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Panic over delayed rainfall grips northern Nigeria

by Staff Writers
Kano (AFP) June 17, 2008
Farmers and agronomists in northern Nigeria said Tuesday they fear this year's late rainfall may hurt harvests and worsen the food shortage in the region.

"We are disturbed by the delay in the start of the rains," said Sabo Nanono, the local head of the commercial farmers' body, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN).

He said the heavy rains should have started in May or early June, but the region has so far seen only light showers that fall on a very limited area.

The rainy season in the north normally runs until August.

"If this year's rainy season doesn't extend beyond September, we are likely to have a recurrence of last year's poor harvest," Nanono told AFP.

Last year rain fell for less than two months in the region resulting in poor harvests which was exacerbated by a locust invasion, sending food prices up.

Hakeem Ajeigbe, an agronomist with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Kano, said it is too early to judge whether harvests will be good or bad.

"From our experience when the rainy season is delayed it extends to September," he said.

The region's farmers are not reassured by such talk and have started offering prayers for rain in local mosques.

"So far I haven't planted anything because the rains haven't come," Shitu Gufaro, a peasant farmer in Gezawa village, outside Kano told AFP.

Normally by June he would already have had sorghum, millet and groundnut seedlings sprouting away, several inches high, he said.

The rainy season is getting shorter in the north, having dropped to 120 days from 150 days in the last 30 years, according to a report by Nigeria's National Meteorological Agency (NIMET) released in March.

About 70 percent of farmers in the north are subsistence farmers who rely on local crop varieties that mature in three or four months and require rain for the whole of that period.

IITA's Ajeigbe blamed the late rainfall on global warming and recommended planting improved early maturing crop varieties.

For AFAN's Nanono, the solution lies in large-scale irrigation farming.

"We have to de-emphasize absolute reliance on the rainy season and embrace all-year-round farming through the irrigation system since we have enough dams for that purpose," Nanono said.

The subsistence farmers for their part complain they do not have the funds to build irrigation channels and buy pumps. They say they need access to microcredit schemes to be able to move to year-round farming.

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