“Based on the signals we have at the moment, this is a year we are to witness shorter than normal rainy season. In other words, we are going to have shorter planting and cropping seasons. We are also seeing a year that we will have widespread little dryness and it is likely to be more pronounced than we had in the previous season.
“This is very important because it now advices farmers to use early maturing species in their cropping to make sure that within the shorter rainy season they can quickly plant and the crops will reach maturity and harvesting within the short rainy season that is likely to occur.”. These were the very words of the Director-General/Chief Executive Officer, NiMet, Dr. Anthony Anuforom while releasing the 2014 Seasonal Rainfall Predictions (SRP)
Yearly, usually in the early months of the year, Seasonal Rainfall Predictions (SRP) that serve as early warning signals are released by the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), a Federal Government Agency charged with the responsibility to advise the Federal Government on all aspects of meteorology; and to issue weather (and climate) forecasts for the safe operations of aircrafts, ocean going vessels and oil rigs.
According to the 2014 SRP there is likelihood that communities in the South-East and South-West of Nigeria may experience delayed onset of rainfall while certain other areas would have low comfort index because of high level of humidity and temperature. One may then ask what impacts this predication has on agriculture and food security. The impact is potentially huge, especially in a situation where the prediction of shorter rainfall becomes a reality. No doubt, in this part of the world we practice rain-fed agriculture; therefore, the implications could be disastrous given a situation where farmers’ plant longer maturing species, then they will have poor harvests as there won’t be enough rain to sustain such crop growth.
Consequently, there may be fewer agricultural products for consumption in addition to reduced income for the ordinary Nigerian home. Also, revenue from agricultural export will dwindle. No doubt, with increased oil theft in 2013 leading to huge losses in that sector, the agricultural sector contributed majorly to GDP growth experienced in Nigeria third quarter result released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. Therefore, NIMET SRP 2014 suggests the need for urgent action by all and sundry to ensure the gains witnessed last year in agriculture is not eroded.
Climate change has greatly impacted agriculture in Nigeria with as much as 10-20% loss in the sector over the years. Research confirms that weather changes affect plants and animals including humans. NIMET reports that “Cessation of rains from the ENSO (El Nino/Southern Oscillations) signals shows that the level of humidity and temperature will be high in March and April”. Temperature and humidity can have grave impacts on the soil as well as crops. Extreme weather events like increased heat can cake and or stunt plant and animal growth. Animals like cattle, sheep, etc will be exposed to possible abortions leading to dearth of species over time. Of course, too much rainfall in itself can wash away crops, and in extreme flood cases wipe out a whole animal farm. The World Banks agrees that Climate Change will affect agriculture through higher temperatures, greater demand for water crops, more variable rainfall and extreme climate events such as heat waves, floods and droughts. We need agriculture that will strengthen food security, adaptation and mitigation.
In the light of the 2014 NIMET SRP, it will be most beneficial for farmers to embark on ‘climate-smart’ agriculture by planting varieties of early maturing crops adapted to their locality. This will produce maximum return on investment within the predicted rainfall periods in addition to ensuring affordable products and guaranteeing food security. For instance, there are varieties of early maturing cassava stems and grains (maize, rise, egusi, etc) developed for the southern part of Nigeria.
The Delta State Ministry of Agriculture and indeed all agricultural extension workers in all the Local Government Areas in the state should commence effective programs that will advise farmers, rural communities and indeed all stakeholders on the appropriate crops specific to their locality that should be employed this planting season. The Head Climate Change Unit and Permanent Secretary, the state’s Ministry of Environment, Mrs Felicia Adun acknowledges the role of her department in expanding the needed awareness and believes that the schools’ climate change clubs will help employ smart agriculture in the emerging climate related challenges.
Richard Adewoye, an Agriculturist and Farm Manager at the Landmark University, Omu-Aran, Kwara State, in his opinion advise farmers to look out for “drought tolerant, early maturing, inter-mediate and late-maturing group of crops in maize and other cereal crops developed by scientists.” He emphasizes on the need for farmers to adopt appropriate farm practices suitable for specific region and for them to deploy crop varieties that are appropriate to every ecological system in the country to have a bumper harvest.
In addition, efforts should be made by relevant agencies of government to ensure that farmers benefit from the Federal Governments’ ‘Dry Season Farm Support Programme’ launched last January at the banquet hall of Presidential Villa, Abuja. This initiative seeks to ensure a robust food security programme that overcomes challenges posed by climate change, dry weather conditions and for purposes of youth employment stabilization. News Agency of Nigeria reports that Bauchi State is already reaping the fruits of this initiative. Also, further integrated efforts should be made to help farmers access improved seeds, fertilizers, other production inputs and knowledge needed in an emerging economy bedeviled with ‘scarce rainfall’
Chibuikem Diala is a Green Enthusiast volunteering for The Green Team in Asaba. He contributes regularly to green economy issues. He is currently, Head, Delta State Carbon Exchange Desk. He can be reached on 08030842207