In Nigeria's food basket state, floods wash away homes, crops and hope

People gather around a rice milling machine beside the Wuruku rice mill market after a flood displaced millers from the market in Makurdi, Nigeria, October 1, 2022. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

MAKURDI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Victoria Okonkwo sits in a canoe as neighbours paddle her away from her house in Nigeria's food basket, Benue state, which is now under water – along with more than 100,000 hectares (247,100 acres) of farmland.

"It was last week that it started, so I left thinking that the water will not be this much," Okonkwo, 45, told Reuters. "Now I am displaced with my children."

Okonkwo is among at least half a million Nigerians affected by flooding in 29 of Nigeria's 36 states this year. Farmers say the rising waters will push food bills higher in a nation where millions have fallen into food poverty in the past two years.

Farming was constrained by flooding and food shortages and COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. Prices shot higher due to this year's war in Ukraine and nationwide insecurity that has pushed thousands of farmers off their land.

"This is a catastrophe indeed," said Dimieari Von Kemedi, chief executive of Alluvial Agriculture, a farm collective. "All of these wrong things are happening at the same time."

Farmer Tersoo Deei, 39, said 2 hectares (5 acres) of her rice and nearly all her soybeans in Benue were underwater. What she had harvested she has to sell now, before it has dried, because her house washed away.

"I do not have any option but to sell my rice paddy because there is nowhere to keep it," the mother of four told Reuters.

Nigeria-based commodities exchange AFEX estimates flooding and other factors will cut maize output by 12% year on year, and rice by 21%. That is a serious problem for a nation where inflation hit a 17-year high in August, led by food inflation at 23.12%.

"What we are seeing currently is the worst case... at least in the last decade," David Ibidapo, AFEX's head of market data and research, said of the flooding. "This is a very big challenge to food security."

(Reporting By Abraham Achirga in Benue state and Libby George in Lagos; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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