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Rethinking food and nutrition in the face of climate change

Rethinking food and nutrition in the face of climate change
November 04
20:00 2023

BY AISHA HADEJIA

Between May and October 2022, flooding in Nigeria displaced over 1.4 million people. According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the floods resulted in the tragic loss of over 603 lives, with an additional 2,400 people injured. The impact of the floods stretched beyond human casualties; 82,035 buildings were damaged, and 332,327 hectares of land were ruined. These severe floods also resulted in an estimated N700 billion loss of agricultural investments, signalling the overwhelming crisis in Nigeria’s food and nutrition landscape, affecting the livelihoods of millions.

Presently, Nigeria is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of irregular and increasingly harsh weather patterns that disrupt the typical agricultural cycle. Unpredictable rains, extended droughts, and severe floods have become increasingly common, posing a danger to crop output and the well-being of farming communities. This has resulted in a never-ending cycle of crop failures and food insecurity. Farmers are left in a precarious position as they figure out when to sow, irrigate, fertilize, and harvest their crops. These challenges affect not only crops but also livestock productivity, disrupting the nation’s food supply chain and increasing the cost of food.

This reality begs the question: How is it that a country renowned for having the best meteorological agency in Africa is facing these challenges?

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The Sahel Food Systems Changemakers Conference convened by Sahel Consulting on October 12, 2023, in Abuja shed light on this situation. The director general and CEO of NiMET, Mansur Matazu, and Dr Sanjo Faniran, UN Food Systems convenor, discussed these issues extensively in a session facilitated by Oge Funlola Modie, chairperson of Wellspring of Life International and Board Member of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Limited.

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) is among the oldest public institutions in the country. It has the critical responsibility of providing meteorological information to the government and citizens through forecasts and warnings for prompt early action by actors and the socio-economic impact of weather and climate changes across different government sectors.

The importance of agro-meteorology to sustained agricultural productivity and public safety cannot be overemphasized. Incorporating climate advisory into farming has proven to increase yield by approximately 30% and reduce risk. Indeed, a key factor in the mitigation of climate change-induced disasters is early warning advisory to smallholder farmers- and here lies the challenge for Nigeria. NiMET generates and analyses frequent weather and climate data and has developed numerous products for real-time weather and climate services to farmers, herders, and fishermen to promote sustainable agricultural development, increase productivity, and contribute to food security in Nigeria.

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However, last-mile information dissemination to small and medium-scale food entrepreneurs and rural smallholder food producers who need it the most is grossly inadequate. Low literacy rates and even lower internet usage in rural communities compared with urban areas limit farmers’ access to these essential products. Although donor-funded programs that support the integration of weather and climate early warning advisory into smallholder farming operations exist, these are not at scale and are limited to project focus areas and priority value chains.

In addition, the agri-extension package in Nigeria does not include weather and climate advisories. Coupled with the crippling shortage of extension agents in Nigeria, this creates a hopeless situation where smallholder farmers in hard-to-reach areas have no chance of getting this critical information.

Some recommendations are included below:

  1. Integrate weather and climate advisory systems into the sub-national level: So far, early warning efforts in Nigeria have been concentrated at the federal level, but state and local governments must invest in efforts and partnerships to downscale seasonal climate prediction information to the district levels where it is most needed. For optimal implementation, local actors must be involved to ensure ownership, resilience, and sustained adoption at the grassroots level.
  2. Collaborate with existing farmer networks: To further drive last-mile dissemination of essential weather and climate advisory services, NiMET must partner with farmer and industry associations like the All-Farmers Association of Nigeria and the Nigeria Agribusiness Group to reach smallholder farmers at scale. These organisations can potentially provide an organised way to reach farmers at the local and district level with targeted information.
  3. Create strategic partnerships with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and telecommunication companies: Strategic partnerships between NiMet and the NCC and private telecommunication companies must be fostered to support the creation of affordable and accessible information delivery systems via SMS and USSD codes. This would aid the creation of a standardised alerting protocol for early warning that will support smallholder rural farmers and SMEs with credible information.
  4. Review Nigeria’s agri-extension package: The extension department of the federal ministry of agriculture and food security (FMAFS) should collaborate with NiMET and other relevant stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive review of the National Agri-Extension package to include real-time weather and climate advisory. This would entail a re-vamp of the current extension delivery structure to include an electronic medium. To facilitate this, FMAFS should leverage the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) initiative currently being implemented by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). NAVSA’s digital platform and training facilities on digital capabilities in agriculture can be utilized to attract tech-savvy youth into e-extension jobs.
  5. Capacity-Build Farmers: Donor-funded programs like The Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises Project in the Niger Delta of Nigeria (LIFE-ND) that support climate education for farmers should be scaled to other parts of the country. These farmer programs would enhance their ability to interpret data effectively and make educated choices in response to weather forecasts.
  6. Approve national framework on climate services: The national framework on climate service was developed by NiMET in 2019 but is yet to be approved by the Federal Government for implementation. This framework was designed to foster collaboration among Ministries such as Agriculture and Food Security, Budget and Economic Planning, Environment, Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and Interior to co-generate forecasts and develop specialized advisories for each sector.

Actors such as Nigeria Economic Summitt Group (NESG) and AGRA- Sustainably Growing Africa’s Food Ecosystems must collaborate with NiMET to advocate for the approval of this essential framework.

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The challenges facing the Nigerian food and agriculture sector due to climate change are undeniable. To ensure food security, maintain economic stability, and uplift millions of livelihoods, Nigeria must embrace modern weather early warning systems at all levels.

With a dedicated approach and investments in these systems, the nation can provide farmers with the tools and information they need to navigate the uncertain climate future, securing a brighter agricultural landscape for all.

Hadejia is an Associate Partner at Sahel Consulting and is a prominent advocate for gender equality and inclusion within the agricultural sector.

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