Using Weather Information to Boost Food Production

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) states that the effect of climate change is affecting crop yields in Nigeria.

In a report entitled: ``Effects of Global Climate Change on Nigerian Agriculture: An Empirical Analysis’’, it says weather-sensitive agricultural productions systems are vulnerable to climate change.

``This vulnerability has been demonstrated by the devastating effects of recent flooding in the Niger Delta region of the country and the various prolonged droughts that are currently witnessed in some parts of northern region.

``Nigeria is highly vulnerable to effects of climate change, therefore, understanding farmers’ responses to climatic variation is crucial, as this will help in designing appropriate coping strategies,’’ the report says.

Analysts say agriculture is the future of Nigeria and needs to be developed to harness its full potential in view of the dwindling oil fortune.

They recall that former Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, once noted that Nigeria is one of the most promising agricultural producers in the world in the 1960s.

To address the challenges of the impacts of climate change on agriculture, they say access to reliable information on climate change is crucial to boosting farming activities.

In the light of this, the Nigerian Metrological Agency (NiMet) recently inaugurated the 2016 Public Presentation of Seasonal Rainfall Predictions (SRP).

At the inauguration, NiMet predicted the likelihood of delay onset and less-than-normal rainfall in several parts of the country.

Presenting the predictions, Sen. Hadi Siriki, Minister of State for Aviation said the SRP would provide information for reducing losses in agriculture and transportation programmes.

``I have been informed that empirical evidence shows that the proper application of agro-metrological information to farmers could increase crop yield by 35 per cent.

``This year’s SRP has indicated the likelihood of delay onset rainfall in several parts of the country; we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past warnings.

``It is important for all stakeholders to take necessary precautions to reduce the negative impacts, especially on agriculture and water resources, in the event that this prediction becomes a reality,’’ he said.

NiMet Director-General Anthony Anuforom said that dry periods would be frequent and severe in many parts of the north during the rainy season.

He also observed that little dry season or August Break in parts of the South was expected to be pronounced.

``The expected lower-than-normal rainfall in parts of the country does not rule out the possibility of isolated flash floods due to high intensity rainfall at the peak of the season.

``These are risk factors for farmers in the affected areas and the challenges have to be carefully and scientifically managed,’’ he said.

Anuforom further said the provision and dissemination of full climate services were beyond the capacity of any organisation.

``I suggest that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should work closely with NiMet to include relevant agro-meteorological information as part of its agricultural extension package.

``NiMet will like to work with the Ministry of Environment to complete the development of a National Framework for Climate Services.

``We are also ready to partner with any state government or organised groups to downscale the SRP to their zone; translate it to local languages and provide training on interpretation and application,’’ he said.

For effective management of SRP, Dr Gloria Obioh, a botanist solicited the use of biotechnology to boost farming.

Obioh, the Head of Environmental Biotechnology and Bio-conservation Department, National Biotechnology Development Agency, Abuja, said the use of biotechnology would increase crop yields.

The director said that biotechnology required the use of reliable, systematic weather and climate data to make it efficient.

To boost farming, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Audu Ogbeh at the inauguration announced a plan to support farmers with improved seedlings and farms inputs.

The minister also said that the ministry would support farmers by providing agriculture extension workers in every local government area in the country.

According to him, the effort will help farmers to access information that will support them to imbibe good agricultural practices.

``We have to consider using dams, irrigation system and extension services to teach farmers on how to apply the knowledge received on SRP to boost agricultural production.

Ogbeh, however, said that the ministry had designed a soil map that would give farmers specific information on fertiliser and soil.

He said the soil map would give information on specific fertiliser farmers should use and also the type of soil that could boost food production.

In her comment, Ms Atsuko Toda, Country Programme Director, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), commended the Federal Government for promising to make SRP available to the farmers, especially the small scale farmers.

She said IFAD would support farmers to embrace modern technology in agriculture to achieve food production and create more jobs through agriculture.

One of the discussants, Dr Basir Gwandu, a director at the Institute of Agriculture Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, advised farmers to plant drought-resistant seeds.

He said that planting drought-resistant seeds would help the farmers to prevent loss due to the short rainfall as predicted by NiMet.
The director also urged farmers to take advantage of information from SRP to start early planting.

He called on all the three tiers of government to support farmers with improved seeds, technology and loans facility to boost their yields.

Similarly, another discussant, Dr Shinkrat Jagtap, emphasised on the need for the three tiers of government to support farmers, citing the example of India.

Jagtap, a lead consultant in Global Climate Technologies and Development, said that Indian farmers had started building small dams to support their irrigation farming because of the support they received from their government.

He also advised the government to train extension workers for effective service delivery.

In his view, Prof. Daniel Gwary of Crop Protection Department, University of Maiduguri, called on the three tiers of government to step down SRP to the farmers in local languages.

He said the availability of weather information would help farmers to plan better to boost food production.

``SRP is good news for farmers, in the past they have been forgotten, they have been relegated to the background; now they are coming on to the centre stage,’’ he said.

Alhaji Murtala Mohammed, a farmer appreciated the effort of the government and other stakeholders in making SRP available for the farmers.

Mohammed, the Executive Chairman, EMBEE Farms in Kaduna, appealed to the Federal Government to sensitise farmers to the importance of SRP.

He, nonetheless, called on farmers to make use of the report to plan their crops for maximum output, create job opportunity and enhance the economy.

By and large, experts advise farmers to take the opportunity of SRP to work with all levels of government to revive the agriculture sector.

According to them, when agriculture is revived, it can provide employment for the teeming population, feed the nation and also serve as mainstay of the economy.

Cecilia Ologunagba/NAN