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
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?
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