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Borno, As The Desert Approaches, Lessons From China’s Kubuqi

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It is known that Nigeria presently faces security challenges. In this report BUKOLA OGUNSINA and FRANCIS OKOYE bring out other challenges if not addressed can take the country by surprise. As the desert creeps in through the north east, can lessons be learned from China’s Kubuqi desert now turned green with hope? What are the plans currently put in place to stop this scourge?

If we have green in our heart, then we have hope in our lives.” – Wang Zhanyi, Senior official, Elion Resources Group, China
Thousands of years these golden vast body of sands has lived, with traders and commuters traveling through them to their destinations. They used to be feared, and called by some the ‘sea of death’ as those without proper knowledge of the territory often get lost wandering around, following mirages, until the die of exhaustion and thirst.
On the other hand, the desert has also been positively put to good use by countries who had tapped into the golden sands for tourism to build up economies. The deserts of the Sahara in the north east have began to slowly creep into the land. Friend or foe, in just a matter of time, Nigerians will know.
The Boko Haram insurgency is reported to have affected several areas in the life of the people of Borno. While the state battles to feed, cater and re settle the over two million internally Displaced Persons ( IDPs) scattered all over the country and outside, another great threat awaits in the name of desert encroachment.
The rapid invasion of the ravaging desert to some northern parts and some of the communities in Borno has also posed a threat to food production meant for the teeming population, as most farm lands have been engulfed by sand dunes, resulting in mass exodus of people and livestock towards the several communities across Borno.
This has been characterised by reported loss of farm lands and water sources. Livestock are said to be dying in their numbers from thirst and hunger, precipitating mass exodus by inhabitants to elsewhere in search of greener pastures.

The federal government’s efforts towards the success of the Great Green World Project (GGWP) in transforming environmetal degredation in the state has been a failure following unending war against the Boko Haram terrorists especially in the northern fringes of the state.
Borno clearly leads the table of states that fall in the category of semi- arid zone in the north eastern part of Nigeria. Four million people who are mostly farmers are grappling with the excruciating effects of desert encroachment of the Sahara. More disturbing is the loss of vast arable land to desert encroachment, especially in northern part of Borno states where people are now scrambling for the limited arable land to cultivate crops.
Farmers, herders and fishermen are also using various methods to scoop water for human and animal consumption.
In northern Borno , the people in Abadam, Kukawa, Gamboru-Ngala ,Kala-Balge, Mafa Local Government areas, among others, are facing difficult times as a result of gradual encroachment of the desert which has snatched away their lands.

To a greater extent, the famous Lake Chad which has served as a bed of roses for over 30 million people in Borno , Nigeria, as well as other communities in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Central African Republic in the last few decades has equally fall victim of the encroachment.
Baga, that once enjoyed a high profile as a fishing center in Borno State, that sat on the tail of the Lake Chad, is now a shadow of its former self. Fishermen had moved to other places, the few that remain only catch fingerlings instead of the big fishes that may likely swallow canoes while many others have metamorphosed into subsistent farmers.
Speaking on the federal government’s efforts towards the success of the Great Green World Project (GGWP) in transforming environmental degradation in the state, Alhaji Yahya Imam, the Director of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) said the efforts of the GGW through activities such as shelterbelt development, provision of alternative cooking device to rural communities and provision of improved seedlings to effected communities has also been crippled because of insecurity.
He explained that the National Orientation Agency was a popular stakeholder of the GGWP in the areas of community mobilisation and sensitisation with a view to addressing land degradation in the affected communities.
“The programme had so far kicked off in two local government in Borno that has been badly affected by the desert degradation which include Abadam and Mobbar local government areas which share border with Niger.

“Other effected areas include Gubio, Magumeri, Kala Balge and Guzamala.”NOA has also trained its community mobilisation officers across all the effected local governments to educate the community leaders on the importance of planting trees and the dangers in cutting them down.
“The global economy and local economies all rely on the availability of portable water, arable land, fish stocks, biodiversity, energy, minerals and other renewable and non-renewable resources to meet the rising expectations of a growing world population. Yet the availability of these resources is by no means assured,” said Imam.
According to him, the Ministry of Environment has ensured that collaboration was effectively implemented in the Federal and State government efforts aimed at fighting desertification and environmental degradation challenges.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, reports that the project is African countries initiative, aimed at bringing together 11 countries to plant trees across the continent so as to hold back the Sahara desert with a swathe of greenery, which will hopefully lessen the advance of desertification and improve the lives and livelihoods of communities affected by the scourge of climate change.
However, while the federal government is making frantic efforts to ensure that most Communities are not eroded by the encroaching deserts, deforestation is another trauma faced by the efforts as few trees that are found in the most affected areas are constantly felled and converted to fire woods for commercial and cooking purposes.
Most of the locals who lost their livestock, farmlands to the Boko Haram insurgency have found the tree felling and selling of fire woods business an alternative for livelihoods support.
For instance, when LEADERSHIP SUNDAY spoke to some locals who are victims of the Insurgency involved in the firewood business at Guzaumala local government, if they know the consequences of tree felling to desert encroachment, and whether they do replant each tree felled, they did not seem to know, believing the one who created the trees will replant them when they are being cut down for firewood.

According to one of the locals, Bukar Modu, after the Boko Haram crisis which cost them their sources of livelihoods, the means of survival has been eating from the proceeds of the fallen tree, saying that he has been in the business for the past three years when they were displaced from their Communities.
He however admitted that before the Boko Haram insurgency, they had been battling the challenges of desert encroachment which was almost taking over their farmlands and drying up the rivers from which they get water for their livestock, but having found themselves in the condition placed on them by insurgency, they have to find alternative to survival.
He said in as much as they understand the implications of their deforestation activities to the ravaging desertification, they must do something to survive or starved to death.
In Mallam Fatori, a border town between Nigeria and Niger on the northern fringes and many surrounding communities, the people constantly migrate from one location to another in search of favourable livelihood as a result of constant depletion of their land.
According to Mustapha Kolo, an internally Displaced Person ( IDP) from Mallam Fatori local government, the desert encroachment has been their major challenge before the Boko Haram crisis, saying that at times because of the devastation caused by desertification, they do trek for Kilometres in search of water and other household needs because of the desert encroachment over their Communities.
Lessons From Kubuqi, China’s Green Desert…

A member of the standing Committee of CPPCC, and Chairman of the board of Elion Group, a Chinese company, Wang Wenbiao, comes from northwest of Ordos in Inner Mongolia, China. A place which when he lived in, was known for its poverty and the fierce desert sands. Today he is well known and respected all through Inner Mongolia and in Kubuqi, a desert village turned into an ecological haven through his dreams. That dream was once deemed impossible until now.
“If I am asked to describe the flavour of my hometown, I think the word should be sand,” he said in a report. Same report also disclosed how once upon a time poverty was synonymous with desert dwellers as the sands prevented them from doing much to progress.
Kubuqi is recognised as the seventh largest desert in China, with total area of 80 000 square kilometres. It is so difficult to picture this quiet area with trees and plants as originally a bare brutal desert. The roads were winding and narrow but just enough to get by, giving access as the desert welcomed visitors.
A senior official of Elion Resources Group, the company behind this massive turn around and ecological development of Kubuqi desert, Wang Zhanyi said emotively during a meeting held last year with African journalists in Kubuqi, “If we have green in our heart, then we have hope in our lives.”
Kubuqi had been a vicious desert encroaching on the livelihood that the people of the area have struggled to build. Sandstorms disrupting and destroying everything on its path so that alas, many gave up hope of living in the area. Cattles and herds were lost, so that herdsmen had no form of income.
According to reports released, electricity, communication and transport were major problems. It was nicknamed, ‘the sea of death.’ In the year 1988, Wenbaio worked for the government for several years before setting out to save the Yanhaizi salt Factory, a major financial resource at the brink of bankruptcy having an annual loss of 5 million Yuan. Thus, giving up a promising political career he went to a place not many wanted to go and were desperate to leave, Kubuqi.

To protect the factory, Wenbaio decided that since the desert was the main challenge, he would instead focus on preventing its encroachment and then the factory would pick up. Out of profits made from sale of salts, he saved five Yuan from each tone of salt for the project. With a team of 27 forest workers the process began. It was a struggle as trees and grass would not survive. However sowing, planting, experiments and research continued relentlessly until finally he succeeded.
Wenbaio changed what was the original salt factory to Elion Resources Group. And then he worked on constructing highroads through the desert to facilitate transportation of the salts. The people longed for a road to give them access to the outside world and got one. For the development the government provided a loan of 70,000,000 Yuan. Initially, even his mother thought it was a waste of money for a project that no one had attempted before, but Wenbaio did not relent and by 16 June 1997, with assistance of Hanggin banner and Elion Group the construction of the highroad in Kubuqi was launched and celebrated. And now, there are roads, greeneries and development, with tourism also thriving in this ecological desert jewel.
The Vice President of Elion Resources Group, Zhao Yong reminisced, “Twenty years ago I came here. I still remember at the time I could not see anything green. When we came the second year, the tree we had planted previously had died. Of course it’s hard for it to strive here. We respect the ecology and green affair,” he said. And now 30 years on, the company has about 10,000 employees, and a total asset reaching 70 billion dollars.
Elion took this challenge seriously because as Zhao pointed out, “Desertification always relates to the word poverty all round….the reason we worked here for three decades is because poverty alleviation worked here. The reason we do desert control is to prevent poverty,” he said. He further added that after three decades, Kubuqi got rid of the title, ‘National Poverty Area.’ “Sand can turn into gold,” he said.

Zhao noted that draught resistant crops were adapted in the desert and carefully nurtured to grow. “We have found the plant appropriate to grow in the desert called liquorice. Liquorice is an important ingredient in Chinese medicine. It’s also been put to use in making cosmetics. It has become a main industry in Kubuqi,”he said.
Nigeria can benefit from Inner Mongolia’s technology implemented to fight desertification. With the Sahara desert bordering some countries in Africa, the continent can further adapt methods implemented by Elion Group in Kubuqi desert to fight desert encroachment. The Kubuqi International Desert Forum (KDIF) is annually held, and will have experts working together towards a common goal of promoting ecology and preventing desert encroachment globally.
The Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi in his welcome address indicated, at a programme in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs showcasing Chinese Provinces to the world, said “Inner Mongolia will contribute more Chinese efforts to fight desertification,” he said, referring to Inner Mongolia as a ‘grassland charm.’
At a meeting last year with Elion Group senior Officials, the Vice President of Elion Resources group, Zhao Yong said “We have turned 26,000 deserts into green lands, and there will be a transfer of knowledge involved in the partnership with African countries,” Stating that experience has proved their methods can be used in other African countries.
“We hope we can help African countries alleviate poverty and control desertification,” he said, also admitting that the technology used still faces challenges and needs constant research on ways to make it better.



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