Eroding homes and Farmland


    In the few past decades, no fewer than 35 families in Amucha Community, Njaba in Imo State, Nigeria, have had to move to new homes. Not because they wanted a change, but because huge gullies of up to 120 metres deep and 40 meters wide – formed by heavy rainfall and erosion – have swallowed up homes and farmlands. Desmond Nworji is a lecturer who was born and raised in Amcha. He says his village environment has been turned upside down. “It (erosion) has actually caused a lot of damage to our village,” he laments. “In fact, my father’s house is the first that went into the gully. We bought the place we are presently residing, where we built our house, from the neighbouring kindreds.” Other villagers like Humphrey Njiagwu says there is no way they can make a living now on the degraded land. “We don’t live there because of the erosion. We don’t have land to farm, and we don’t have where to build. The places destroyed are where our children should have lived. We are refugees. This is not our land,” Njiagwu discloses. But it was once a fertile area, he recalls. “Before the Nigerian civil war, we had a big river where we go to catch fish because I am a good fisherman. Then, there was nothing like erosion. Now those rivers that we used to go and catch fish have almost dried up, and you hardly see those fish now. We discovered that there’s now a lot of changes in climate in this our place. Even some of the fruits, the right time they produce are no longer the time .We used to plant on our farms very well, and yield was good. But, all of a sudden, it started getting eroded. You can see how the ones we planted now look scanty and empty. “It has affected agriculture, because many times when you plant the erosion will wash away what you have planted. It has affected agriculture seriously. Things have changed. This isn’t how it used to be two or three months into the beginning of the year. When the harmattan is still had, nothing works except it rains. Farmers have cleared their lands but they are still waiting for the rain. And the sun is extreme.”

    Many of those in the community believe the erosion – and change in weather patterns – was brought by the gods as some form of a punishment to community dwellers. Celestine Ndukwu used to work for the local government office. “Traditionally here, people believe that one man ate a python, what we call eke njab. In the entire area, it is a big taboo to eat such a snake. So nature reacted. Njaba, the god of that area, reacted by bringing about that erosion. He brought about a curse by the deity and that curse was erosion, to punish us all,” says Ndukwu. But others insist that the problems are as a result of a combination of natural and man-made factors. Boniface Emenalo, who used to be a leader with the Amucha Development Organisation, emphasises that when colleges tried to develop some areas years ago, some local forest was destroyed. “Those forests control erosion, and as a result there was no break again when the rain falls so that encouraged erosion. So floods from neighbouring villages like Okwudo, Nkume, Eziachi now flow freely down to Amucha,” he states. Speaking in a similar vein, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu who works with small holder farmers in the state, suggests, “I believe there is a direct connection between the erosion menace and climate change. This is because the intensity of the rainfall has increased. And with the intensity of the rainfall comes a lot of rainfall run off. And because there is a lot of rainfall run-off more than we used to see before, it means that a lot of the soil is being washed away. And that is why we are seeing this erosion menace in several communities.” Dr. Damian Asawalam is a soil scientist at the Michael Opkara University of Agriculture, Umudike. He once worked in Amucha. He agrees that deforestation is a major cause of the erosion. His words: “We have seen in the course of our work that this level of erosion is principally controlled by water. What has happened was that, in the past, we didn’t experience this because there was vegetation cover for a greater part of the area. There is a lot of deforestation taking place. The intensity with which people are cropping their farm increased and these activities removed the cover that is covering the soil. Now annually as rain falls and drops on this, they loosen the soil and with a result that a greater part of the soil are now exposed in many areas.” According to the village chief, Eze Ofoegbu, the government headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari constructed drains in 1983 but abandoned the project mid-way. The drainage helped a little but the heavy floods broke down most of the ditches and nothing has been done by subsequent governments, he notes, adding that the villagers had tried to stop the erosion themselves. “They threw in bamboo trees, and carried out a clean-up so the water stops flooding our homes, yet it did not stop. When the flooding and the erosion increased, we planted an avalanche of trees, Indian bamboos and even cashew trees as well as oil bean trees were planted within the areas to help control the erosion.”

    Mama lost her farm. She still lives a few meters from a deep gully.
    Mama lost her farm. She still lives a few meters from a deep gully.

    As a way out, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu suggests that communities should adopt new farming techniques to adapt to the changes and ensure their livelihood is secure. “One of the ways that small farmers and rural communities can use in controlling erosion is terrace farming. It is a form of agriculture whereby farmers can cultivate agricultural beds on sloppy areas. Farmers can make a bed of three to four feet in width and 10 to 30 feet in length. They can now start cultivating vegetables on this bed. The second one is the cultivation of veteva grass. Veteva grass is a fast-growing grass like the elephant grass. It does a simple thing: it stabilises the soil. So when the rainfall run-off tries to wash off the top soil and makes it bare, the veteva grass holds the soil and helps in stabilising it. The third one is the construction of simple waterways in sloppy areas and channeling it into an underground tank. This is called rain water harvesting. So the level of rainfall run off during the season, we can save the water and use it to dry season vegetable cultivation. These are the three ways farmers can use to control soil erosion at the first instance while they lobby for government attention to build bigger water channels.” These new farming methods may well prove a lifeline – as, there are people like Mary Nworji a mother of five, who has no choice but to stay in the land most affected by the erosion. She says the erosion took most of her farm land yet she stays in the house very close to a gully and almost getting swallowed up because she could afford a buy land and a build a new house. “Before the erosion came, this used to our road, when everyone lived here. When it now started, others moved upland, we are among the few left. We cannot afford a land to build and move. We still live here. Lots of times, the flood entered our home, carried away our properties and destroyed things. I don’t have an alternative,” she discloses, close to tears. The ecological challenges notwithstanding, the villagers are still very much into farming and every new home comes with drainage to create a path for the heavy floods. Ironically, they also have to cut trees to clear new areas to build when they relocate. The villagers expressed their fears further. “Of course, I am afraid. If it gets closer, we relocate. If not, I will be grateful to God. This much is enough. If we have the wherewithal, if we have an alternative to leave this environment completely, it is better. We need government presence to stem it, to eradicate it completely. As it is now, government does not show presence again. So, I am not comfortable in this place at all. There is nothing I can do. But if I have a choice, all of us can move out of this place,” one of them prayed. We hope that the Lord God, as well as the government, answers the Amucha Community dwellers’ prayers.

    Please listen to the feature here: