Anxiety as desertification threatens food production in the North




Desertification of farmlands in Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Jigawa, Borno, Katsina, Kebbi, Bauchi, Yobe, and Gombe states has increased in recent time. Despite government’s intervention, there seems to be no end in sight. KEHINDE OSASONA in this piece looks at the effects on the menace on Nigeria’s environment and food production.

The hazard

It has been estimated by environmental scientists that the total cost of environmental degradation in Nigeria would amount to about US$5.110 billion per annum, just as the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports in 2001 also indicated that more than 100 countries covering 3.6 million hectares are presently affected by desertification.

In his 2015 paper, an ecologist and environmental biologist, University of Ibadan, Olagunju Ebenezer, indicated that Nigeria is faced with rapid desert encroachment with 63.83 per cent of the country’s land area already impinged on by desertification.

According to the report, the situation has in a way affected biological diversity, ecosystem, soil fertility, the hydrological cycle, crop yields, livestock production, and vegetative cover of croplands, pastures and woodlands of the affected environment.

To compound the whole problem, the perpetual movement of the Sahara Desert towards the south on a yearly basis has equally become a source of concern not only to environment experts, but to inhabitants of the northern belt of Nigeria who bear the brunt of desertification minutes after minutes.

The affected states in Nigeria have a combined population of about 40 million people, and account for about 35% of the country’s total land area. To worsen the situation, seven adjacent states to the south are reported to have about 10% to 15% of their land areas threatened by desertification.

Scientists also held that the Sahara Desert, being the largest hot desert in the world, is advancing southwards at a rate of 0.6 Kilometers per annum, causing Nigeria to lose 35,000 hectares of its arable land annually in the north.

Nigeria, according to them, loses about 351,000 vast lands to desert on a yearly basis at the rate of about 0.6 km, and on the verge of losing more if it remains unchecked.

Accordingly, they equally held that land degradation, desertification, drought, soil erosion, over grazing and continuous over-exploitation of marginal lands alone has accounted for about 73% of vast land lost to the menace in the last 15 years.

In Africa, for instance, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Mauritania, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Eritrea and Mauritania and the circum-Sahara enclaves such as Cape Verde are believed to be among the worse-hit countries due to their peculiarities and nearness to the desert fringe.

Also, a report from the Federal Ministry of Environment has attributed the growing disaster to the plundering activities going on daily in the forests, saying more than 30 million tonnes of firewood are lost annually due to hewers’ activities.

“The rate of fuel wood consumption far exceeds replenishment rate. The consequence of human dependence on wood for fuel and construction is that about 350,000 hectares of land is under the threat of deforestation annually.

“Meanwhile, the annual rate of reforestation is estimated at about 30,000 hectares,” the report indicated.

NiMet’s concerns

In Nigeria, the country’s Meteorological agency, NiMet, recently organised a stakeholders’ workshop on climate and weather information services in Nigeria, saying that the country loses about 350,999 hectares of land to drought and desertification every year.

The workshop which was in collaboration with the African Science for Weather Information and Forecasting Techniques in Abuja, listed Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Jigawa, Borno, and Yobe states as the most-prone areas which often experience dry spell/drought periodically.

In his remarks, the director-general of the agency, Prof Sani Mashi, stated that symptoms of periodic drought were also present in Mokwa, Niger state, and Ogoja, Cross River state.

He said, “Also, food and nutrition security in Nigeria, as in most countries, is closely related to productivity in the agriculture sector, which unfortunately is one of the most vulnerable sectors, following high susceptibility of its key resource.

“For example, Nigeria loses approximately 350,999 hectares of land to drought and desertification annually, thereby threatening the livelihood of millions of people, especially farmers, while increasing frequencies of coastal flood and storm surge are taking over its coastline at the rate of 30-40m land annually.”

Shelter belts crumbling

But in combating desertification, environmentalists have over the years maintained choice of tree species and soils with stable structural aggregates due to its organic matter content.

Despite government’s efforts at maintaining the culture of establishing shelter belts along desert fringes of eight northern states, the programme under the World Bank-assisted afforestation programme has not been very effective as trees are being felled for firewood, while some have even withered due to high temperatures, inadequate rainfall patterns and drought.

In the same vein, past national efforts to combat desertification via the Great Green Wall Programme appear to have also failed.

In its bid to realise the Great Green Wall Programme plan, the federal government developed the National Strategic Action Plan (NSAP) for its implementation under the Support Project of African Union Commission (AUC) co-funded by the European Union (EU), Global Mechanism of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (GM UNCCD) and executed by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The intervention is aimed at improving soil degradation, conserving biodiversity, improving agricultural productivity and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

During former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, the then Minister of Environment, Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, reeled out some of the policies relevant to desertification control which were the National Policy on the Environment and the National Agricultural Policy, Plans and Strategies.

In addition to that policy, Nigerian National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), and the States Environmental Action Plans (SEAPs) were prepared for each of the 36 states of the federation.

Food crisis looms

Following high susceptibility of its key resource bases like soil, land and water, productivity in the agriculture sector, has become one of the most vulnerable sectors.

It has been established by stakeholders that the menace is already threatening the country’s food security and the livelihood of millions of people, especially farmers, while increasing frequencies of desert fringes of the northern states have caused dunes which have already covered a large expanse of agricultural farmlands.

For the fight against food insecurity to be won, experts are of the opinion that government has to develop a more integrated and comprehensive approach to the management of land and water across the country.

Mr Gbenga Akinola, an environmentalist, explained to Blueprint Weekend that if desertification must be curtailed, then practices like deforestation, indiscriminate grazing and poor land use must be discouraged.

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