CHIKA OKEKE writes on the need for effective collaboration between federal government and development partners to salvage the livelihood of millions of people in the frontline states threatened by desertification.
While growing up in the 70’s, Mallam Yusuf Mohammed, an indigene of Katsina State envied the large farmland owned and cultivated by his late father.
His greatest ambition then was to surpass his father’s wealth by planting many food crops like groundnut, cashew, beans, melon and among others since agriculture was a goldmine 40 years ago.
Mohammed’s dream was however altered by human and environmental factors as the farmlands soon eroded through desertification.
In order to fulfill his dream, Mohammed , who was then in his late twenties, though with a wife and three children migrated to old Anambra State, now Enugu State where he started livestock and farming activities.
Mohammed’s plight is synonymous with over 500, 000 youths in 10 local government areas of Katsina, on the border of Niger Republic battling the adverse effects of desert encroachment like migration, food and water scarcity.
Nigeria is estimated to be losing over 350,000 hectares of land out of 909,890 km² of landmass and 13,879 km² of water area to desert encroachment and drought.
This frightening figure which amounts to over $ 6 billion annually are lost in the front line states.
These 11 states in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauch, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi States cut across the north-east and north-west region of Nigeria.
The frontline states with a projected population of over 54 million and 394, 006 landmass are worst hit by desertification.
Aside Nigeria, about 500 million hectares of farmland are lost to desertification worldwide which fundamentally undermine the carrying capacity of the planet.
The farmlands which is more than half the size of China have been completely abandoned due to drought, desertification and poor land mismanagement.
While over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, about one billion others comprising of the world‘s poorest, most marginalised and politically weak citizens in over one hundred countries are threatened by desertification.
At the flag off of Green project in 2016 at Yusufu Bala Usman College of Legal and General Studies Daura, Katsina, the state governor, Aminu Bello Masari, lamented that the state was losing about five kilometres annually to desertification.
He pointed out that the state had lost its forest and was left with only shrubs and grasses.
Aside Katsina, other frontline states are also witnessing the same challenges that led to loss of culture, education, livelihood and languages as well as increased inter – tribal marriages.
Other causes of desertification according to environmentalists are poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices.
Given the pitfall, some non-governmental organisations like Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) and Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) have been at the forefront of advocating for safe land practice.
The founder of FADE, Dr Newton Jibunoh, disclosed that the threat of desert encroachment and desertification were assuming frightening dimension especially as it affected the nations arable land mass.
According to him, “This has become a source of threat to food production while it is equally believed that the hostile impact of climate change in the north poses serious threat to national security and poverty alleviation strategies in the country as those mostly affected are the most vulnerable ones in the society that dwell in the villages ravaged by this scourge.”
He hinted that his solo desert expeditions from London to Nigeria across Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara exposed him on the extent of degradation taking place in the environment and little steps taken by the government to fix the challenges.
He noted that his 70th birthday anniversary ten years ago brought to fore climate change and desertification, drought, and famine as very topical issues engulfing many countries, especially in Africa.
Jibunoh stated that his expedition team crossed the Sahara, Mediterranean and drove through major cities of Europe, spreading the advocacy and linking desertification to climate change under the auspices of FADE.
He said that urban green spaces like parks, gardens, including forests, encouraged active and healthy lifestyles, improved mental health, prevented diseases, and provided a place for people to socialise.
Lending his voice, the director – general of Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Dr Muktari Aminu Kano, maintained that socio-cultural issues such as insecurity, unemployment, poverty, migration were the major reasons for desert encroachment.
NCF is working to preserve the natural resources and biodiversity of Nigeria in partnership with a number of international environmental groups including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and amongst many others.
Kano expressed excitement that the GGW which was conceived by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo and adopted by the African Union has matured.
The DG revealed that the foundation chose to work with NAGGW in order to help in achieving its mandate saying that lack of effective collaboration was one of the reasons most government projects failed to impact on people’s lives.
He assured of attracting the attention of international organisations that would join the fight against desertification, land degradation and other socio-economic activities in the country.
In recognition of land degradation as a global phenomenon and the limited success of past efforts, the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative was presented by the Nigerian government to the African Union as a holistic regional approach to combat desertification and improve livelihood of affected communities.
This led to the signing of the convention on GGW eleven member countries and the creation of Pan African Agency of Great Green Wall (PAGGW) that was adopted by the African Union (AU).
The programme which was launched in 2013 was not only targeted at creating Green Wall of Trees or barrier from Senegal in West Africa to Djibouti in East Africa but for a set of integrated actions in addressing the multi-sectoral problems affecting the livelihoods of the people in African Sahel-Saharan region.
The director-general of NAGGW , Mr Goni Ahmed, regretted that desertification was speedily destroying farmlands, livestock and livelihood which he said that if not adequately addressed could spread to other parts of the country.
He noted that since the inception of the GGW programme that over 600 kilometres of shelterbelts, over 200 kilometres of woodlots and almost 300 hectares of orchards had been established, adding that the agency had equally sunk 157 boreholes and established five skill acquisition centres and among others.
The DG said although the GGW project has been faced with some challenges as with any other government projects , the agency would not relent in implementing the vision and mandate of the programme.
Ahmed pointed out that about 43 per cent drylands in Nigeria, covering about 11 states were currently threatened by degradation, leading to food insecurity, abject poverty and forced migration which contributed to insurgency in some areas.
He disclosed that drylands in sub-saharan Africa cover about 14 million sq km which is home to about 70 percent of crop land and 82 percent of livestock holders stressing that productivity in the areas are seriously challenged by natural and human factors.
Part of the mandate of the Desertification and Drought Control department, Ecological Fund Office (EFO) office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) was to address the incessant cases of environmental disasters including desertification.
The director of drought, desertification, coastal zone management (DDCZM) of EFO, Mr Yusuf Aliyu Addy, stated that the office was working assiduously to checkmate the growing rate of 0.6 metres advance of the desert into Nigeria.
He emphasised that EFO complement the activities of National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW) though both organisations had sorted out the skirmishes militating against their progress.
Addy asserted that one of the critical areas raised during their discussions centred on early warning signs for droughts and desertification stating that the federal ministry of environment has placed some data collection installations in parts of Northern Nigeria.
He insisted that the office would soon commence intervention projects in the north- east given the present administration’s determination to cripple insurgency in the affected states.
He noted that EFO suspended most of their projects due to high level of insurgency in the north -east.
The director said that community and state ownership of the projects had posed lots of challenges for the office, saying that plans were underway for states to contribute to the projects effectively for proper ownership.
According to him, “If we bring 65 per cent and they contribute 35 per cent to each project, they will be able to exhibit more ownership and do a lot on issues of dirts and defecations which is part of the greatest challenges.”