Everyone’s heard of climate change, right? Global warming, stranded polar bears, droughts, floods, and pestilence – a terrifying prospect imprinted on all our minds.
Actually, no. In some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, many communities on the front lines of climate change may well not be aware of how their environments are being altered, and the threat that poses to future livelihoods.
That lack of awareness makes adapting to the risks by switching to new, climate-smart agricultural methods all the harder.
Godai village in Nigeria’s northwestern state of Kaduna is already witnessing reduced rains, with the farmers lamenting poorer rice, maize, and vegetable harvests.
The long-term forecast is for still dryer conditions across the north, with the potential decline in yields for rain-fed agriculture as high as 50 percent.
Nigeria as a whole is classified as one of the 10 most vulnerable countries in the world, according to a 2015 climate change index by the global risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft.
But despite the looming threat, six out of 10 farmers interviewed in Godai by IRIN said they “knew nothing” about climate change.
They all noted that the rains had reduced; half said there had been an increase in pests; and an equal number mentioned a problem of soil degradation. But deforestation rather than climate change was the most commonly mentioned culprit.
Maharazu Ibrahim, who grows maize and vegetables on a five-hectare plot, offered a typical comment: “I know nothing about [climate change], but we are witnessing strange weather.”
Most of the farmers were figuring out their own coping strategies. Ahmed Isa, like several of his colleagues, has planted mango and cashew nut trees on his land “to save the soil”. Others were using more animal dung on their fields, or digging water channels.
There was little expectation of government aid, but “we do need enlightenment,” said Nasiru Adamu, who farms an eight-hectare plot.
In theory, the government provides an agricultural advice service, staffed by a network of trained officers. But the farmers told IRIN that, in reality, it is badly underfunded and there is little support for rural communities.
“The few extension workers that are available we understand lack full knowledge about climate change,” said Yahaya Ahmed of the Developmental Association for Renewable Energy, a Kaduna-based NGO.
A lack of transport, even simple motorbikes, also limits their effectiveness.
But as is the case in much of rural Nigeria, each of Godai’s farmers owns a radio. They told IRIN that radio broadcasts and traditional leaders were their main sources of information.
Getting the message out
The farmers had clearly received the message on deforestation, so why had so few of them heard about climate change?
“When I was working with Radio France International, we introduced a magazine programme in Hausa [the language of the north] on climate change and it went a long way to educate local farmers on climate change adaptation,” said Atayi Babs of the Climate and Sustainable Development Network of Nigeria.
“But there are millions of Hausa-speaking people that are not listening to RFI, so we [must] use local radio and television stations, and even pidgin-English [Nigeria’s unofficial lingua franca] to educate farmers.”
According to Ahmed: “Radio journalists don't visit remote communities to interview [farmers] directly. Mostly, the information aired about climate change on radio is from written articles, which are translated, and the people don't understand a bit of it.”
Effective advocacy campaigns need to be designed with the input of the communities they are trying to influence, said Sam Ogallah of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, a regional lobby group. If “[campaigns] are not targeted to the needs of the end users,” they don’t work, he added.
Nigeria recognises climate change as a strategic priority: It has adopted a Nigeria Climate Change Policy Response and Strategy; there is a National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change; the Ministry of Environment has a dedicated Department of Climate Change; and there are plans for a climate change trust fund.
All laudable steps, but Ogallah said there is a disconnect between the bureaucratic paper shuffling in Abuja and real climate action in places like Godai.
“Nigeria has several climate change policies and plans,” he told IRIN, “[but] still doesn’t have a climate change Act or Bill to guide climate actions in the country.’’
The government needs to take the lead, he added, because civil society doesn’t have the resources to run multi-year projects, and the private sector will only step in to help if there is a strong signal of intent from the authorities.
“We need advocacy programmes. We need awareness programmes,” said Babs, the ex-radio journalist. “Just because you live in a rural community, you shouldn't be left behind; not only in climate change awareness, but in every aspect of life.”
(PHOTO: Gondai village. Mohammad Ibrahim/IRIN)