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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Smallholder farmers and climate extremes

Basil Oru, a migrant farmer in Igbe, Ikorodu in Lagos, frowns at the rising temperatures, along with the irregular rainfall pattern he claims is affecting farm yield and threatening his source of livelihood.

He complains that, just as it has been the trend in recent years, the rain is late in coming and thus delaying the planting of certain crops whose cultivation coincides with the advent of the rainy season. The ripening of crops cultivated several months ago is also being affected, he says, adds.

As a way out, he discloses, he deals more in plantain cultivation, which he claims is resistant to harsh weather conditions. To complement this, he stresses, he has shifted the farming site to swampy land, apparently because the soil there is still laden with moisture despite the drought condition upland on the conventional farmland.

Louisa Ono, a Lagos-based single mother of two children, ventured into rice faming under the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture & Cooperatives’ “Rice for Job Project” and was allocated one hectare of land to do the farming at Udena in Ogun State. She brought in experienced farm workers from Edo State to till the ground while she diligently applied the herbicides, fertiliser and weeding at the directed time.

Suddenly, the rains were nowhere to be found and drought set in and the rice got blistered and led to an appalling harvest. The almost N300,000 she invested in the venture went down the drain as there was not a single grain of rice to show for her effort.

Several weeks later however, Oru’s prayers were heard as the rains came, albeit intermittently. But, days later, on a Sunday, the rain that day was unprecedented. It started at about 5.00am and poured continuously all through the day in torrents. Rather than rejoicing for what he has prayed for, Oru is instead lamenting.

“A lot of the cassava I planted in March that is to be harvested in about 10-12 months’ time have become rotten due to too much water as a result of the flood that affected my farm. About one hectare and half of cassava farmland is affected,” he groans, continuing:

“I am desperately trying to save over 100 plantain tress affected by flood, as the leaves are getting discoloured. I am currently creating a channel to drain away the flood water here.”

But Ono’s plight seems worse off. She resides in a rented three-bedroom bungalow at Orisha in Magodo, which the rain has now rendered inhabitable.

She recalls that, after struggling to get home from church with her kids, she could not believe what confronted her.

“My compound is situated down a hill and the house up the hill directly behind my compound has this gigantic fence that we have always been critical of. With the intensity of the rain, the water from the top of the hill found openings at the sides of the fence, gushing out dangerously and digging chunks of sand that were falling close to my kitchen door and increasing the level of water to the kitchen steps. Suddenly, I heard an ear-deafening and heavy crash, smash, breaking of glasses and mad rush of muddy water that rose inside the living room. The concrete fence had fallen against the house, crushed the sand beneath it, and pillars of concrete crashed into the house, smashed the kitchen iron door where I was standing minutes before and breaking glass windows and pouring in mud, water and dirt.

“I rushed to my bedroom to see to my important documents and certificates; boxes, beddings clothing, and everything was covered in thick mud flowing everywhere. The rain continued and the flood continued from the kitchen whose door had been destroyed by the concrete pillars protruding inside the house with iron rods and chunks of the concrete all over the floor. It was terrible.”

Basil and Louisa are a typical example of what smallholder farmers experience regularly, in the face of an increasingly unpredictable and apparently changing global weather pattern. They have to eke out a living while struggling to adapt to the vagaries and extremes of the climate.

Environmental activist, Titilope Akosa, attributes the scenarios to extreme weather conditions as a result of global warming that, according to her, results in sea level rise, flooding, drought, storm surges, irregular rainfall pattern and rise in temperature in the state and beyond.

She says, “The current and potential impacts of climate change in Lagos indicate that the phenomenon will affect men and women differently and that climate change may likely exacerbate the existing gender inequality skewed against women. In Lagos, women constitute a significant proportion of people living below the poverty line; they constitute 41 percent compared to 59 percent men in formal public employment, they are under-represented in decision-making positions and make up majority of subsistence farmers lacking access to and control of critical resources such as land, water and agricultural extension services.

“Ono is a typical example of the case of women’s vulnerability to climate change, which is also touching other issues like parenting because her ability to properly take care of her kids is seriously in doubt as a result of her current poor financial situation.”

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