While government at various levels is clamouring for renewed vigor towards Nigeria’s attainment of food security, efforts by rice farmers in Ondo State suffered a major setback recently. Indeed, these are certainly not the best of times for rice farmers in Ayede Ogbese in Ondo State. The farmers who have lost their farms to the recent flood disaster which ravaged parts of the state are distraught following their losses. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI writes on the experiences of the farmers who are calling for government intervention.
A weeklong rainfall wiped out many hectares of rice plantation in Ayede Ogbese, in Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State, pushing rice farmers into a cycle of debt that they cannot escape without financial assistance from the government. No fewer than 600 hectares of rice farm were destroyed by flood in this community. This will no doubt affect the yield or output of the production of farmers in this area as the rice farms in this area remained submerged in water for days as a result of persistent rain for ten days. The farmers from the area are helpless and cannot even visit their farms, lamenting their losses.
The alarm raised by these rice farmers attracted the attention of Nigerian Tribune. A visit to the large community and some other villages to assess the loss of the farmers revealed a set of distraught farmers who are in need of urgent government intervention. A group of farmers who took Nigerian Tribune round the farms lamented over the destruction, saying that it is the worst in recent time. In some of the farms visited, one could easily mistake the areas for existing rivers.
Speaking on behalf of the farmers, coordinator of the rice farmers under the aegis of Federated FADAMA Rice Association, Olayinka Labiran, said the havoc wreaked by the flood was the first recorded by the farmers in the area.
He lamented that there was no single farmer in the area who is not affected by the flood. He explained that the farms had started yielding and should be ready for harvesting by October before it started raining for about ten days leading to the destruction of the entire rice farms, leaving the farmers in debts.
According to him, no fewer than 373 farmers under his group were affected thereby losing billions of naira to the flood saying at least over four thousand tonnes would have been harvested from the farm.
Labiran lamented that the farmers who are under the Federal Government’s Central Bank of Nigeria Anchor Borrowers Scheme through the Bank of Agriculture are sad as most of them would find it difficult to refund the loan following the sad occurrence. The rice farmer coordinator said the development would affect the drive towards ensuring sufficiency of rice production and food security in the country, saying billions of naira had been lost to the flood.
According to him, the association was working towards making available rice in large quantity before the persistent torrential rain that destroyed most of the rice farms in the area. He disclosed that they could no longer access their farms as the entire area had been submerged in water while the whole farms were ravaged and washed away by the flood.
He however explained that though the loan from CBN was insured, they were calling on the state and federal governments to assist the farmers. He called on the insurance company to come and see the havoc wreaked on the farms and appealed to the Federal Government to consider the plight of the affected farmers and support them.
According to him, “the last 72 hours have been hectic; I had to go and check my blood pressure. We never expected this. I have been farming in this area for close to a decade but never experienced this.”
Also speaking, the publicity secretary of the group, Mr. Bobade Adebayo, described the loss as monumental, noting that no fewer than 4,000 tonnes of rice would have been harvested from the farms.
He added that there may likely be food shortage by next year, occasioned by the devastation of the flood on farms and its produce in the state if necessary steps were not taken to salvage the situation.
Also, chairman, Federated FADAMA Farmers Community Association, Boluwade Ogunbodede, solicited for government’s assistance to cushion the effect of the loss.
Ogunbodede lamented that farmers had been prevented from going to their farms for more than a week while roads leading to the farms had also been destroyed, calling for permanent solution to the challenges.
He explained that the association has a rice mill in Alayere community in Ogbese which had been in operation for about six months but said the production would be halted as a result of the flood.
He however said that many workers would be laid off if nothing was done in addressing the ugly development as the mill would be closed down for production. He appealed to the state government to quickly come to their aid in order not to send these workers back into the labour market
According to him, “the Federal Government had been encouraging us to take up farming and we have been able to make farming attractive to our youths; the flooding should not be allowed to discourage them.”
Some of the workers also urged the government to look into their plight in order not to allow the rice mill go into inactivity, arguing that “there is need to help these rice farmers.”
A rice farmer, John Ariaba lamented that the flood washed away bigger portions of his rice farm, just as he expressed worry over how to pay the loan he obtained to cultivate the farm. “My rice farm covers many hectares of land but the flood swept away the whole cultivation. I’m worried because I obtained loan to cultivate the farm,” he said.
Similarly, Mrs. Joyce Ogunlana said her rice farm though not very large, was also affected by the flood to the extent that she wouldn’t be able to harvest anything. She called on government to come to their aid, adding that the money used to finance the farm was a loan which ought to be refunded soon.
“Whenever flood eroded our house, we are usually forced to move to a new place but we get our source of livelihood from this farm here. Where do we move or turn to now? But we are only appealing to government and relevant agencies to help us out of this predicament,” she said. The 55-year-old widow added that “I had to borrow money to cultivate the land; now I’ll have to repay the loan, although the plantation has been destroyed.”
She said she would also need to borrow money to feed her family of six until the next harvest, in addition to taking out another loan to buy seeds. “I know no other business than rice farming,” she said.
A farm inspector in the area, Jimoh Adelanwa, told our correspondent that farms were washed away by the flood. “I personally went to assess those farms and I know and understand the feeling of these farmers. There is little hope for their survival after the flood since all their labour had been washed away in just one week of serious rain leading to flooding,” he stated.
He appealed to the state and federal governments to aid people facing the same problem to bounce back again. He said “short-term assistance is welcome, but it won’t help them escape the crippling debt that they have sunk deeper into with this flood. It’s true that the affected people might get support from the government, but it would be difficult for them to come out of the vicious cycle of debt to get back to business.
“One of the greatest challenges facing the Nigerian government is how to guarantee adequate food for all through its many agricultural initiatives. But despite all its investment towards ensuring food security in the country, some natural disasters such as flooding have continually contributed adversely to the efforts of government in achieving this food security in the land.
“With prompt attention from the government, it would go a long way in saving farmers and rice farming from going into extinction here. Not because of inadequate lands to farm but enough capital to fund this great project.”
Speaking to Nigerian Tribune in an interview, the Senior Special Adviser to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu on agriculture Mr. Akin Olotu said the state government was taking steps to address the situation, describing it as pathetic
He disclosed that the state government had visited some of the farms and “we are discussing with the farmers but the magnitude of the damage is quite much. We have also contacted NEMA to see what they can do for us
“When we got the report, we quickly visited the farms and we are looking at what we can do to help these farmers; the magnitude is more than what we can fully address. We can only appeal to the Federal Government to take the state into consideration in this regard.
“The farmers need immediate assistance in order to keep them in the business of food production. I want to assure the farmers that the state government is not sleeping on this issue as they remain important stakeholders in the development of this state.”
Olotu further assured that the state would help the rice farmers, noting that they need assistance to cushion the effects of the damage.