Professor Shuaib Hassan is the Director, Centre for Environmental Studies (CES), University of Abuja. In this interview with Etta Michael Bisong, the expert in Meteorology and Applied Climatology cast light on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, its importance to sustainable agricultural activities, as well as what Nigeria can do to add her quota to what the international community is doing to tackle climate change and food insecurity
What is the connection between the IPCC report and Nigeria?
Sometimes a number of us will think that what is our own; after all the report has been written. No, it doesn’t end there; actions are required after the report is written to create awareness for our people to understand what the international community is doing to save the planet.
We need to ask ourselves if we are truly acting the way we should act to add our own quota to address climate change. Nigeria as we know is a vulnerable country that is exposed to climatic events like extreme weather, floods, droughts, sand storms, and heat waves that heavily impact agriculture in so many ways.
It is sad to note as a matter of fact that Nigeria is classified as one of the ten most vulnerable countries in the world, according to the 2017 Climate Change Vulnerability Index. We are all witnesses to the issue of flooding that is happening in so many places across the country this year.
Those of us that have been on this planet for the last 50 years are aware that we never had it this way some decades ago. But something is happening now to help us understand that climate change is real and that we are actually the real actors behind this change.
So, it is important for us to know how to act to reduce its impact on us.
How does climate change affect agriculture and food security in Nigeria?
The rain-fed system of agriculture that Nigeria is currently practicing is responsible for the low crop yields experienced by our local farmers because of how the adverse effects of climate change have degraded the soil. This type of farming system also affects the quality and quantity of crop yield due to the reduced growth period following high levels of temperature rise.
Away from the fact that the rain is needed, the quantity required is no longer like the onset and it is now fluctuating. It will not start when expected and end abruptly. Why some parts of the country are currently experiencing heavy rainfall, others are battling with drought.
Consequently, those residing in the drought areas of the country are exposed to tremendous suffering to put food on their tables.
Late-onset and early succession is a very big setback to agriculture because of the lack of rain during the germination and maturity period, which is a very big problem for food security.
What makes agriculture vulnerable to climate change?
It is vulnerable to climate change because all agriculture depends on acceptable temperature ranges and patterns of rainfall for raising crops and livestock. Food production is severely compromised due to loss of land, shorter growing seasons, and more uncertainty about what and when to plant. Once the temperature is not right crops may not grow.
This problem is the reason why farmers are always complaining that they have to replant their seeds because the ones they planted earlier didn’t germinate. Crops actually require the optimal temperature to grow well.
The increasing number of people at risk from hunger and low productivity is another big challenge to the worsening food insecurity crisis across the nation. The reason why the prices of foodstuffs are rising today in the market is that everyone is depending on the few available products and the sellers are just taking advantage of that to hike the prices.
How can we save agriculture from climate change?
There are four basic sustainable ways that farmers can produce more food and adapt to climate change at the same time.
First, is the integrated crop-livestock-forestry system which we are not very keen on practicing in Nigeria. But this farming system is very important because you can even get manure from these live stocks to apply in your farm instead of applying chemicals.
Next is the rehabilitation of degraded pastures which is very important to restore degraded lands. Some farmers would simply move to another land to farm believing that the previous one has been damaged.
Note that our population is increasing and land is becoming very scarce, so we have to make use of the little one that is available. Degraded land can still be rejuvenated through organic methods because they were in reality destroyed through the incessant use of heavy fertilisers.
Plant agroforestry system is another means to curb the predicament. Most of the plants in the forest that is been created are economic trees. You don’t just plant or revitalise a badland with the forest that the trees are just there for edifice or ecstatic trees that can only create beauty, nothing more out of it.
It is no longer the practice since it is now important to plant economic trees to tackle the massive food insecurity crisis threatening the country. It will create the required forest, and provide fruits that can be taken to the market or used as food.
Lastly is sustainable forestry. Sustainability is the actual word today because if you are doing something that you cannot sustain, it means that thing is not actually worth doing. The carbon dioxide that is affecting the temperatures will be reduced and the environment safeguarded if sustainable forest practices can be adopted.
What are the steps that society needs to take to combat climate change?
There is nothing that you want to do and achieve without commitment. Without commitments just know that you are beginning to fail.
Participation is the second thing to do to defeat climate change. Some of us are just sitting down and making noise about global warming without actually participating. It is necessary to add your own quota as a human being to overcome climate change. It is not enough to just agree or concur; you must show it through participation.
It is fundamental to create environmental awareness anywhere you find yourself and help people know the things that they are doing that are not good for the health of our environment. Let them know that what they are doing is not good and show them the best way to do it. At the end of the day, you have played your own quota.
Efficiency, innovation and healthy habits are also some of the steps that can be adopted to curtail extreme temperatures. As citizens, we need to advocate for the use of innovative technologies that will make our environment greener. Most of us don’t even know that the way we consume affects our health and the environment.
What is the way forward?
Is climate change the real problem to our environment? In reality, climate change is a symptom, and not the problem. Humans are the threats, you and I. Although they know, some of them just go to bed and without any form of care. Know today that humans are the problem of our planet, not climate change. Climate change is a sign, a sort of feedback to what we are doing to the environment.
The environment is tired of receiving our insults and is now fighting back, that is what is happening.
The biggest trouble with climate change is we humans, there are too many of us. We are now talking of seven billion on the planet. We are greedy, selfish, and insatiable, and satisfaction is not there.
We need to move because we have destroyed 3/4 of the resources meant for us on this planet. Will the remaining ones take care of the seven billion people living on the planet? We need to ask questions now and act because it is not possible for us to recover 100% again, but even if we cannot regain all, let us regain half so that our environment can serve us again.
It is created to serve and we must ensure that it serves us, otherwise, the problem will keep on increasing.
The beginning is for us to actually realise that we are the problem and not the environment itself or climate change. Climate change is not a problem; it is a sign that something is wrong with us. So, how do we solve that? Let us go back and check on how we have been doing some of our businesses. Do we really need to continue to kill the remaining quota? No. We killed the forest, now we need to replant it. We all need to plant and nurture at least one tree to save our environment.