Nigeria: Weather extremes hit crop yields and communities

Image copyright NASA Image caption Geoprojections of the shoreline of the Aburi River in northern Nigeria

From intense flooding and volcanic eruptions to powerful storms and droughts, Nigeria has seen its fair share of weather disasters in recent years.

Researchers at the University of Washington have now identified weather changes as the most likely cause of population decline in two of Nigeria’s six states.

The study explains how environmental factors, such as construction and climate change, are affecting Nigeria’s subsistence farmers.

The researchers suggest several ways in which this could be reduced.

Nigeria, they say, is experiencing a rapid spread of climate change as a result of increases in temperature, acidification of the oceans and dust storms.

This is particularly true of the North, the study says, where the main source of food is subsistence farming.

But agriculture is increasingly taking place in areas that are far away from communities which are, therefore, susceptible to the effects of climate change, the study adds.

This made the two states at the centre of the study – Nasarawa and Plateau – particularly susceptible to population decline, it says.

‘High incidence’

The researchers base their conclusion on three recent studies, two of which were conducted in Nasarawa State and another in Plateau State.

“Nasarawa State experienced an unprecedented eight-year period where the level of rainfall is 1.9C lower than the long-term average,” said Dr Matthew Parsons of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, an author of one of the studies.

“That’s extremely rare, but it does provide us with an opportunity to imagine where the ecological damages are coming from.

“We observed a high incidence of animal mortalities on the shoreline between Jos and Lafia [Lafia is the state capital].”

The researchers explain that animals and plants, such as flora and fauna, thrive in an environment with the right rainfall patterns, so anything that might stand in the way of this flourishing system could be to blame for the decline.

In addition, over-harvesting by some communities, along with deforestation and the expansion of deforestation, have also come to light as risk factors for climate change in the study.

Widening land-use effects

Nasarawa State has a long history of manual agriculture but in recent years, herdsmen have moved in to graze their livestock, especially cattle, which make up 90% of farm income in the state.

These pastoralists no longer use traditional small-scale methods for agriculture, which is partly responsible for the danger to villages and livelihoods.

“Over-harvesting by communities is contributing to the environmental degradation, but their extensive impacts are extremely strong and wide-ranging,” Dr James Drake, another author of the study, said.

Dr Parsons said: “By the time these pastoralists get into town, their animals are getting too weak.

“They have to buy feed, build sheds, rent feed and spend more money to support their animals than they would have without it. This kind of thing is the primary driver of the human impacts that are appearing in the landscape.”

As well as causing concern for the fate of livestock and the surrounding wildlife, Dr Drake added that some people are also starting to make alterations to their farming techniques.

“You have people planting their staple crops in a certain place, but, when their animals are breaking down, they are not sure where to put the food.

“So now, people don’t use certain nutrients, like nitrogen, any more. So they are pushing back on the local environment, which could have the same negative impact.”

Disease as a result of stress

Dr Drake said, on top of all these factors, there are infectious diseases that are starting to be transmitted around.

Nasarawa and Plateau states in north-central Nigeria have some of the highest child mortality rates in the world.

“The combination of climate change, pest control, over-harvesting and food insecurity may be contributing to the spreading of these kinds of diseases,” he added.

The researchers note that most populations, especially women and children, are not able to carry out traditional practices which would help protect against the spread of these factors, such as splitting crops or storing food.

“People are not looking after their environment in this way because they have to devote all of their attention to managing their families,” Dr Daniels said.

He suggests that by supporting the development of local food self-sufficiency and improving local infrastructure, it would be possible to reduce the risks to the environment from these factors.

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