Critical Conversations

Rising Inflation: How Flooding Affects Price Stability and Food Security

It was quite cheering when information from the National Bureau of Statistics last week revealed that Nigeria’s inflation rate reduced by 0.05 per cent in April compared to what obtained in March.

The bureau said while inflation rate stood at 18.17 per cent in March, it reduced to 18.12 per cent in April.

It might look marginal but the fact is, this is the first fall in Nigeria’s inflation rate in the last 21 months. The last time inflation dropped in Nigeria was in August 2019 when it fell from 11.08 per cent to 11.02 per cent.

Although there are many other factors that can push up inflation, its persistent rise over a long period is mostly attributed to rapid increase in food prices. The annual food inflation rate has been on the rise, remarkably reflecting the impact of low harvest due to continued farmer-herders’ crises and the volatility in logistics. However, the single largest element that pushes up food prices each year in Nigeria is flooding.

Few weeks ago, Lagos State Government, predicted high intensity of rainfall of 261 days this year, with attendant flooding across the state, even as it directed residents in coastal and low-lying wetland areas of the state to move upland to avert needless loss of lives and property.

Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Tunji Bello, accompanied by Special Adviser to the Governor on Drainage Services, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, said this at a media briefing on the 2021 Seasonal Climate Predictions, and Socio-Economic implications for Lagos State, held at Alausa, Ikeja.

Bello said: “The forecast for 2021 is based on the informed global consensus that el-Nino Southern Oscillation, ENSO, is at the cool phase, which will continue till around June and likely give (way) to a dominant el-Nino phase till the end of 2021.”

This prediction is not limited to Lagos. Flooding has become one of the disasters in Nigeria that has stayed put. Forecasts by the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the Hydrological Services Agency (HAS) revealed there would be massive flooding across many states from the beginning of this year’s rainy season.

The country has never prepared enough as over 60 percent of prospective good harvest are perennially lost to heavy floods.

Nigeria is presently experiencing food insecurity occasioned by heavy rains, flooding, insecurity and COVID-19 global pandemic and its effects on the food value chain. This has hampered the ability of farmers, especially smallholder practitioners from producing, processing, and distributing food.

This is coming on the heels of lamentations by Nigerians given the rising cost of living as the country’s inflation hits a four-year high by more than 18 percent in March 2021, with food prices inching close to 23 percent.

To cushion the effects of food shortage, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) disbursed a total sum of N1.487 trillion under its various agricultural programmes to boost food security.

There are other interventions to mitigate the adverse effects of food shortage. Country Coordinator, Open Forum for National Biotechnology in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, Dr. Rose Gidado, urged the federal government to pay more attention to urban agriculture to reduce food scarcity. She suggested that greenhouse farming technology can enhance food production and self-sufficiency.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there is no country in Africa that is making enough progress with regard to ending hunger. The report that the organisation released clearly shows that Africa is off-track in realising the zero-hunger objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Flood impacts heavily on food security. FAO and the World Meteorological Organisation recently released a publication showing over the years, the kinds of incidences that have occurred especially in the area of flooding. The increasing frequency and intensity has impacted significantly on farmers especially the smallholder practitioners who have limited access to productive resources such as large farms, irrigation facilities, among others. Sometimes, investments by smallholder farmers are seen as risky and therefore, banks do not want to invest in smallholder agriculture. These factors increase the overall impact of food insecurity in the country.

According to experts, Nigeria has basically three types of flooding annually which include urban, coastal, and river flooding. Urban flooding is occasioned by blockage of drainages during local rainfall in some catchments. For instance, most of Abuja towns are flooded when it rains because many areas are paved, and there is no reasonable amount of infiltration. There is so much overland flow or run-off which generates urban flooding. Coastal flooding occurs in areas that are contiguous to the ocean. River flooding is caused by two trans-boundary rivers; River Niger and Benue.

River Niger takes its course from the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea traversing about 4,200km before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria. This water flow passes about seven countries on the River Niger axis including Guinea, Mali, Niger, Benin Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and then Nigeria. The Niger Basin water resources drain down to Nigeria. On the River Benue axis, water flowing from Cameroon and Chad also discharges in Nigeria. Nigeria does not have a dam on the River Benue axis.

Nigeria has been dealing with incidences of crop loss and damage of farmlands by flood particularly since 2012. A particular community and its farmland in Niger state was practically submerged in flood flow from River Kaduna at the time. Homes of communities were affected where River Kaduna joins River Niger. Statistics from the Niger state government reveal an estimate of over 1,060 households that have been completely displaced because of the weak nature of community settlements.

This is in addition to almost 900,000 hectares of farmlands that were completely submerged. Usually, these riverine communities produce rice, sugar cane and maize which were lost to floods. Over N4bn of what was lost in terms of value of crops has been estimated.

The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NYSA) consistently alerts states and communities contiguous to rivers, especially River Niger and Benue, to prepare for heavy flooding each year.

Last year, the agency made predictions about flooding incidents across the country. The Agency listed local government areas that were likely to be impacted and those that might have lesser severity of flooding while recording more than 382 LGAs across the 36 states of the federation including the FCT that were heavily impacted by flood. As early as June, flood incidents began in the country as against the usual July-August-September and part of October cycle. Flooding started quite early last year and what was witnessed was quite devastating.

In 2020 alone, farmlands were destroyed by flood in many states including Zamfara, Kogi, Anambra, Niger, Kwara, Cross River, and parts of Nasarawa. Kebbi lost about 90 per cent of crops estimated at billions of naira to devastating flood. Not quite long after this incident, flood water released from the Kainji Dam swept through the sugar factory in Niger state affecting the multibillion naira investment. The flood was said to have swept through the sugar estate and submerged the sugar cane fields. Nasarawa and Niger states were in the news with regard to the devastating consequences of flooding. For coastal states such as Bayelsa, flooding is unfortunately a yearly experience.

Flood presents twin problems of access and availability of food. FAO estimates that agricultural crops bear some 25 per cent of the negative impact of flooding. Flooding equally causes negative shift in food security by reducing crop harvest, affecting income, destroying food and storage facilities, causing stream pollution, increasing food prices, affecting meal frequency, quality and quantity of food, among others.

While flooding seems to recede starting from the northern part of the country, its impact on the states in that region is still quite alarming.

For Niger and Nasarawa states, flooding still takes place because the dams have not closed their gates, even though upstream in Niamey, the flood level has come down to normal. According to the Niger state government, this is the worst that the state has ever experienced in the last decade. Niger state is blessed with major rivers and tributaries including the three major hydro-electric dams — the Jebba Dam, Kainji Dam and Koshororo Dam. These dams overflowed last year, and communities downstream suffered devastating effects of floods. Fillers from Nasarawa state government indicate that over 200 houses were submerged because houses were built close to waterways which obstructed water released from the dams.

In the southern part of Nigeria where the rainfall is expected to cease sometime in December, river flooding, urban flooding and coastal flooding are still being expected. All these factors have heightened fears of a potential food crisis.

Industry watchers have attributed the increasing flooding to climate change which is a global issue. As part of measures to check this, the Hydro-Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPADEC) needs to be activated to extensively look at the requirements of communities in dealing with issues of annual flooding, permanent settlement of communities, among others.

Experts say, on the aggregate, Nigeria loses over 200 billion cubic metres of fresh water annually. This is a very big resource that if managed well, the country will blossom in various sectors.

Nigeria needs to manage its floods and flooding well for purposes of enhancing food security. In guarding against food shortage, it is important to broaden actions and the scope of managing the environment with regard to early warning predictions from NYSA and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) to respond to likely effects of flooding. States that are prone to annual flooding need to be supported.

The country must seek permanent solutions to flooding. Giving palliatives every year won’t go far. This is the dimension the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources need to align with the states.

In the management of large water body systems, there is a need for research for purposes of information on the type of crops to plant on flood plains in creating livelihood development frameworks. Time has come to embrace all-year-round agriculture production so that farmers can augment what they may have lost due to flooding.

Water bodies should be utilized more efficiently for irrigation. This can enhance dry season farming. The water pumps distributed to farmers for irrigation purposes in flood-prone areas may be helpful. Such irrigation equipment sold at almost 75 per cent subsidy to farmers by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, could be useful to farmers in achieving availability and affordability of food resources in ramping up food security nationwide.

Flooding should be seen as a major asset and converted to farmers’ advantage for greater economic impact. For instance, fish farmers can maximise the benefits of floods by utilizing this natural resource to support their livelihoods.

Read Also: Tackling Inflation through Food Security

In addressing the food security needs of the population, it is necessary to increase potential for productivity especially for smallholder farmers in terms of access to improved agriculture inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, management practices, among others.

To further boost the productivity of smallholder farmers, mainstreaming them is a significant part of the equation that could lead to sustainable food security for Nigeria and perhaps other countries in Africa. The role of smallholder farmers should be recognized, and deliberate investments targeted to increase their productivity at the lowest level of the agricultural chain.

Smallholder farmers constitute the bulk of the population of farmers in the country and they contribute immensely to production activities including food processing, food production and food trade. Smallholder farmers in the agri-food value chain should be empowered.

It is encouraging to note that the existing rapport between the Governors’ Forum, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as other development partners is geared towards focusing on the causative factors and mechanisms of flooding in the country. In fact, some states have shown interest in commercial agriculture or small scale farming. For instance, Chairman of the National Livestock Transformation Project (NLTP) is the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi.

Riding on its 2030 template of building together and leaving no one behind, it is hoped that the FAO will engender growth, nourishment and sustenance of global best agricultural practices. This can contribute in galvanising action towards ensuring sustainable food security and nutrition in line with the theme for last year’s World Food Day which is “Grow, Nourish, Sustain”.