Relief agencies and the government of Benin have appealed for US$46.8 million to help the West African nation recover from the worst flooding in nearly 50 years: Agricultural experts have warned of huge damage to land and livelihoods in rural communities.
“We are talking of farmers losing 100 percent of their crops,” warned Saïd Hounkponou, head of Benin NGO Initiatives pour un Dévéloppement Intégré Durable (IDID). “When you have fields of maize, manioc and other crops flooded to that degree, there is nothing left to harvest.”
Jacques Djima Bonou, secretary-general of the Féderation des Unions de Producteurs de Bénin (FUPRO) said FUPRO’s recent assembly in Bohican had canvassed farmers on their individual losses. “Of course there has been flooding in the past, but nothing like what farmers have been exposed to this year,” Bonou told IRIN.
“In the north there are hundreds of fields of maize that have been lost and hundreds of fields of yams. The cotton crop has also been badly damaged. The rains are continuing and it is too early to say how much has been lost.”
Hounkponou said the scale of the flooding caught communities completely off-guard, even in areas where there is a long history of dealing with floods. “Take the Ouémé river valley, for example. Here people are used to the river swelling and then receding, and adapt their planting techniques accordingly. But this year the flooding was far stronger and their fields were washed away.”
|When you have fields of maize, manioc and other crops flooded to that degree, there is nothing left to harvest|
Hounkponou warned that Benin’s agricultural sector would feel the impact of the flooding well into 2011. “Come April we could find that producers do not have seeds for the next planting season. Seeds must be provided. If not, it will be a catastrophe.” It is a view echoed by FUPRO, with Bonou calling for urgent food aid now to affected communities. “Food security is going to be a real problem,” Bonou told IRIN.
Agriculture accounts for 88 percent of Benin’s export revenues and employs 70 percent of the country’s workforce, according to the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a partner with IDID. Cotton remains by far the most lucrative cash crop, accounting for 40 percent of gross domestic product, while there is extensive cultivation of maize, yams, sorghum, beans, cassava, rice and other crops.
There are longstanding concerns about soil degradation, high levels of deforestation, poor storage conditions for produce and a dependence on traditional farming methods. But the government of President Yayi Boni has been credited with trying to make Benin’s agricultural sector more productive and sustainable, highlighting the need for stronger investment, pushing the case for a more mechanized approach to farming and trying to turn round an underperforming cotton industry.
There has been a debate in Benin for years about the impact of climate change on agriculture. The more arid north was hit by a series of droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. The north has one rainy season, running from May to October. The south has two - from April to July and from August to October, allowing farmers to produce crops twice. Both Hounkponou and Bonou are convinced climate change has been a key factor in the intensification of Benin’s flooding.
“We should now be into the dry season across the whole of Benin, but it is still raining," Hounkponou said. Bonou said farmers were baffled by the magnitude of this year’s floods, which have hit 55 of Benin’s 77 communes, from north to south, touching even areas previously considered immune.
Since 2007 IDID and other organizations have been heavily involved in information campaigns aimed at raising farmers’ awareness of the need for pre-emptive, protective measures to cope with climate change. But Hounkponou acknowledged that lessons passed on at the grassroots, however well absorbed, could not protect farmers against the kind of devastation seen this year. “There was no anticipation”, Hounkponou said. “The meteorological services, the early warning systems, they simply did not function.”
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions