Massive floods have destroyed thousands of square miles of crops in central and Western Africa, leaving inhabitants with inadequate food stocks for the coming year. In the central African nation of Cameroon, Souloukna Mourga is wading through his flooded cotton and millet fields, uprooting soggy stems. His 15 acres of mostly dead crops are under water.
Mourga has 12 children who rely on him. He is one of four million people, most of them subsistence farmers, across a dozen nations who have witnessed their crops destroyed by severe flooding.
Floods have destroyed this season’s harvest, while 2.5 million acres of farmland across central and western Africa remains under water. Soil nutrients have been leeched away by sudden flooding, setting the stage for an even smaller harvest next season.
Around Mourga’s farm in Dana village on the floodplain of the Logone River between the nations of Cameroon and Chad, thousands of acres of crops and dotted huts in villages are still under water.
“I have nothing left. We are facing famine…the water has taken everything,” Mourga said.
190 miles further north, in western Chad, it took resident Bernadette Handing two hours in a canoe to reach her flooded millet farm in Kournari, an hour south of Chad’s capital, N’djamena.
“What I was able to save from the farm cannot support our family for a month. What is certain, we will die of hunger in winter,” she said.
Before the floods, farming in West and Central Africa had already been impaired slightly by violence that drove some farmers from their fields and made it harder to distribute fertilizer.
Insurgencies and terrorism in the region — such as in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and northeastern Nigeria — has caused nearly 8 million people, most of them farmers, to migrate to other areas for safety, to avoid attacks from groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State. The pandemic also had disrupted the agricultural economy and access to markets.
Those problems, along with prolonged drought last year and fallout from the Ukraine crisis – which reduced fertiliser supplies to the region – meant crop output was already expected to be lower than usual.
“It is an unprecedented situation,” Ollo said. “This is a perfect storm of factors all playing and leading us towards a catastrophe, a major crisis.”
The number of people who are hungry and need help in the region was already over 40 million even before the floods, said Kouacou Dominique Koffy, head of the West Africa emergency team for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Koffy says four-fifths of those recently displaced were agro-pastoral farmers and it will take months for them to return, once the water recedes, and begin farming again.
In Nigeria, floods have destroyed a million acres of farmland, according to Sadiya Umar Farouq, minister of humanitarian affairs and disaster management.
In the northeast and middle of Nigeria, where most of the county’s food is grown, crops such as rice, maize, and small grains have been destroyed.
Edwin Chigozie Uche, head of Nigeria’s Maize Growers and Processors Association, cited preliminary reports that 30 percent of the maize crop in the two regions has been lost to floods, foreshadowing future food shortages.
“We have started taking soil samples in areas where floods have receded to check the level of nutrients. It will take some time for farmers to get back to farming,” Uche said.
Goni Alhaji Adam, head of the Associations of Sorghum Producers, Processors and Marketing for the northeastern Borno state, the poorest state in Nigeria, said the floods were the worst he had seen in 20 years.
“We are very worried about farming next year due to the devastating floods. The possibility of not being able to farm is very high, because the topmost layer of the soil, which consists of high nutrients has been washed away, leaving the soil dead.” Many are subsistence farmers that can’t afford soil fertility tests and will not be able to farm next year without assistance.