The rising water level from River Gambia and heavy rain destroyed millions worth of rice fields in CRR and URR, thus threatening food security of thousands of farmers.
By Mustapha K Darboe
In what could be described as Black Tuesday (bad times), rampaging flood resulting from heavy rains has destroyed at least 2,200 hectares of rice farms valued at 9.9 million dalasis in Jahally Pacharr in the Central River Region.
This came as the director of Agriculture in the region said flood has also destroyed about 4000 hectares of rain-fed rice farm in the Kudang area.
“In the Jahally area, about 1000 hectares of irrigated rice farms were destroyed”, the director who did not give his name said
“In the Pacharr area which is also tidal irrigation, about 1200 hectares were destroyed. Also in the Kudang area which is rain-fed or swamp rice, a little more than 4000 hectares have been destroyed.”
The Jahally Pacharr area is the major rice growing hub in the country.
A hectare of rice grown in the area (the improved variety) can produce up to 4.5 tons. In the Kudang area, a hectare of rice (the local variety) can produce between 1.5 to 2 tons.
In related developments, some farmers in Basse in the Upper River Region have told The Standard that they are experiencing similar distress.
Though not everything was lost but Maimuna Drammeh, Fatoto, who grows groundnut and rice, said she has had two of her rice fields submerged in water.
“Two of my rice fields have all submerged in water,” she said, on October 16 on the fringe of the World Food Day celebration in Basse.
“I have lost everything in those two fields. The rain keeps coming and the water level from the river is also rising. Even some of our maize and corn are affected.”
Drammeh’s story has had an echo in the comments of Nyara Danbal, Tinkindo village, IsatouSumareh, lady councillor from Koboto, Tumana, IsatouSowe, Basse, and Karafa Keita, BasseSantosu, as the women farmers recount their experience of the year’s farming season.
“There were too much rains and it has affected our maize, corn and rice fields. Some rice fields are even inaccessible,” Isatou Sumareh, lady councillor from Koboto, Tumana, said.
“The impact of this will severely affect us if it continues…”
Mamadi Jabang, crop production specialists at the Giroba Kunda Mix Farming Centre, confirmed the women’s story but added that groundnuts are largely very good.
“Heavy rains have affected mainly millet, maize, rice and sorghum in these areas. A good percentage of rice fields have submerged in water,” Jabang said.
“But groundnuts are largely very good; the exception might be those who have cultivated theirs lately in the season. This year’s rainfall is more than what I have seen for the past two years.”
Also speaking to The Standard, Ansu K Ceesay, an agronomist working on the MDG1C project in URR, said the most affected rice variety is “105 Narika Variety” most of which, he said, are submerged in low land areas.
Ceesay said Dampha Kunda and Suduwol are particularly very affected.
“The most affected rice variety is105 Narika Variety. In Suduwol in the Kantora District, about 25 hectares of rice have submerged in water. Low land areas in DamphaKunda are also very affected,” he said.
“These rice fields may start to rot if the water does not go down now and the fresh water from the river is still coming.”
Ceesay added that the food security in Suduwol that, he said had a bad rainy season last year, might be particularly very affected if the trend continues.
“Last year Suduwol had a very bad season and if this year continues to as it is, they might be very affected in terms of food security,” he said.
According to the rainfall statistics that The Standard has garnered from the Giroba Kunda Mix Farming Centre with the help of Jabbi, June recorded the least rainfall, 31 millimetre of rain in three raining days.
However, an incredible spike occurred in July with a 472 millimetre of rainfall in 11 raining days and August registering 228 millimetre in 11 raining days and September, 296 millimetre in 11 raining days while October as of 16 recorded 85 millimetre in 6 raining days.
This resulted to an average rainfall of 256.83 millimetres, October excluded, from June to September and a total of 10, 27.3 millimetres of rain.
Jabbi said the statistics provided by the rain gauge suggested that the distribution and the rainfall pattern were good.
Meanwhile, Moro Manga, a seed specialists at NARI in Sapo said while the heavy rains and rising water level from the river have affected many farmers, but people in the Jahally and Pacharr areas “could nurse another seed beds in December” because of the availability of fresh water in that area.
Manga could not though quantify the magnitude of damage of rice fields in the area but said “some people lost everything” in their rice fields.
He added that rice fields in the “high land areas are generally doing very well”.
The locals have told this paper that the rising water level this year has been phenomenal.
In late August, the Basse-Wuli River crossing point was overwhelmed with water as heavy rain and rising water level pushed the water by, approximately, over 100 meters onshore, leaving market stalls by the river inundated with water, Basse residence have said.
This has been forecasted by the Early Warning Bulletin, a ten-day publication that offers, among other information, the meteorological situation of the country, which reported a drastic change in the rising level of water in the river Gambia and warned of risks of flooding in some settlements and heavy rains.
Published on August 21 to 31 this year and Produced and Published by The Gambia National Multidisciplinary Working Group led by the Department of Water Resources in collaboration with National Environment Agency, National Disaster Management Agency and host of other institutions, the bulletin reported flooding in rice fields in low land areas along the river.
“The changes in the river Gambia and its tributaries within the past one month has been very remarkable and overwhelming… The water levels in all the stations rose exceptional high accompanied with an upward shift in the minimum water levels,” the bulletin stated.
“These indicates an increase in the river water volume and communities settling along the river banks should be watchful of any possible flooding as we anticipate more water due to continuous torrential rains.
“For Example at Fatoto, the flow measurement device and its infrastructure has been completely submerged due to the surge in river water levels. Most of the rice fields on low lying areas along the river have been flooded thereby hampering some rice cultivation activities.”
The objective of the Early Warning System is to access and interpret meteorological data and make it available to policy makers and public institutions to enhance their effectiveness and efficiency in dealing with natural disasters.
Early Warning shortfalls
However, one expert in the management of natural disasters and adaptation and mitigation of climate change who pleaded anonymity told The Standard that the country’s Early Warning System has some shortfalls that can be worked on to the advantage of the country’s agricultural sector as a form of climate change adaptation.
The source said the Early Warning System can be made in such a way that it can offer a summary of the country’s meteorological situation for the farming season thus placing farmers on the right ground to avoid cultivating in areas where their crops would risk sweeping away in flood.
“We have to improve on how we use climate data because if that is done, we can look into the year’s rainy season and forecast what likely impact it will have and advise farmers based on that…A national risk atlas can also be developed so that we can identify the most vulnerable areas to climate change related issues,” the source said.
“For example, when the satellite data projection shows us that there will likely be too much rains, we would know that if the too much rains coincides with rise in water level in the Gambia river, there will be flood and rice fields at the these places are likely going to be affected at this time. You may advise farmers to avoid low land areas in those settlements.
“We need to have a comprehensive, integrated early warning system which will help us develop some climate modelling tools to deal with climate change related. Of course my argument is not that this will give us the ultimate solution but it will help us, with some degree of certainty, to understand and forecast climate related problems long before they occur. Because the purpose of the early warning system should be to help us prepare before any disaster occurs.”
Meanwhile, one official working with a UN agency and previously in the government, also informed The Standard that the problem with the Early Warning System is not just its inability to give an accurate forecast of the season and advice farmers on it but also the difficulty of its ten-day publication to effectively and efficiently reach farmers.
He said Early Warning System publications are in English thus are rarely understood by majority illiterate farmers, adding that extension workers who have direct contacts with farmers are far fewer in number as compared to farmers in the country.
“The last statistics I have seen revealed that the number of extension workers per farmer is 1 to 3000. This is long time ago and I believe that by now it is even worse given that a lot of people also leave the public sectors to work with NGOs, UN agencies and the private sector,” the source said.
“If you want to rely on these smaller number of extension workers to disseminate information with farmers all over the country, the chances are that some might not get adequate information.”
However, the director of agricultural extension services in URR who also said he has no knowledge of the statistics of the number of farmers per 1 extension worker, said they (extension workers) organise radio talk shows and community sensitisations to talk to farmers whenever they receive the early warning system information.
He said they receive early warning system publications “two times every month” and talk to farmers about issues in it that are related to agriculture.
He said they also contribute to the publication of the early Warning System before it is published.
Credit: The Standard newspaper