CHIKA OKEKE examines attempts by governments and stakeholders in the African region to protect its landmass from mind boggling desertification.
The Sahel is the eco-climatic and biogeographic zone of transition in Africa, between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south.
Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the south-central latitudes of northern Africa, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea.
With an estimated landmass of 3.053 million km², the countries under the Sahel are Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon and Central African Republic (CAR).
Also, the Horn of Africa is a peninsula in Northeast Africa that extended hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden.
With an estimated population of over 122. 7 million and 1.883 million km² land mass, the area is the easternmost projection of the African continent.
The countries and territories under the Horn of Africa are Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Regrettably, the Sahel and Horn Of Africa are marred by developmental challenges and mostly degraded, as major part of the region is surrounded with desert or dry lands.
Given its geographical location, the Sahel and Horn Of Africa are threatened by desertification.
Aside desertification, the region has also been affected with severe drought even as the recent climate change problems also aggravated desertification.
Since the low income earners heavily depended on natural resources for survival, drought has further worsened their livelihood conditions.
In Nigeria, desertification remains a major challenge to national development especially in the northern parts of the country.
This has persistently degraded land resources which provided livelihood to majority of the locals, a situation that triggered farmers-herdsmen conflict, insurgency, hunger, migration and chronic poverty.
Sadly, between 30-50 per cent of front line areas, including 10-15 per cent of the buffer areas are threatened by desertification in the country.
11 states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauch, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi cut across the north-east and north- west region of Nigeria are the frontline areas.
With a loss of about 351, 000 hectares of the nation’s landmass to desert-like conditions annually, meeting the present and future needs like energy, water, food and other essentials is challenging.
However, concern for global sustainable development prompted countries around the world to make country level commitments to ecosystem based assessment and management practices in support of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).
The UNCED which was commonly referred as ‘Earth Summit,’ took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 3-14 June 1992.
One of the issues raised during the conference was land degradation, a situation that compelled the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (INCCD) to adopt the report of the Earth summit on June 17, 1994 as a veritable tool to address land degradation.
Worried by the situation, the government of Kenya, Senegal, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in partnership with African countries and development partners unveiled the ‘African Initiative for Combating Desertification (AI-CD), meant to strengthen resilience to climate change in the Sahel and Horn of Africa. Launched in Nairobi, Kenya on August 2016, the initiative was intended to make nations and communities resilient to climate change by promoting measures for combating desertification in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.
In line with its determination to address the lingering problems of desertification in the region, the federal government through the ministry of environment hosted a two-day national workshop on AI-CD in Abuja.
The minister of environment, Suleiman Hassan Zarma, lamented the disruption of ecological system due to poor land use, population pressure and the devastating activities of insurgents in the north – east, a situation that contributed to land degradation, loss of lives and means of livelihood.
He noted that government has developed policies and built institutional as well as legislative capacities to enhance effective actions aimed at reducing the impacts of drought and desertification.
Zarma emphasised that government in an effort to tackle the twin problem of drought and desertification in the northern parts of the country had embarked on several sectoral programmes ranging from mass afforestation and reforestation, including shelterbelt development, water resources management and targeted agricultural programmes.
The director of human resources, Princess Bolatito Obisesan, who spoke on behalf of the minister listed other programmes as the provision of critical infrastructures to improve the well-being of the affected people likewise to reduce their vulnerability to harsh and extreme climatic conditions.
He assured of its commitment in strengthening the Lake Chad basin commission for improved livelihood of locals in the region.
The minister maintained that government established the North East Development Commission to restore human dignity and bring succor to residents of the areas in line with its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
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.
It was intended to provide long-term solutions to desertification, land degradation, drought, climate change and biodiversity loss within the West Africa sub-region as well as adopt integrated Soil and Land Management (SLM) approach in its operation.
Zarma assured that government would continue to support the initiative and other initiatives including the AI-CD, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), the African Ministerial Council on Environment (AMCEN), JICA and among others.
He emphasised that combating desertification involves integrated development of land, rehabilitating degraded land and reclaiming desertified land.
In her contribution, the permanent secretary in the ministry, Mrs Ibukun Odusote, stated that desertification and land degradation have continually led to the dwindling of the national resources base, considered as the source of livelihood of majority of the rural populace, thereby resulting to pervasive poverty in the affected region.
She was worried that despite efforts by governments through commitments of financial and material resources at all levels to combat desertification and ameliorate the effects of droughts, that little result was recorded due to the magnitude of the challenge and huge financial requirements, including lack of synergy among stakeholders.
Odusote said that curbing the problem of desertification in Nigeria began far back in colonial days, with an Anglo-French commission of 1937 that investigated desertification report in northern Nigeria and directed Emirates to embark on massive tree planting.
According to her, “Since then, various governments in Nigeria at local, state and national levels likewise organisations such as World Bank and United Nations have contributed human and material resources to combat the problem and ameliorate the living conditions of the people in the affected areas.
She stated that federal government has made tremendous effort towards checking the menace of desertification through the development of a National Policy on Desertification and Drought mitigation as well as the implementation of projects targeted at curbing the problem.
The permanent secretary highlighted the projects as sand dune stabilisation, development of shelterbelts and windbreaks, development of rangelands, woodlot establishment and the Great Green Wall initiatives, implemented by the National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW).
She said that another noteworthy initiative of the government was the creation of the department of drought and desertification in the ministry of environment, to coordinate government activities towards combating desertification and ameliorating the effects of drought in the country.
Lending her voice, the country representative of JICA, Mrs Okumor Makiko, disclosed that the AI-CD workshop would serve as a good example for other member countries to promote actions against desertification with multi-stakeholder partnerships.
She pleaded with stakeholders to initiate creative and strategic ways, meant to coordinate activities with partners and to mobilise resources that would bring tangible results in combating desertification.
Also, the national focal person of AI-CD, Mr Bala Gukut, pointed out that the essence of the organisation was to make nations and communities resilient to climate change by promoting measures for combating desertification in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.
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