lands. Rice farmers tend to be small-scale, with farms of 1-2 ha.

Today changing climatic conditions has resulted to harvest shrinkage and diminishing income. This is further being exacerbated by endemic water mismanagement and inappropriate land use by farmers which have led to massive soil erosion and loss of the soil’s productive capacity. Also, limited potential for dry season rice cultivation through soil and water conservation, and the non-employment of rain water harvesting technologies have continued to widen the increasing demand-supply gap for rice. The consequence is threatened food security and livelihood for hundreds of local rice farmers and people in Uboma and other parts of Nigeria that hitherto had rice supplies from these farms.

Farmers in Yobe State had been cultivating 650,000 hectares of farmlands through rain fed agriculture in the last several years, but the situation has today deteriorated following massive onslaught of desertification which has been estimated at 10km per annum. The same ugly situation obtains in Bauchi, Borno, Gombe and Taraba States where incidents of river siltation, desert encroachment and menace of typha grass is impoverishing thousands of farmers.

Getting on top of this situation calls for innovative thinking with scalable and replicable attributes. This is true because successful interventions against drought often require the application of simple land management options that requires knowledge sharing. With a good approach and an understanding of the benefits accruable, Nigerian farmers would easily adapt, as the up-scaling and replication potential of such intervention anywhere would be possible. What is required beyond finance is the commitment of the farmers to respond to the demands of the idea.

Therefore, the on-going project by the NGO; Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP) in this regard is timely as it aims to improve hundreds of hectares of land in selected drought affected rural communities in Nigeria through the strengthening of the links between Rainwater Harvesting and Soil and Water Conservation within an integrated water resources management (IWRM).

This is being done through media exposure series that highlights agronomic, vegetative, structural and management measures that control soil degradation and enhances productivity in the field, and the training of thousands of local farmers to undertake integrated watershed development based on rainwater harvesting and soil conservation for the regeneration and sustainable management of their farmlands. In doing this, the project will courageously plant trees, document and disseminate best practices on soil and water conservation. The implementation strategy for the project is basically an interactive landscape learning process, which consists of interactive farm visits; focus group/communal television watching and discussions sessions etc.

The NGOs project is innovative because amongst other factors, it effectively manages a water related risk through the adoption of simple soil and water conservation measures vital to meeting the exerting demand of food security for an expanding population for whom rice is a staple food, through a robust and flexible mechanism that is driven locally through farm learning and exposure dialogue series that benefits not only the immediate participating farmers, but also afar farmers through recorded video programs on local televisions.

By this, it remains open to the incorporation of emerging new information and knowledge; addressing immediate crisis and strategizing for long term sustainability in an integrated and holistic manner. Some of these strategies are the quality control offered by the model farm and the secure market it creates for the farmers through a process that rewards farmers that produces quality paddy. It further supports the farmers by creating a viable network that links them from farm to market, therefore achieving a unique strategy that is not only adaptive to global climate change but also global economic recession. The idea will work because the adoption of improved water management has been proven to facilitate rice growth and maturity within 3 months and enabling farmers make multiple harvests in a year.
According to the NGO’s project manager Mr. Cyriacus Ajuruchi; “RAWDP has enormous goodwill in communities where we work and the tools to enable sustainability of our projects. Beyond the financial support from some local corporate organizations, we have planned to further raise funds through sales of our video documentaries and promotional stickers etc Adequacy and sustenance of such funds in addition to the leveraging of other donor funds as well as our cost cutting strategies in the communities where we work will continue to see the project well into the future”. Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP) is an NGO that works with the local poor. In its team are service minded water professionals who have requisite qualification and experience. RAWDP retains deep expertise in water resource and environmental management and has understands why sustainability is crucial in local projects of this kind. It is however, germane to underscore that this project is a direct fall out of a Rainwater Harvesting and Soil and water conservation for food security exposure dialogue program in Nanyuki, Kenya, which RAWDP was part of. By successfully initiating this project in Nigeria, RAWDP is no doubt expanding the sustainability nexus of that Kenya 2005 workshop.

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