SPECIAL REPORT: Bauchi Farmers Count Losses As Floods Wash Away Farmlands

Farmers in the areas said they've lost everything in the floods and they now resort to planting for the dry season

Standing on what used to be a rice farm, Isa Babaji wore a smile that betrayed his emotions. He likes to smile, he said, because it eases tension and makes him recall the ‘good old days’ when he used to harvest over 26 bags of rice in his farm. But in his interactions with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Babaji’s smile could barely mask his pains and disappointment.

Prior to the devastating floods that wreaked havoc across Nigeria in August, Mr Babaji’s intention was to harvest the farm produce and take it to the market to earn enough money to feed his family and attend to other responsibilities. But his hope was dashed by the devastating effects of the floods that washed away farmlands across Bauchi and many parts of northern Nigeria.

Isa Babaji. ‘Ba’ba village. lost his farmland

“You see this place… here this farm that you’re standing in, Walahi, it’s the smallest of my farms and I get more than 26 bags of rice every year,” he said, pointing in the direction of an expanse of land destroyed by floods.

When the floods came in August, Mr Babaji said it took away everything and for three days, he could only stand on the edge of their community and hoped for the best.

“When the water receded, I didn’t come,” he said, “I sent some of my children to come with other farmers to assess the level of damage. And it seemed God didn’t answer our prayers.”

When asked to make a rough estimate of the damage Mr Babaji recorded, he asked: “Are you or the government going to pay me? In this farm alone, I’ve lost over N600,000 then make the calculations for a farm that I usually get over 100 bags every year.”

Like Mr Babaji and other farmers in Ba’ba community in Kirfi local government area, Muhammadu – Aminu Tukur in Tafawa Balewa local government area lost his rice and potatoes to the floods. But he claimed that unlike others, he was quite lucky.

“We were lucky here because the worse hits areas are in Bauchi North,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot especially the rice, but we see this as an act of God.”

PREMIUM TIMES observed the flood that led to the destruction of farmlands especially in Zaki, Gamawa and Dambam local government areas was caused by heavy overflow of water from rivers due to the riverine nature of the areas.

Two bridges were cut off and a large portion of the asphalt washed away on the road leading to Zaki and Gamawa from Azare town in Katagum local government area, with large expanse of farmlands destroyed.

DEVASTATING FLOODS

Bauchi, like many other states in the country, recorded devastating flood around September 2022, and government authorities in the state told PREMIUM TIMES that an estimated N21 Billion was lost to the flood.

The Director General of Bauchi State Environmental Protection Agency, BASEPA, Ibrahim Kabir, said six major roads were washed away and government had to provide canoes for the residents.

“This is in fact a new experience though we’ve been witnessing flood over history. But the flooding in 2022 is devastating in Bauchi State. About 17 out of the 20 local government areas were affected.190 communities from the 17 areas were affected. We’ve lost thousands of farmlands and houses and in terms of cost when we calculated in terms of damages is about 21 Billion Naira from the destroyed houses and farmlands,” Mr Kabir told PREMIUM TIMES in Bauchi.

Some of the areas affected were Zaki, Gamawa, Ningi, Warji, Kirfi, Tafawa Balewa, Toro, Ganjuwa among others.

Flooded farmland in Tafawa Balewa.

Several reasons have been given put forward as the underlying cause of the devastating flood incident with climate activists and researchers saying that climate change is one of the main reasons for the disastrous floods.

“Northern Nigeria is particularly at risk of flooding because it is characterized by low vegetation partly due to deforestation and desert encroachment,” Adelodun Majekobaje, a Doctoral researcher (forestry and climate change) at Louisiana State University, United States, said.

“Trees are known to mitigate flooding. Their canopies provide surface area which intercept rain and prevent the amount that reaches the ground. Their roots also absorb soil water and create conditions that promote infiltration into the soil. The absence of these trees in substantial amounts in northern Nigeria encourages flooding.”

HOPE RE-DEFINED

When PREMIUM TIMES visited ‘Ba’ba, Guyaba, Duli and Wanka communities in Kirfi local government area, some farmers were seen tiling the land while others were planting seeds ahead of dry season farming.

The farmers said after losing everything to the devastating floods during the rainy season, the only available options for them was to put their hopes of better harvest in dry season.

Mr Babaji—who, like many other farmers, was planting maize when this reporter visited—said he had to borrow money to invest in the new farming season.

Preparing for dry season after loosing crops. Bauchi

On his part, Matawalle ‘Ba’ba, a large scale farmer, also said dry season is the only option for farmers whose farmlands have been destroyed by the floods.

“After this flood, we must look for something or else we become jobless” Mr ‘Ba’ba said. “In this community alone, we’ve lost over 150 hectares of farmlands mostly rice, sugarcane and maize. It’s more than 2,000 bags of rice alone which means million Naira,” he said.

Musa Matawalle standing in what used to be farmlands

Based on the N21,000 per bag calculation, rice farmers in the community told PREMIUM TIMES they lost an estimated N42 million. Mr ‘Ba’ba said it could be worse.

Now that they decided to opt for dry season farming, he added that they decided to plant maize because they could afford the seedling unlike rice seed that they need to get bank loans to buy.

“I already have an unsettled loan of over N150,000 Naira; I wouldn’t go and start borrowing again,” he said while supervising his brothers and farm workers tiling the land to plant maize.

But on his part, another farmer, Abdurrashid ‘Ba’ba, had to borrow money because he had no saving. He told PREMIUM TIMES that on his farm where he typically harvests 50 bags of rice, he only struggled to two bags after the waters receded.

He lamented: “I’m seriously disturbed because though I know that the flood occurred nationwide and those who gave us the loans know the situation, I know I’ve to pay him back, But where do I get the money to pay back?”

Abdurrashid’Ba’ba. Lost an estimated 50 bags of rice

Although he refused to tell PREMIUM TIMES exactly how much he borrowed for this year’s farming, he said he needed more than N200,000 for the irrigation system farming he was clearing his farm for in October.

Mr Abdurrashid explained further that he plans to cultivate maize with the hope that he would harvest enough to feed his family.

More Depressing Experiences

For farmers in Gamawa and Zaki local government areas, the impact of the floods is as devastating as it is for those in other parts of Bauchi. PREMIUM TIMES sighted tiled farmlands ready for re-cultivation but before the water receded, Muttaqa Sani, a 37 year old farmer in the ancient Katagum town of Zaki, said he watched with a broken heart how his farmland became a temporary river.

“I’ve lost close to N1 million here,” Mr Sani said, pointing in the direction of an empty farmland. “I plant guinea corn every year and what I mostly get is over fifty bags every year.”

A bag of Guinea corn was sold at N20,000 as at October in Bauchi state. In some communities, it went as high as N21,000 or more. A rough estimate of Mr Sanni’s loss showed that he may have indeed lost at least N1 million to the floods.

When PREMIUM TIMES visited Zaki area of Bauchi, the rains hadn’t stopped while crops like millet and guinea corn were not due for harvest. Yet a vast stretch of land had taken over the lush green swathes of crops on both sides of the road as this reporter journeyed to the community.

“This is the situation up to Sakwa community,” Mr Sani said. “We’ve invested a lot of money into this farming. Even the three bags of Urea fertilizer that I applied on the Guinea corn two weeks before the flood, I borrowed over N100,000 to buy it. I’m not even talking of the pesticides and what I borrowed to buy other things and settle some of my helping hands”

Although Mr Sani later planted guinea corn and sesame on the farmland , he prayed fervently that the rains should not return.

Lost Revenues; Dashed Expectations

While farmers in Kirfi, Gamawa and Zaki areas have the luxury of embracing dry season farming to make ends meet, residents of Guyaba community said floods have waged a complete war against them.

Multiple farmers told PREMIUM TIMES about the devastating effect of this year’s flooding incidents.

53-year-old Sani Musa said he had never seen a more devastating flood in the area, adding that most of the farmlands have become flooded “rivers”.

“It’s worse but we also believe God will bring a way out of this tragedy,” Mr Musa, an islamic school teacher in Guyaba, said. “Look at this place. All this water you’re seeing is from the flood. This should be my farm but everything has gone.”

Sani Musa. Guyaba. Bauchi

Some of the flooded farmlands are now without water but the floods came with sand that has damaged the farmlands. Mr Musa said it remains a tragic experience for farmers in the community, as they now have to wait for the rainy season or go to the Eastern side of the community to hire farmlands from some people.

“And it’s not possible because those farmers there have also lost their crops to the floods and would want to continue with the dry season,” he said.

Shugaba Garba, another farmer in Guyaba, said he lost his sugarcane and rice farm worth over N500,000 to the floods.

“Just a little backward from where I’m standing used to be my farm,” he said.

Musa Matawalle was more hopeful before the floods, but the level of destruction has taken a toll on his mental health. He had planted maize, rice, potatoes, guinea corn, and sugarcane in the already flooded area. He told PREMIUM TIMES he looked forward to a bumper harvest before the floods washed away the farmland.

“We’re lucky the town is a bit rocky and on a hill,” he said. “But we’ve lost all the whole crops in the fields.”

When asked if he had made calculations of his loss, Mr Matawalle shook his head and moved away from the camera. His sibling, who was with him, told this reporter to stop the interview. “He is emotional these days,” he said.

Matawalle ‘Ba’ba said he has lost over 1million.

Shugaba Garba said they had not taken the data of the washed away farmlands but the estimated hectares were over 500. “Even me here,” Shugaba said, “I’ve lost over N500,000 and my farmland was not among the biggest here.”

Food insecurity

Bauchi is predominantly an agrarian state with over 80 percent of its population being farmers. Most of the farmers are also engaged in commercial farming with supply chains outside the state.

Farmers on the fields, government officials and Farmers Associations’ leaders in the state said the impact of the flood would be devastating in the coming months. Others said it might worsen the nation’s food sufficiency challenges.

But as a way out, many of the farmers have decided to embrace dry season farming.

Aliyu Usman, a farmer in Kirfi, said he decided to embrace dry-season farming to reduce his loss and feed his family.

“This is going to be a long year because where is the food to eat? Of course, we’ll have food, but will it be enough? Can it go round?,” he quipped.

He said he would sell half of his harvest and keep half for his family. “People need to buy foodstuff and keep it because we’re here on the fields, and we’re seeing what is happening.”

Muttaqa Sani, a farmer in Gamawa, told PREMIUM TIMES that their colleagues in other states have started reaching out to them.

He said: “Just yesterday, two trailer vehicles from Taraba and Adamawa came here looking for rice, but we don’t have it (rice). Adamawa, for instance, is like Bauchi and Jigawa and they farm rice a lot, but they’re already looking for it. That should tell you what’s to come.”

The Vice Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria AFAN in Bauchi State, Muhammadu – Aminu Tukur, whose farm was also flooded, told PREMIUM TIMES that the level of destruction not only in the state but nationwide would affect food supply and possibly lead to food scarcity.

“In Bauchi North Senatorial district for instance, you have a lot of areas especially Zaki, Gamawa, Dambam that have been affected heavily. The areas are mostly riverine; with potential for good harvest. Fishers in those places are already in panic mode because the fish have been carried away by floodwater,” he said.

Bauchi Government Reacts

The Bauchi State government said the floods that wreaked havoc across the state could have been worse if not for the sensitization it carried out.

The Director General of the State Environmental Protection Agency, Basepa, Ibrahim Kabir, told PREMIUM TIMES that sensitization exercises were carried out, especially through radio and at worship places, to alert residents and farmers on the impending floods.

“We’ve synergy with the Ministry of Religious Affairs because people listen to their Imams and pastors very well. When NiMet informed us of the impending floods, we met with the NOA (National Orientation Agency) and discussed how to go about it. We met with Imams and Pastors under their ministry, and we explained everything to them that has helped a lot because we don’t have so many casualties.

“For instance, we told religious leaders to warn the people to avoid going to the farm when they see it’s about to rain to avoid being trapped by the rain and or rivers,” he said.

He said the state government has also paid the counterpart funding to avert encroachment and other climate issues.

“We’ve paid N500 million in an economic dispensation like ours, you know that it’s a good commitment. It’s just to mitigate climate change, to support the social wellbeing of the people, improve the agricultural practices to make them sustainable to create smart agriculture in the entire state,” he said.

Mr Kabir added that the state government has started improving and expanding waterways and drainages in the cities and towns.

On his part, Mr Tukur urged the government to take the lead and provide a sustainable water system for farmers to engage in year-round farming.

“If farmers can harvest after four months, do you think we’ll be hungry in this country?” Mr Tukur said.

“We want them to support farmers to be conducting all-year-round farming because a farmer has no business waiting for the rainy season to go to the farm. Repair and build new dams, dredge the rivers, support the farmers, and we’ll not be talking of food scarcity.”

This investigation was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Open Climate Reporting Initiative.

This report was first published in Premium Times.

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