Floods predicted to sweep across most of Nigeria this year may imperil the West African country’s cocoa crop while boosting its rice output, the head of its meteorological agency said.
At least 32 of the country’s 36 states, including those that span the southern cocoa belt, are likely to experience flooding during the current wet season due to irregular rainfall patterns, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, also known as NiMet, said in its weather outlook for this year.
“When you have serious cases of flooding, the tree crops will be forced to accommodate more water than they can absorb,” Sani Mashi, the director general of NiMet said Thursday in an interview in the capital, Abuja. “Unlike a cereal crop like rice that can be submerged, cocoa will be seriously hampered.”
Wet conditions such as those created by flooding engender fungal diseases, such as black pod, that reduce both cocoa output and quality. Nigeria ranks seventh among the world’s cocoa producers, with 2015-16 output estimated at 190,000 metric tons by the International Cocoa Organization.
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Nigeria is looking to expand investments in agriculture to cut food imports that cost it $3.2 billion in 2015, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, and save foreign exchange as it tries to recover from its worst economic slump in a quarter of a century.
Africa’s most populous nation with about 180 million people, imported 2.1 million metric tonnes of rice and produced 2.7 million tonnes in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With additional fields cultivated in recent years and improved yields, Nigeria expects to meet all its domestic requirements for rice by the end of this year, according to Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh.
Dangote Group, owned by Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, plans to invest $3.8 billion in rice and sugar farming in the next three years. Olam International Ltd.’s Nigerian unit is currently developing a 10,000-hectare (25,000-acre) rice farm and a mill in the central Nasarawa state with a target of producing 40,000 tonnes annually. Brewing and food companies, such as Nigerian Breweries Plc, Guinness Nigeria Plc. and Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc, that use the cereal sorghum as a raw material, may also benefit from an improved harvest.
With the rains approaching their peak, many cocoa farmers say they lack the means to acquire the chemical sprays to fight the fungal diseases that come with the wet season.
On the contrary, rice farmers in some flood-prone areas of the country’s northwestern Jigawa state welcome the excess water, draining it into ditches to irrigate their crops including tomatoes, peppers, sorghum and corn, according to Habibu Musa of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, who spoke by phone from Kiyawa town.
“We have benefited from the flooding here, our rice is growing faster,” he said.