The nonprofit Surge Africa is leveraging nature-based solutions to promote climate-resilient farming practices among smallholder farmers in northern Nigeria, positively impacting on the livelihood of farming households.
Thirty-three-year-old Mustapha Hassan, a native of Kumbo community in Gabasawa Local Government Area (LGA) of Kano state, has been a subsistence farmer for most of his life. A hardworking farmer of a variety of crops, namely beans, groundnuts, maize, and millet, Hassan was until recently able to produce enough crops to feed his family of two wives and six children, with surplus to sell and support his family’s livelihood.
Although still fully committed to his only source of eking out a living, beginning from 3 cropping seasons ago, Hassan’s efforts to make life comfortable for his family of eight stopped yielding the usual outcome due to strangely declining output from his farmstead. Although he could neither understand nor interpret the abnormal happenings at the time, Hassan said he knew danger was staring him in the face.
“After every windstorm my crops will be deformed and covered in sand, which suffocates the plants and causes many of them to die. All my efforts to solve the problem met a dead end. I was very confused because I never experienced this kind of situation while growing up as a child farmer. And whenever it rains for an extended period, there will be floods which wipe out most of my crops,” Hassan narrates his ordeal.
The father of six says the quality of the soil on his farm continued to decline along with his yield, which translated to less food and money for his family. To meet the needs of his six children and two wives, Hassan sought alternatives to farming which didn’t work out as he had expected. “It was so embarrassing that I couldn’t provide for my family like I used to before, despite my best efforts,” he said.
Hassan never knew he was suffering from the fallout of climate change, which manifests in the form of irregular rain patterns, rising temperatures, floods and droughts. Like Hassan’s, climate change affects thousands of other smallholder farming households in Kano. Luckily enough, he was soon to become one of the beneficiaries of Surge Africa’s intervention in Kano communities ravaged by the negative impacts of climate change.
From shortfall to surplus
Hassan was part of a select group of farmers trained by Surge Africa on sustainable land management practices through agroforestry and agroecology practices, including the use of organic fertilizer to restore soil health, which ultimately leads to improved crop yield. Like other beneficiaries of Surge Africa’s climate-resilience techniques in Kumbo, Hassan realized a complete turnaround in his fortune as a farmer.
“Gradually, we learned and adapted the nature-based practices that restored our farmlands and helped us mitigate the effect of climate change. Ever since, I have been able to realize much more harvest. Now I can sell-off the surplus of my produce and get enough money to take care of my family’s needs, in addition to saving some money for a rainy day. My hard work will no longer go to waste!” Hassan said with a bright smile on his face.
Like Hassan, 28-year-old Auwalu Sani is a smallholder farmer devastated by climate change who also benefitted from Surge Africa’s capacity building for smallholder farmers on climate change mitigation practices. Sani says ever since he was introduced to the agroforestry and agroecology practices of crop cultivation, his yield had increased significantly and he no longer struggles to feed his family of 2 wives and 5 children.
“ Besides our primary farm output, we realize additional income from trees like Mango, Guava and Cashew which Surge Africa helped us to plant on our farms. Now many of us in this community can afford to buy food staples like rice, pasta and noodles, among other food staples hitherto only consumed by people living in the city. I no longer struggle to settle my family’s bills; I now do that with ease,” Sani stated.
Raiya Ali is a female farmer within the Kumbo community who now also practices Surge Africa’s climate-resilient agricultural practices, with a significant impact on her family’s livelihood. “I am now a strong support system to my husband; I contribute to catering for the needs of my 4 children and the general upkeep of my family. I can now afford to buy good clothes and shoes for my children,” she said excitedly.
Promoting climate-resilient agriculture
Nasreen Al-Amin is the founder of Surge Africa, a non-profit focused on promoting climate change remediation through advocacy and capacity building on mitigating the social impacts of climate change in local communities. Al-Amin says they adopted a nature-based approach to mitigating the impacts of climate change because of its sustainability and low demand for advanced technologies.
Thanks to its sustainability-based approach that harnesses the local agricultural practices of farmers, the non-profit uses indigenous knowledge to build know-how and educate farmers on how to maximize age-long sustainable farming practices that essentially integrate agroforestry and agroecology into farming practices in a way that builds a more sustainable farming landscape for farmers.
“We highlight the implications of climate change and how farmers can use low-cost, scalable practices that do not require high-end technologies or huge investment. Planting of trees is one of our approaches; it generates local income while promoting afforestation and reforestation among farmers, which ultimately enriches the environment alongside other socioeconomic benefits that come with planting trees,” Al-Amin says.
The Surge Africa founder decried the fact that some farmers were more interested in adapting inorganic fertilizers and other chemical inputs which she said were not only environmentally unsustainable but also come with long-term implications for soil, crop and human health in general. As a result of their knowledge gap, she said, such farmers tend to reject Surge Africa’s approach for enhancing crop productivity.
Another challenge impeding the scalability of Surge Africa’s innovative interventions is the work of organizations promoting inorganic farming practices – which produce higher yields in the short-term, at the detriment of the environment – against Surge Africa’s nature-based practices. “This further complicates issues because some of the farmers only see short-term benefits; our methods take more time but are sustainable. It isn’t easy but we are still promoting our approach to more communities,” says Al-Amin.
She notes that governments can adapt and implement similar low-cost but effective climate mitigation strategies by collaborating with NGOs such as Surge Africa. “I understand the government is constrained by lack of funds to effectively mitigate the effects of climate change in farming communities. If they partner with NGOs to implement their climate mitigation policies and programs, they will also realize the kind of successes we have recorded.”
Surge Africa’s approach to mitigating effects of climate change is so effective that farmers from Kano communities not covered by the nonprofit’s interventions have been reaching out to them indicating interest in its inexpensive, nature-based climate change mitigation strategies. This is a clear indication of not only the effectiveness of Surge Africa’s low-cost agricultural technologies but also their replicability and scalability.
Dr Rufai Usman, a climate resilience expert, describes Surge Africa’s climate mitigation practices such as the use of climate resilient seeds and the usage of organic manure as inexpensive ways through which farmers can adapt to climate change and enhance the productivity of their crops. He emphasizes the importance of tree planting and conservation of trees as another strategy of building climate resilience and enhancing the socio-economic livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
Usman notes that building a climate-resilient economy would help ameliorate the effects of climate change, adding that rather than leaving the bulk of the work to NGOs such as Surge Africa, governments should be deliberate and intentional in the prioritization of environmental sustainability management as a strategy to combat the impacts of climate change and build a climate resilient economy.
One of the major drawbacks of Surge Africa’s solution is that it is limited in terms of the communities and farmers they are able to reach. So, although low-cost, accessible, and scalable, their work is like a drop in the ocean. For the nonprofit’s nature-based climate solutions to achieve maximum impact in Nigeria, governments at all levels must adopt climate resilience policies and expand the coverage of such interventions to all farming communities suffering from the effects of climate change.
Building a climate resilient economy in Nigeria means farmers like Hassan, Auwalu, Raiya and millions of others currently battling the negative effects of climate change will be able to withstand or recover quickly from the devastating short- and long-term impacts of the scourge. This will also put the country on the path to achieving Goal 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): combating climate change and its impacts.
This story has been made possible by Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.
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