Unusual ‘August break’ puts crops at risk

Rainfall. Photo; SCIENCEMAG

Farmers lament as NiMet’s rainfall forecast fails
• Experts warn of food shortage, recommend irrigation, insurance

Crop cultivation in the three geopolitical zones in the south and the North-Central Zone has been hampered as ‘August break’ extends from July to August 31, beyond the 25-day period predicted by Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet).

In its 2020 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP), NiMet had stated: “Severe dry spell that may last 10 to 18 days is predicted over Niger, Bauchi, Jigawa, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Kebbi, Yobe and Borno in the month of June.”

The agency also said moderate dry spell that might last 8 to 12 days was expected around Yelwa, Bida, Minna, Zaria, Funtua, Lafia, Bauchi, Abuja, Gombe, and Yola in June 2020.

‘Little Dry Season (LDS)’ or August break is a seasonal weather phenomenon common to the Southwestern part of Nigeria. It is characterised by a decline in both frequency and amount of daily rainfall for a number of weeks halfway through the rainy season, according to researchers James Adejuwon and Theophilius Odekunle.

NiMet forecast had stated: “In the year 2020, the severe effect of the little dry season is expected over the coast of Lagos, Ijebu-Ode, Ibadan, Akure, Shaki, Iseyin, Ilorin, and Ado Ekiti.”

The length of days with relatively dry spells, the agency had added, was expected to last between 10 and 25 days in places like Abeokuta, Osogbo, Shaki, Iseyin and Ilorin, with more than 50 per cent chance of occurrence while the coast of Lagos, Ikeja, Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode and Akure could have dry spells above 30 consecutive days as worst case.

“The 2020 LDS season is likely to start as early as 18th of July in Abeokuta and as late as August 4 along the coast of the South-West. However, we expect very mild effect over places like Benin, Lokoja, and Enugu,” the agency had predicted.

Contrary to predictions, the break started early July and has extended to the end of August, covering states in more than four geopolitical zones of the federation.

Agricultural scientists and economists, however, said the situation underscored the reality of climate change, stressing that no part of the world was immune to its effects.

In its socio-economic implications of the 2020 forecast on agriculture, NiMet had said the growing season was expected to be near normal in many parts of the country.

It, however, said: “Farmers are advised to avoid planting during the pre-onset period, farmers should take advantage of this period for land preparation and procure inputs; adopt risk management techniques like insurance; adopt climate-smart agriculture (improve productivity, build resilience and reduce emission) such as soil and water conservation, water harvesting techniques and supplementary irrigation during the dry spell.”

The agency urged relevant authorities to facilitate the provision of early maturing and drought-resistant varieties to guard against the risk of crop failure and poor yield. It also encouraged the use of weather climate information throughout the agricultural value chain.

Mr. Kolawole Adeniji, a commercial farmer and Managing Director of NIJI FOODS in the Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State, said in the last two months, farmers in the region had not been able to plant maize, cassava or begin any farm operations because of drought.

He predicted food scarcity in 2021 and urged state governments in the Southwest region to provide irrigation facilities.

A cocoa aggregator in Okosun, a border town between Ondo and Edo states, Mr. Alade Isaac, told The Guardian there had been no rainfall for about two months.

Investigations in Taraba, Bauchi, and some other northern states indicate that rainfalls had been heavy since early August while the break has affected states in the north-central and southern zones.

Prof. Kolawole Adebayo, former Coordinator of Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA), said the failure of the rains this year, coupled with limitations placed on farming activities by the COVID-19 lockdown, were ominous signs of possible food shortage next year.

He advised governments to adopt measures to address the situation.

He said: “Easy to adopt farm-level irrigation systems should be promoted actively by the extension and advisory services during the dry season commencing in November to rapidly-produce arable crops to augment crop failure early this year. Food storage systems enabling government and local communities to procure food items during the harvest periods should start now.”

Adebayo also expressed the need to provide security for farm workers and support services to facilitate their operations without fear.

A researcher at IITA, Dr. Richardson Okechukwu, suggested that Nigeria agriculture needed innovative technologies to withstand challenges of climate changes.

“Government needs to invest in alternative irrigation by making use of natural water bodies, creating dams, irrigation canals, and encouraging drip systems for certain crops and sprinkler systems for some others. We also need to re-evaluate crops we grow to fit within the new growing season. It may require change in varieties of crop to early short duration types,” Okechukwu stated.

Similarly, Assistant Director (Commercial Agriculture & Training), Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Ilorin, Dr. Olabisi Awoniyi, confirmed the adverse effect of drought in North-Central.

Climate change, according to him, has adversely affected agricultural production in Nigeria, noting that for about two months, there had been no rain in the Southwest and North-Central zones. He warned that the situation would affect food production.

“If irrigation facilities are available, irrigation water could be used to supplement rainfalls. Farmers should also be encouraged to take land for farming purposes at schemes of the 12 River Basin Development Authorities all over the country,” he advised.

He urged farmers to plant short-duration or drought-resistant varieties based on the weather forecast.

Gbolagade Ayoola, a professor of Agricultural Economics and Policy and president of Farm and Infrastructures Foundation, called for a rural infrastructure approach.

According to him, the only answer is heavy investment in irrigation services to provide water for small, medium, and large-scale farmers.

“In the short term, the government needs to respect, protect and fulfill people’s right to food and to deliver services that enhance productivity and build the resilience of people to climate change,” he said.

Similarly, a professor of Agricultural Economics at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Funso Sonaiya, underscored the need to adopt irrigation as a solution.

He noted that though Nigeria had many dams, most of them were not being used effectively for irrigation.

He suggested research and development of drip irrigation and rainwater collection technologies to cushion the effect of climate change on agriculture.

He confirmed the fear of likely food scarcity in 2021, worsened by the insecurity of farmers, disruptions by COVID-19 and other limitations of farmers.

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