Labelled the Food Basket of the Nation, Benue State has in the last one decade been contending with insecurity marked by unending attacks from armed bandits. This year, it is an extended tragedy for Benue following the massive flood that washed over key farm belts in the state that has overtime placed first in the production of yams, cassava, soyabeans, citrus and second in the production of sesame. Denen Achussah and Amos Aar report how the flood flushed away foods from the basket.
IT‘s double tragedy for farmers affected by the raging flood that washed over major farming communities in Benue State, Nigeria’s Food Basket State. Beyond the inestimable food products that have been washed away by the flood, there is also the fear of the inevitable rise in the cost of all categories of food stuff, especially the trademark products from the state.
Hectares of both large scale and small-scale farms had either been washed away or submerged and suffocated by the flood, leaving bare grounds in hectares of farm fields hitherto covered by crops.
State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Makurdi, says the impact of the flood cut across several local government areas in the state as flood crushed and flushed away Nigeria’s food basket in the wake of torrential rains.
Although there have been cases of flash flood, this year’s flood is similar to the 2012 flood, which affected over nine local government areas of the state. SEMA, through its Executive Secretary, Dr Emmanuel Shior, says over 135,000 people were displaced by the flood.
Findings by these reporters indicate that the flood came at a time when many crops were reaching maturity, which spelt doom for both young and maturing crops.
Jila Barnabas says he lost everything. “I’ve lost all my investment to the flood. I was encouraged from last year’s harvest to increase my farm size only to be caught up with the flood,” he told This Week and National Record.
Barnabas is a civil servant; one of those who answered state governor, Samuel Ortom’s call for public servants and political appointees to go to farm, by taking advantage of the Friday as work-free day policy of his administration. Barnabas’ farm is located at Tse Tyohemba, Modern Market Ward in Makurdi LGA of the Benue State.
The flood, which came as a result of the overflow of River Benue and torrential rains, compelled farmers whose farms were not completely submerged to salvage, albeit prematurely, what was left of the farms, findings show. This forced farmers to take yams to the markets earlier than they used to.
Some of those affected by the flood had for the first time in their life time obtained loan to set up their farms and then came the flood, it is learnt.
Civil servants as well as political appointees that complied with Governor Samuel Ortom’s policy to farm in the face of irregular salaries are also counting loses while dozens of others are small holder farmers whose farms are their everything. The damage is unprecedented.
One of the local governments in the state hit hard by the 2022 flooding is Agatu, Benue-South senatorial district, otherwise known as Zone C. The flooding brought untold hardship on Agatu, a major farming hub in the state. Homes, farms, markets, hospitals, schools and other properties worth hundreds of millions of naira were destroyed and people displaced, visit to the area shows.
In Agatu, almost all the riverine communities in Oweto, Utugolgwu, Obishu, Olegodegbe, Olegoga, Inoli, Ologba, Alokpa, Olegeje, Adana, Agbobe, Ocholonya, Akpeko, Ebete, Ogwumogbo, Ejima, Gega, Inmiyi, Igah and Gishu were inundated.
Even when the flood seemed to have subsided in early November, after over one month of the heavy flood, National Record could not access some of the affected villages, as many of settlements were still under water.
Oweto, being a lowland was the most hit in Agatu LGA. There were no signs of houses and farms in the swampiest parts as the flood reportedly washed away everything, our reporters gathered. Majority of residents of Oweto, like in many other parts of Agatu, depend basically on rice farming and fishing.
Now homeless and without a decent alternative, residents of Oweto resorted to improvising grass shelters along the tarred road to lay their heads in spite of the discomfort. All the displaced residents in the area who spoke with our reporters called on both the federal and state governments, as well as public-spirited individuals to come to their assistance in the provision of food, clothes, shelter and other essential needs.
A tailor in Oweto, Lucky Musa, has been forced by the flood to relocate his shop to the roadside where he now sews clothes and sleeps. His farm, which would have been his next hope after the flood is washed away.
Musa, like almost all other flood victims in Oweto, now depends on fishing. He is however worried that the seasonal business will soon cease and there may be no alternative to livelihood, if government and humanitarian organisations do not intervene.
For Abdul Suleiman, another flood casualty in Oweto, it is a desperate and restless situation. He had secured a four hundred-thousand-naira (N400,000) loan to cultivate his rice farm. The farm has been washed away by the flood and he has no other means to repay the loan. Suleiman now operates as commercial motorcyclist (Okada) to fend for his family.
Other victims of the flood – Jonah Ikwumokoru from Ohelefu community, Isah Abu from Usha, Danladi Amodu, Danjuma Olowo, Adams Oyigene, Abdullahi Suleiman, among many others – who spoke with National Record narrated the same sad experience.
‘We should thank God in everything’
“Once it’s February, you see them attacking and killing anybody that they see around. So, it is difficult to do dry season farming here except the federal government provides enough security and also provides inputs for farmers; farm inputs such as herbicides, fertilizer and machinery, like tractors and improved seedling. If that is done, I am very sure that we can come back here and do dry season farming,” says Barnabas.
Barnabas lost 14 hectares of rice to the flood. He invested over one million naira on the farm, saying, he can’t express how bad it feels, given the intensity and destruction wrought by the flood.
“But I thank God, because the Bible says in every situation, we should thank God. And since my life is there, I am hopeful that by God’s grace, and if there is any intervention from somewhere, I will come back to the farm next year. I am not going to give up because of what has happened. It is not quite easy but I have taken it in good faith,” concluded Barnabas.
Indeed, nothing has shown that farmers will be safe from the bullets and cutlasses of the armed wing of cattle owners, during dry season – a threat they have lived with for over a decade now- even as flood waters have destroyed their farms.
For Orshi Aondosoo and Moses Mvande, both of Tse Abenga, Ukum LGA, part of their farms survived the flood. It is nevertheless a “bad experience.” The duo says the saturation of the soil with water is also affecting yams.
“It is an act of God. So, there is nothing I can do. Had it been it were man; I can query that person. But it is actually the work of God, [so] we can say that even the birds of air, they don’t have anything doing but God takes care of them,” Aondosoo concludes.
By October, when yams are yet to mature fully, some farmers began harvesting their fields. This according to Japhet Ishenge, General Secretary, Association of Yam Shade Owners and Yam Sellers, Zaki Biam International Market, was to avoid further damage to the yam farms.
According to Ishenge, yam buyers are complaining of “rotten yams,” adding, “if you go to our homes, you will see a lot of yams that are rotten.”
Tyosue Emberga Akema, Secretary, International Yam Market, Ugba, Logo LGA, shares the same concerns. He said local farmers were forced to harvest yams, particularly from farms located in low lands, earlier than normal.
Akema says same has negative impact on the prices of yam. “When you bring them to the market,” he says of the badly affected yams, “they will have less value,” he said, adding: “Everybody needs clean yams. When they have tough skin, no matter the size, nobody will price it in a way that you will like.” He named other crops affected by the flood to include Bambara nut, rice and cassava.
Engr. Nat Apir, says he won’t buy two or more yams per time again. According to Engr. Apir, he had bought yams and found out later days later that they were rotten. “I won’t buy two yams again. I buy one and after finishing it, I will go for another,” Engr. Apir noted.
Rising prices of produce
Prices of produce have hit record highs. And this confirms the fears of Ishenge, earlier mentioned. Ishenge says yams are affected in areas that are saturated with water. He fears there may be shortfall in the availability of yams in the market, giving rise to high prices.
Few weeks ago, precisely on 3rd November, 2022, the price of paddy rice was between N35,000 and N40,000 per 100kg bag, with maize trading for between N40,000 and N42,000; millet, N30,000 and sorghum, N32,000.00 per 100kg bag. This represents significant increase in rates compared to the prices in July this year.
Prices quoted by Benue Foods and Markets, a Facebook platform that reports on markets and produce in the state, are far less compared to same period this year.
On 6th November, 2021, the medium reported the prices of produce as follows: rice: N25,000.00 per 00kg bag; soyabeans: N27,500, yams, N20,000 per 100 tubers of medium size. These rates represent more than 50 per cent rise in prices of commodities.
According to the World Bank Food Security Report published in June 2022, “domestic food price inflation remains high around the world. Information between May to August 2022 shows high inflation in almost all low-income and middle-income countries; 93.3 percent of low-income countries, 90.9 per cent of lower-middle-income countries, and 93 per cent of upper-middle-income countries have seen inflation levels above 5 percent, with many experiencing double-digit inflation. The share of high-income countries with high inflation has also increased sharply, with about 85.7 percent experiencing high food price inflation.
This situation is worsened by the war in Ukraine, which “has altered global patterns of trade, production, and consumption of commodities in ways that will keep prices at high levels through the end of 2024 exacerbating food insecurity and inflation.”
Barnabas, earlier mentioned says if something is not done, “there will be severe hunger next year.” In the Tyohemba area of Makurdi LGA where his farm is located, several other rice farms were submerged, and as the water receded, only bare soil was left. What remains of the rice in such areas can best be described as chaffs and black grains.
It is worse, according to Barnabas, that insecurity will not give room for dry season farming. He says locations such as his farm is, cattle will take over the fields during dry season, displacing locals. Insecurity has been the major bane of agriculture in Benue State in the recent past.
“The country will be thrown into severe hunger next year. Coupled with insecurity across the country where farmers are unable to access their farms and the flooding that has taken place across the country, I am afraid that next year, except the borders are thrown open for imported food to come in, the citizens will be faced with severe, severe hunger in the country because thousands of farms are washed away by the flood,” says Barnabas.
When asked about the possibility of dry season farming, Barnabas says: “It is unfortunate that we don’t practice dry season farming here because of insecurity. Where we are standing here, anything from end of January to February, you can’t access this place because of armed herdsmen. Once it’s February, they take over this place, attacking and killing anybody they see around.
“So, it is difficult to do dry season farming here except the federal government provides enough security and also provides farm input for farmers; inputs such as herbicides, improved seedlings, fertilizer and farm machinery such as tractors. If that is done, I am very sure that we can come back and do dry season farming. There is already source of water here. So, if there is any support from the federal government to keep armed herdsmen under check and provide improved seedlings, we can come back and farm.”
According to Ahungwa James, the flood “levelled everything” on his three-hectare rice farm. James stated that without another farm “we are zero.” The father of five says he has little hope for aid.
No farm – crop or animal – is spared. Rice, yam, sorghum, maize, soyabeans and cassava farms, among others, were under water, with hundreds of hectares of fields completely submerged. Goats, pigs, sheep, among other farm animals, locals say were stranded.
“This is the fate of farmers. We now don’t have what to eat, not to talk about making sales,” laments Sughnen Anema, a farmer from Gboko. He adds that the situation is worsened by attacks by the armed wing of cattle owners with negative impact on food supply.
Kundushima Elias Tyolanga, 50, says he is at a lost as to what to do because over two-third of his over 300 hectares of rice farm located in Modern Market Ward, Makurdi LGA is underwater.
The 50-year-old farmer says dozens of locals are depending on his farm for their daily bread and with the present situation, all hopes seem to have been lost because of the flood.
He reasoned that the shrinking River Benue and increased torrential rain are responsible for his predicament, calling on the government to dredge River Benue as well as construct canals to protect farmlands from flooding.
Kundushima is also calling for support from government to enable him prepare ahead of the dry season farm, since he has lost his farm and has no other thing to depend on.
Other farmers including Kenneth Apaa, Zaki Dogo Shishim, 45, village head of Tyohemba said they have lost tens of hectares of rice due to the deluge.
They are afraid that prices of commodities would hit the roof, if government does not take immediate action to support farmers.
Position of government
Thomas Unongo, Director, Agriculture Services in the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Makurdi, says the Benue State Government is going to procure fertilizer for those that may be going into dry season farming.
According to Unongo, a gap has been created due to the 2022 “flood and we are going to close that gap.” This, he says, will be done through irrigation agriculture.
Benue State Government failed to subsidize fertilizer for farmers amid rising prices, the reason, Unongo says, has led to sharp increase in the prices of inorganic fertilizer, especially, UREA and Single Super Phosphate rising to over forty thousand naira during the wet season, with farmers groaning, our findings reveal.
While the cost of fertilizer rises amidst increasing demand for labour, the cost of herbicides and pesticides, farmers say rose by over 50 per cent as against last year.
Unongo explained that “what happened this year that people are complaining about is that we had prepared to buy fertiliser, then suddenly, there was a sharp rise in the prices due to cost of input for production (of Fertiliser), pushing it up to more than 100 per cent of what was budgeted for.”
Otherwise, he said that Benue State Government “ensures that fertiliser is procured early for our teaming farmers. So, the Benue State Government has done a lot for food production. That is why I even caution people not to be worried because even with the challenges we have envisaged definitely, we are going to still retain the food basket of the nation status.
The feat, Unongo says is based on “available information from our Divisional Agric(ulture) Officers across the 23 local government areas of Benue State.”
Meanwhile, the state government, through the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), during the period of the flood, distributed assorted relief materials to victims of the flood. Individuals including political office seekers, humanitarian organisations and governments had sent in aid.
The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Ahmed Mustapha Habib, commiserated with the government and the people of the state over the unfortunate incident, while donating relief materials to the victims in Makurdi, the state capital.
Ahmed was represented by the Deputy Director, ICT and Technical Adviser, Sani Lokoja. He said “we cannot compensate people for the traumatic experiences they have had during the disaster.”
The Executive Secretary, SEMA, Dr Emmanuel Shior, says over 135,000 individuals have been recorded as victims of the flood and that the registration of farmers is ongoing.
“We have profiled farmers separately, in line with the charge from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management and Social Development, together with national and international agencies that have come forth to provide assistance to the victims. The registration of affected farmers is ongoing.
“There are about 11 LGAs that are affected. So, we are working together with local government council chairmen; we are working together with community leaders as well as traditional rulers to be able to capture all the affected persons. The essence of getting the stakeholders involved in carrying out the registration is so that we don’t leave out other victims unattended to. We have continued to interface with other humanitarian partners, religious bodies and spirited individuals,” Dr Shior says.
According to the SEMA boss, “the Church of the Later Day Saints brought massive intervention that we distributed. And at the moment we are discussing another phase of intervention that is coming, which is to target farmers. The intervention that they brought targeted individuals whose homes were affected by the flood.
“So, the next phase of intervention will target farmers. And the programme that they are talking about is intended to last for six months, which will start by December and end somewhere around April before the rainy season starts. It is called dry season farming. It is intended to help farmers who have been affected by flood.
“Benue State Government, on her part, is also working in that regard to provide support to farmers that are affected. That is why the idea of the statistics is very important. First of all, we are supposed to know the number of those affected.
“We are still attending to those that have not been registered or recorded. As soon as we are done with that before the next rainy season, God’s willing, Benue State Government will put in place agricultural packages that will assist the affected farmers.”
Victor Asobo, Executive Director, Viktuwa Environmental Managers, is advocating the construction of “buffer dams to act as basins to collect water and feed the river systematically.” Furthermore, he says there is the need for government to step up afforestation or tree planting so that flooding can be checked.
According to Asobo, there is need for strong policies by both the state and federal governments. He notes that since flooding has become a perennial issue, there is the need to have a fund to cushion the effect of loses people incur.
Asobo is concerned that government policies are not deliberate in checking flooding. He names human activities such as deforestation, use of herbicides which kill weed that provides “spongy material that controls the flow of water,” giving rise to runoff which aggravates flooding in the state.
Asobo is afraid that “the situation will worsen” because the population mostly affected are women, youth and children. He is of the view that since the flood has destroyed people’s livelihood, there is the need to support them or lack of jobs will lead to increased criminality.
Meanwhile, agronomist and policymaker, Teryima Iorlamen of the JS Tarka University Makurdi has challenged the Benue State Government to spend more on agriculture.
“Government has a lot to do in improving agricultural sector. By the policies they make; they must make policies that are conducive in improving agriculture. If they make policies that those operating in the sector cannot do well, it won’t work,” says Teryima.
He also implores the state government to ensure organised market for farmers, eliminate cases of multiple taxation and provide farmers with financial support to acquire machinery and improve their farms.
Although, Unongo says government is working to supporting farmers engage in dry season farming, a top official at FADAMA office in Benue State who do not want his name mentioned, says the agency has no plans for dry season farming because Benue State has no sustainable dams.
“Where do we have a sustainable dam for dry season farming? If people are doing pockets of dry season farming, it’s on their own. But it’s mostly those Uke people (other languages or tribes like Hausa and Jukun). If you go to the riverine areas of River Benue, you will see only the Uke people doing dry season farming, you can’t see a Tiv man doing that kind of thing. They are doing this thing privately on their own, it’s not attached to us,” he stressed.
Asked whether the agency (FADAMA) has any other plan to assist victims of the 2022 flooding, the official who code-switched between English and Tiv languages said: “Our programme does not make provision for that except if we are asked to report on farmers who are victims of the flooding. In that case, we can do that.”
The ravaging effect of the 2022 flooding on some Benue communities may continue to impact adversely on the victims for life if the government and humanitarian organisations do not come to their aid.
This year is a very challenging year for Benue farmers because most say the state government has failed to support them with inputs such as fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides among others which have hit record prices, with farmers spending heavily to acquire them.
Analysts say the flood is a threat to food security. Like Barnabas earlier mentioned, if something is not done and urgently too, “the citizens will be faced with severe hunger in the country because thousands of farms are washed away by the flood.”
This report is supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.