Chris Choji has been a farmer all his life. The 57-year-old who lives in Rakwok, Barkin-Ladi in Plateau State, produces mostly tomatoes, cabbages, pepper, maize, and potatoes. But things have changed.
“Illegal mining activities have made the environment dangerous,” he told PREMIUM TIMES. “The land is no longer fertile and our farmlands have been destroyed, thereby causing food scarcity and making the prices of food skyrocket.”
Farming used to be lucrative before tin miners descended on the area, Mr Choji said.
“My grandparents had vast farmlands and they produced crops in large quantities. Maize was harvested in hundreds of bags, as well as the potatoes, tomatoes, pepper, etc. These brought them a lot of profit,” he recalled.
Mr Choji said he used to harvest between 50 and 60 bags of maize yearly before mining activities disrupted farming in the area.
“I now harvest 20 to 30 bags of maize yearly because some part of my land was dug out for mining and not refilled,” he said.
Mr Choji’s lamentation reflects the pains of many farmers in Barkin-Ladi. As mining activities degraded their land, many have abandoned farming to venture into mining.
Many of the inhabitants of Barkin-Ladi are of the Birom ethnic group and they were predominantly farmers and hunters. But unregulated mining activities have exposed the soil to erosion, devastated their land and rendered it uncultivable.
No Land To Farm
Hannatu Gwom started going to the farm with her parents when she was five. Now 50, she grows maize, hungry rice and green beans.
“In the days before mining, there was high output,” Mrs Gwom reminisced.
“When I was a kid, we produced up to 140 bags of maize, 100 bags of hungry rice, and about 80 bags of green beans in a year. And if the harvest was bountiful, we could harvest almost twice that amount. Farms were available in large portions and they were very fertile. In those days, people used more animal dung than processed fertilizers.
“But now, farming is not as lucrative as it used to be. These days, farmlands are in smaller portions. Now, I get 60 to 50 bags of maize, 20 bags of hungry rice, and like 30 bags of green beans despite the effort and resources we put into farming these days,” she said.
Mrs Gwom blamed it all on the impact of rampant illegal mining activities.
“If you visit farms these days, instead of seeing growing food plants on farms, what you will see are wells and drainages, making it hard for farmers to farm on these lands. Such things make food production very low, mining has destroyed most of the farms. These activities cause soil and water erosion on the environment, deforestation, and lesser farming activities,” she said.
Another farmer, 71-year-old Dung Dahwei, has farms in Gangare and Lobirin villages in Ropp district of Barkin-Ladi. He said he has farmed for 64 years of his life. In the past, the environment was free of wells and pits and there was a high output of food produce, he said.
“I could produce up to 15 bags of Irish potatoes, 50 bags of maize and up to 100 baskets of cabbages. But since mining activities took place on some of my farmlands, I have only been able to get seven bags of Irish potatoes, 12 bags of maize, and at most 60 to 65 baskets of cabbages.
“Most farms have been destroyed by illegal mining,” he said.
Same story in Bukuru
Gyang Deme is in his early 20s. He has a farm close to the Shendu mining site in Bukuru. The community shares a border with Barkin-Ladi and is also inhabited by many Biroms. Mr Deme explained to this reporter how land degradation has affected farming activities around the mining site.
“We cannot farm again on mining or abandoned mining sites. If we do, the crops might not yield. I acquired this land from the owner and I started farming here just last year. If the owner decides to sell it to the miners now, that would be the end of farming on this land,” he said.
Many young people in Bukuru have found livelihood in the illegal mining sites, but the impact of the activities on the environment speaks to the negative effect on food security.
Dura mine is a tin mining site in Bukuru. Close to the mining site is a dam said to have formed from massive excavation by foreign miners in the early days of mining in the area.
Beside the dam stands a small portion of the land carved out for farming. On the ridges are dried and withered leaves of green pepper, indicating a low yield of the produce.
Tin mining has greatly affected the natural ecology of the area.
Joseph Pam, who took this reporter around, said the land lost its fertility and no longer produces crops.
“This is the end of this land for agriculture. Nothing can germinate on it again,” he said.
Nigeria and Food Security
According to the Global Food Security Index (GFSI), Nigeria ranked 94 out of 113 countries surveyed in 2019, with an overall score of 48.4 per cent, in food security and 45.8 per cent in food availability. The country was ranked 13th in Sub- Saharan Africa.
The report highlighted that Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest dietary diversity and the highest micronutrient deficiencies. Also, high levels of food loss limits food availability in the region.
Also, the FAO in its latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that almost 690 million people, or 8.9 per cent of the world population, went hungry in 2019, up by 10 million from 2018 and by nearly 60 million in five years.
The report states that the hungry are most numerous in Asia (381 million undernourished) but expanding fast in Africa with 250 million undernourished people.
In percentage terms, according to the report, Africa is the hardest hit region, and becoming more so, with 19.1 per cent of its people undernourished. This is more than double the rate in Asia (8.3 per cent) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (7.4 per cent).
On the current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry, the report states.
A time bomb waiting to explode
Kingsley Ndimele, an economist, said it is important for Nigeria to hold on to agriculture while mining should only be a backup for the economy.
“Nigeria’s population is growing at the rate of six million every year and it is estimated that by 2050, the population would have doubled. Nigeria will become the third-largest population in the world after India and China. The most important challenge facing Nigeria apart from insecurity is actually the provision of food to meet up with this geometrical population growth.
“If we begin to convert our farmlands into mining sites, apart from the fact that we are reducing the potential of farmers to produce food, we are also causing environmental pollution. We might not see the economic effect of these activities in the short term, but in the long term, Nigeria is a time bomb waiting to explode,” Mr Ndimele told this reporter.
The environmentalist added that irregular weather conditions, as a result of climate change, has an adverse effect on agriculture, which in turn affects food production.
He urged the government to make a deliberate effort to reverse the situation and ensure that mining activities are done in a safe and proper way.
Terrible land destruction
According to a report in an academic journal on sustainable development, written by Solomon Jiya and Musa Haruna in 2012 to examine the impacts of derived tin mining activities on land use/cover in Bukuru, the mining ponds are intensively used for water supply, fish farming, and irrigation.
But in spite of those advantages, the report says, mining activities on the Jos Plateau have led to terrible land destruction.
It observes that the miners have just one goal – to dig out the tin, no matter what happens to the land and life in the process. As a result, the green vegetation of the region has given way to brown soils that lack fertility.
The report states that “the countryside has been greatly disfigured by heaps of compacted tips, often bare or with very scanty vegetation, mining spoils of slurry and tin failing spread over wide areas; earth banks of unconsolidated steep paddock, mounds of loose sand, clayey soils, deep mining pits, and neglected mining excavations. There is also evidence of soil destruction, soil loss, and lower land capability (soil) as a result of mining activities.”
It argues that food crops such as potatoes, carrots, maize, onions, tomatoes, and vegetables grown in tin mining areas are smaller in size and different in taste compared to those brought in from other areas such as Mangu, Bassa, Miango.
Mining activities began in 1902 in Nigeria and the country became a major exporter of coal, tin, and columbite in the 1940s. Then oil was discovered in 1956 in a town called Oloibiri in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. At the discovery of oil, the attention of the Nigerian government shifted from solid minerals to crude oil. This led to the decline of mining activities in the country.
Patrick Ojeka, the Director of the Department of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM), Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, said the discovery of oil made the government neglect the sector and resulted in illegal mining activities as seen in the country today.
“The foreign investors were mining and not taking care of the abandoned pits. As at the time the indigenisation policy and all other policies were passed, the investors who were disinterested left the shores of Nigeria and left a large pool of labour force who had no formal training than labour in the pit. So those classes of people went back to mother earth,” Mr Ojeka said.
“But the government is reviewing the whole situation in order to meet up with the world’s best practices. It is a gradual process and it is ongoing. The law has provided better mining and environment-friendly operations across the country.
“The ASM department is sensitising Nigerians on the formalisation process to form into cooperatives and to be mainstreamed into the main operation. Cadastre is managing the mineral title management. These are the efforts of the government to put things in the proper perspective,” he said.
Neglect of agriculture portends famine for Nigeria – Experts
An environmental scientist and lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), ile Ife, Ife Adewumi, said the neglect of agriculture portends famine for Nigeria.
The professor said lack of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by miners has a negative impact on lives and the environment of the host communities.
“But beyond famine, the degradation of the environment has more impact not only on the farmers but the entire community and even beyond. The illegal miners fell trees and leave it as it is and that leads to erosion and pollution of the environment,” the professor said.
He called for proper supervision of mining activities and “proper policy statements to ensure that whoever degrades the environment pays for it.”
The Senior Project Officer for Environment at Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), Jesse Martins, linked soil degradation, deforestation, erosion, and water pollution to illegal mining activities.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, the environmentalist said: “trees utilise carbon in the presence of photosynthesis to manufacture food, so when the trees are logged, the number of trees available to utilise the carbon is reduced, leading to more carbon in the atmosphere, which leads to climate change.”
“The soil stores subsequent carbon. So when the soil is exposed, tilled, and opened up, it is easy for the carbon stored in the soil to get into the atmosphere, leading to more carbon in the air, and constituting climate change,” he said.
Plateau govt reclaiming mining sites – Official
When contacted on the indiscriminate mining activities in Plateau State, the Plateau State Commissioner for Environment, Usman Idi, said the government was concerned and was taking action.
“We have identified areas of reclamation and some of the areas have already been reclaimed, for example, if you go to Barkin Ladi, there are about four mining sites that have been reclaimed.
“So, for the case of land reclamation, the state and federal governments, and the ministry of the environment are already collaborating to see how some of those areas can be recovered. That has already started. Now some farmers can go back to begin their farming activities,” he said.
Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ and is made possible through funding support from Ford Foundation.
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