De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion head­ing South at 0.6km a year — Re­searcher

As Nige­ria joined the rest of the world to mark World Day to Com­bat Drought and De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion on Sun­day, a pro­fes­sor of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences and Dean, Fac­ulty of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences, Nasarawa State Uni­ver­sity, Keffi, Prof Nasiru Idris, speaks on ch

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Nige­ria is among the coun­tries that signed the convention on de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and bio­di­ver­sity, yet im­ple­men­ta­tion has not recorded sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess, what could be the rea­son?

The Nige­rian gov­ern­ment started the fight to com­bat de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and mit­i­gate the ef­fect of drought as far back as pre-in­de­pen­dence but at a smaller scale. How­ever, se­ri­ous attempts were made dur­ing the pe­riod 1979 to 1996 in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the World Bank in or­der to re­claim some dis­lo­cated com­mu­ni­ties which was launched as ‘Forestry I’ pro­gramme.

How­ever this first at­tempt was un­suc­cess­ful and aborted in 1984 due to the rea­son that seedlings sur­vival rate was very low, with less than 5% of over 50 mil­lion seedlings dis­trib­uted free of charge dur­ing the 5 year pe­riod sur­viv­ing. Later in 1987, gov­ern­ment re-launched “Forestry II” pro­ject and sig­nif­i­cant suc­cesses were recorded with the es­tab­lish­ment of some com­po­nents of the af­foresta­tion pro­gramme which in­cluded shel­ter­belts and wind­breaks among oth­ers.

De­spite attempts by the gov­ern­ment of Nige­ria to check desert en­croach­ment through af­foresta­tion, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion still re­mains the most press­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem in the dry land parts of the coun­try. The vis­i­ble sign of this phe­nom­e­non is the grad­ual shift in veg­e­ta­tion from grasses, bushes and oc­ca­sional trees, to grass and bushes; and in the fi­nal stages, ex­pan­sive ar­eas of desert-like sand.

Nige­ria loses over 350,000 hectares an­nu­ally to ad­vanc­ing desert and sand dunes, threat­en­ing life-sup­port­ing oa­sis, bury­ing wa­ter points, and in some cases en­gulf­ing ma­jor roads in the af­fected ar­eas.

How­ever, trees planted by gov­ern­ment as shel­ter­belts to check the ad­vanc­ing dunes are with­er­ing due to cli­matic vari­abil­ity and some forces of na­ture.

The­wors­en­ing­prob­le­mofde­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in Nige­ria is quite glaring as re­searchers, in­clud­ing my­self re­vealed that an es­ti­mate of be­tween 50% to 75% of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Ji­gawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zam­fara states are af­fected by de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to wind ero­sion. Th­ese states, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 70 mil­lion peo­ple ac­count for about 43% of the coun­try’s to­tal land area.

How­ever, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has put in place var­i­ous na­tional poli­cies, in­sti­tu­tional and leg­isla­tive frame­works, sec­toral pro­grammes, and part­ner­ship build­ing ef­forts to ad­dress the prob­lem of drought and de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion but still, the prob­lem per­sists.

Also, Nige­ria is part of the Great Green Wall (GGW) ini­tia­tive which is aimed at restor­ing Africa’s de­graded land­scapes and in the process trans­form­ing mil­lions of lives when com­pleted.

What is re­spon­si­ble de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in the North?

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Fac­tors linked to de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in north­ern Nige­ria are as re­sult of the soils in the re­gion which are fer­rug­i­nous trop­i­cal soils, gen­er­ally of poor struc­ture and low fer­til­ity.

The hot and dry cli­mate causes bare, un­veg­e­tated soils to eas­ily heat up, es­pe­cially dur­ing the dry sea­son, re­sult­ing in soil bak­ing. Cou­pled with high evap­o­ra­tion rates, the soil be­comes pow­dery and eas­ily blown away by the wind. Thus, in the ab­sence of veg­e­ta­tion, wind and wa­ter, ero­sion on ex­posed soil has had ex­tremely detri­men­tal ef­fects, lim­it­ing plant growth and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

In ad­di­tion, the rate of hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties such as de­for­esta­tion, bush burn­ing, over­graz­ing, cul­ti­va­tion of mar­ginal land, fuel wood ex­trac­tion and poor man­age­ment of ir­ri­ga­tion have con­tributed to the rate of de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in the coun­try which is mov­ing south­wards at the rate of 0.6km a year as re­ported by stud­ies in­clud­ing that by the Nige­rian Fed­eral Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment.

As you may also note, poverty and en­vi­ron­men­tal degradatio­n al­ways move hand in hand as a poor man’s last re­sort is the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment for his sur­vival.

In spite of the adop­tion of GGW, mil­lions of Nige­ri­ans still lose their farms to drought and de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. Is GGW re­ally the best con­tain­ment op­tion?

Yes, the GGW pro­gramme is a very good op­tion to com­bat de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and mit­i­gate the ef­fect of drought in Nige­ria but to some ex­tent. That is only if the gov­ern­ment pro­vides ad­e­quate fund­ing at an ag­gres­sive rate to com­bat de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion through the use of af­foresta­tion com­po­nents such as es­tab­lish­ment of shel­ter­belts, pro­vi­sion of wood­lots and or­chards, road­side plant­ing of trees, sand dunes fix­a­tion and agro-forestry pro­gramme.

Com­mu­ni­ties will con­tinue to lose their farm­lands and homes to de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion process if gov­ern­ment will not ap­ply a ra­tio­nal, prac­ti­ca­ble, holis­tic and com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach be­cause dif­fer­ent re­gions re­quire dif­fer­ent ap­proaches.

The com­mu­ni­ties seem to be left out in terms of poli­cies to fight en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, how do we ad­dress that?

As long as poli­cies are top down ap­proach, com­mu­ni­ties will al­ways be left out and the pro­gramme, projects and poli­cies are bound to fail if the pro­ject will be im­ple­mented within com­mu­ni­ties as their views are not in­cor­po­rated in the projects - as the case of “Forestry I.”

For gov­ern­ment to suc­ceed in fight­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, in­cor­po­ra­tion of stake­hold­ers at the ini­tial stage of ev­ery pol­icy is para­mount so that every­one will con­trib­ute mean­ing­fully as no­body has the mo­nop­oly of knowl­edge and don’t for­get that the “en­vi­ron­ment be­longs to no­body and it be­longs to ev­ery­body”.

As we mark the World Day to Com­bat Drought and De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, as an ex­pert, what’s the way for­ward?

You will be sur­prised to hear that ma­jor­ity of Nige­ri­ans, es­pe­cially in the north­ern part of the coun­try where th­ese phe­nom­e­non are at an alarm­ing rate, are not even aware that there’s a day set aside by the United Na­tions as World Day to Com­bat De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and Drought and also, that the bared sur­face they are see­ing within their sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment is as a re­sult of drought and de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion.

How­ever, the pri­mary aim of this day is to raise aware­ness of the pres­ence of de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and drought, high­light­ing meth­ods of pre­vent­ing de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and re­cov­ery from drought.

The­ques­tion­now­ishow­manyNige­ri­ans are aware of th­ese en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters called de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and drought?

Do we know their causes, im­pacts and ef­fects? There­fore, we should start from an aware­ness cam­paign on de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and drought in or­der to pro­tect the planet from degradatio­n, in­clud­ing sus­tain­able con­sump­tion and pro­duc­tion, sus­tain­able man­ag­ing of nat­u­ral re­sources and tak­ing ur­gent ac­tion on cli­mate change.

What would you say to stake­hold­ers in the en­vi­ron­ment sec­tor?

I urge stake­hold­ers in the en­vi­ron­ment sec­tor to brain­storm on th­ese press­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems as desert en­croach­ment is mov­ing to­wards the south­ern part of Nige­ria at the rate of 0.6km a year. This trend doesn’t have a hu­man face. The neg­a­tive signs of the phe­nom­ena are what we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in the con­flict be­tween farm­ers and herds­men, high rate of poverty, food se­cu­rity is­sue, land and wa­ter re­sources con­flicts, de­struc­tion of habi­tat and loss of bio­di­ver­sity among oth­ers.

There­fore, if we don’t step up and halt the en­croach­ment of desert and mit­i­gate the ef­fect of drought, one day, we will wake up and find that Nige­ria as a whole is no longer fer­tile for agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and un­fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion as ex­pe­ri­enced in re­gions that are been rec­og­nized as hy­per arid zones or the sa­he­lian re­gion.

Prof Nasiru Idris

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