SOMETIME ago, Ibrahim Magaji visited his village in the Gurbin Bore Zurmi Local Government Area of Zamfara after living in Lagos for about 10 years.
Magaji was full of expectations that when he got to the village, he would be able to reminisce about his youthful years in the village.
However, his dream turned out to be a mirage, as the whole village has virtually disappeared and covered by sand, with no plant or water to sustain livestock or farming.
Magaji was also confounded when he visited his relations in Kebbi, Sokoto and Katsina states and found out that over a hundred villages had similarly disappeared.
“I saw that the villagers now have land, which could no longer support farming, dried up wells and parched grasslands.
“The villagers had since relocated to towns and cities where they took up jobs such as commercial motorcyclists, taxi drivers, water vendors, cobblers or dishwashers in restaurants.
“These are people who had never been outside their villages before but they were forced to relocate because their cherished natural resources have been ravaged by desertification,” he moaned.
No matter how alarmist Magaji might sound, the scenario aptly reflects the situation in several states across the northern part of Nigeria.
Environmentalists say that the impact of desertification is, however, more pronounced on 11 northern states that are regarded as the “frontline states’’.
These frontline states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
The increasing menace of desertification in the frontline states has naturally elicited the growing concern of ecologists.
Dr Bukhar Hassan, the Director (Drought, Desertification and Amelioration) in the Federal Ministry of Environment, expressed concern that some settlements, especially those adjacent to the country’s border with Niger Republic, have been taken over by the desert.
He stressed that a lot people from the settlements had been forced to relocate to the “buffer states’’ due to desert encroachment.
“The 11 frontline states largely bear the brunt of desertification. Desertification in Nigeria is caused by the southward movement of Sahara Desert into the country and the first ports of call are these states,” he said.
Environmentalists describe desertification as a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry land region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife.
Desertification is caused by several factors, including climate change and human activities, and it is a major ecological problem across the world.
The experts, however, say that anthropogenic factors, such as deforestation, over-exploitation of land, bush burning and over-grazing, combine to accelerate the desertification process.
Mr John Odey, a former Minister of Environment, once informed the House of Representatives’ Committee on Climate Change that desertification in Nigeria was moving southward at a rate of 600 metres annually.
Another ex-Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Mailafia, at one time also raised an alarm that 43.3 per cent of the total land area of Nigeria was prone to desertification.
Her words: “40 million Nigerians are affected by desertification each year and this poses serious threats to the livelihoods of the citizens.
“The problem is quite alarming and it can cripple efforts to provide land resources-based ecosystem services that are important to a number of development sectors.
“The rate of desertification in the country is reported to be high, with the attendant destruction of farmlands and livelihoods, particularly in the affected states.
“Also, Nigeria is losing about 2, 168 square kilometres of rangeland and cropland to desertification each year and this poses serious threats to the livelihoods of about 40 million people.’’
Although desertification is somewhat irreversible but experts insist that it could be controlled via an ecosystem-based approach which includes tree-planting initiatives.
Moniques Barbut, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), said that the adoption of an ecosystem-based approach would protect the land from the vagaries of weather, while securing its productivity for present and future generations.
One of the global measures put in place to combat desertification involves a partnership between the UN and some intergovernmental organisations which declared the 2010 to 2020 period as the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (UNDDD).
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is one of the organisations that are promoting the adoption of the ecosystem-based approach in the anti-desertification campaign.
Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, the President of IFAD, bemoaned the growing impact of desertification on the environment and humanity.
“The loss of arable land to desertification is a huge obstacle to efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger. Every day at IFAD, we are confronted with the human cost of desertification.
“The impact of desertification is more pronounced on subsistence farmers, nomadic herdsmen and other people who depend on land and rain for their survival. Their land is less productive and their soil is less resilient.
“For millions of people, halting desertification is a matter of life and death. When people cannot earn an income from the land or feed themselves, they must migrate or starve.
“If we are going to eliminate rural poverty and make communities more resilient to climate change, we have to address how land and natural resources are managed,” he added.
Besides, Elwyn Grainger-Jones, IFAD’s Director of Environment and Climate, said that the adoption of a healthy ecosystem-based approach could foster productivity and diversify income-generating activities.
“The involvement of grassroots organisations, community groups, women and young people in planning and managing the natural resources which sustain agriculture is essential for an ecosystem-based approach,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr. Umar Dahiru, an environmentalist, said that the planting of indigenous trees across Nigeria would aid efforts to combat the effects of desertification, particularly in the frontline states.
Dahiru, who is the Executive Director of Kano-based Africa Desertification Control Initiative, underscored the need to encourage farmers to plant indigenous tree crops in the frontline states, adding that such cultivation was known as desert culture.
According to him, desert culture’ involves the cultivation of crops which canbe used as cash crops and simultaneously used to control desertification
Dahiru stressed the need to plant indigenous trees across the country to strengthen ongoing desertification-control efforts of the Federal Government, particularly in the frontline states.
One of the major strategies of the Federal Government to control desertification is the Great Green Wall Initiative, which is aimed at the recovery of over 22,000 hectares of degraded lands in the frontline states.
The project, which involves 11 countries, including Nigeria, aims at constructing “a wall of trees’’, stretching 4,300 miles long and nine miles wide across Africa, from the Republic of Djibouti to Senegal.
The Minister of Environment, Mrs. Laurentia Mallam, recently assured officials of the Pan-African Agency for the Great Green Wall that the Federal Government had started implementing the project.
She said that the initiative was a community-based project and an ecosystem-based adaptation measure, which was adopted to combat desertification in the 11 frontline states.
She stressed that the Federal Government approved N10 billion for the project’s implementation, which had started with a series of activities.
The minister said that project started in 2013 with a sensitisation campaign, the planting of 2, 871,415 tree seedlings for forestry and orchards, as well as the establishment a 167-km shelterbelt.
Mallam said that 113. 5 hectares of orchards plantations and 53 hectares of woodlots had been established under the project, while 146 youths had been engaged as forest guards to oversee the project’s implementation.
She said that the ministry was implementing some schemes in 2014, starting with planting of 12, 500 tree seedlings.
She said that the other activities of the ministry included the provision of 92 solar/wind-powered boreholes, the establishment of 800 hectares of grazing reserves in four states and supporting the livelihoods of 2,220 youths, among others.
“It is, therefore, necessary to ensure the initiative’s sustained implementation, so as to improve the wellbeing of millions of people whose livelihoods were threatened by desertification,’’ she added.
Mallam expressed optimism that the implementation of the Green Great Wall Initiative would tackle the menace of desertification in the country in a pragmatic way.
Besides, the minister disclosed that a bill on the establishment of the Great Green Wall Agency had been sent to the National Assembly so as to fast-track the project’s implementation.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to celebrate this year’s World Day to Combat Drought and Desertification on June 17, ecologists urge the National Assembly to expedite action on the bill’s passage to save the country from the gruesome effects of desertification.
They also call on the government at all levels to initiate pragmatic tree-planting schemes, as part of efforts to combat desertification.

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