The rising demand for Gum Arabic in the international market for the production of certain foods and beverages, pharmaceuticals, paints and polish, has made the plant a major foreign exchange earner for some countries in the Sub-Saharan region.
For several countries, the Gum Arabic tree is not only a major player in the economy but also a viable plant that is used in designed efforts to deal with the menace of desertification.
The Gum Arabic tree serves as a wind breaker and it protects the soil against erosion, while aiding the soil to regain its fertility for agricultural production.
The high resistance plant, which can withstand the arid climatic conditions of the Sub-Saharan region, is widely regarded as a viable economic resource and a veritable shield against environmental hazards.
In Nigeria, desert encroachment has certainly threatened crop production and food security, particularly in the northern part of the country.
Commenting of the menace of desert encroachment, Alhaji Idi Gubana, the Commissioner for Environment in Yobe, said that 11 states, including Yobe, were facing the hazards of desertification.
His words: “Nigeria has 1,500km of land affected by desert encroachment in 11 frontline states sharing common boundaries with Niger Republic, and Yobe State has the longest distance of 323km.
“The arid climatic conditions, accompanied with long stretches of sand dunes in Tarmuwa, Bursari, Geidam, Yunusari, Yusufari, Bade, Nguru and Machina Local Government Areas, have made agriculture in the state less productive.’’
Gubana said that the livelihoods of 85 per cent of the state’s population that depended on subsistence agriculture were threatened by desert encroachment and drought.
Buttressing Gubana’s viewpoint, some farmers in Yobe say that they have jettisoned farming because it is no longer profitable due to the decline in rainfall and the loss of soil fertility in their areas.
However, Gum Arabic farmers and marketers in Yobe are agitating for the establishment of Gum Arabic plantations in the frontline states because the climatic conditions in these states are suitable for the cultivation of Gum Arabic trees.
This is because the plantation of Gum Arabic trees will aid efforts to combat desert encroachment, while boosting the economy of the frontline states and the country in general.
Alhaji Jafaru Ayuba, the Vice-Chairman of Gum Arabic Farmers/Marketers Association in Yobe, said that Gum Arabic plant, which had several economic benefits, could withstand harsh weather conditions and effectively combat desertification.
“The plant, by its nature, has more survival chances than any other tree in the arid region and it also has more economic opportunities because of the increasing demand for it in the international market,’’ he said.
He, however, called on the government to procure and distribute the improved “Sudan’’ variety of the Gum Arabic seedlings to individuals and farmers’ groups under an economic empowerment programme.
“The northern part of Yobe State, which is devastated by desert encroachment, shares the same arid conditions with Sudan, and this makes their Gum Arabic variety the most suitable variety for this environment,’’ he said.
Ayuba, nonetheless, decried the activities of firewood merchants who engaged in illegal felling of trees, saying: “Firewood sellers have been sabotaging the efforts of Gum Arabic farmers by felling the trees.’’
He, therefore, solicited the engagement of forest guards to guard against illegal tree felling so as to protect the trees and ecosystem.
Nevertheless, the Yobe State Government said that it was collaborating with the Federal Government and the other 10 frontline states on the implementation of the Great Green Wall Programme.
The programme aims at establishing shelter belts to fight desert encroachent, check the effects of wind erosion and halt further advancement of desertification inwards.
Gubana said that Yobe had already established 28km of shelter belts in six local government areas, with two boreholes constructed in each of the six local government areas to ensure adequate water supply to irrigate the trees.
At the launch of the tree planting campaign last year, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam directed each of the 17 local government councils in the state to establish three-hectare tree plantations, as part of efforts to fight desertification and drought.
He, however, pledged that the state government would provide the resources and technicalities required to effectively combat desertification.
Gaidam said that government had procured improved varieties of mango, guava, citrus and date palm for distribution to the public, so as to encourage them to imbibe the culture of orchards’ development.
As part of the anti-desertification campaign, the Emir of Tikau, Alhaji Muhammad Ibn Abubakar, said that 36,000 trees would be planted along major roads in the emirate to preserve and beautify the environment.
He also said that “drastic measures have been taken against bush burning so as to protect the trees and ecosystem.’’
All the same, observers insist that the 11 frontline states, in collaboration with the Federal Government, support groups and farmers, should establish shelter belts of Gum Arabic trees to effectively combat the menace of desert encroachment in the country.
Farmers, who have hitherto abandoned farming because of poor yields, say that with adequate support and guidance they are willing to engage in Gum Arabic farming.
One of such farmers, Babagana Lawan, said: “I must, however, admit that I don’t know the varieties of Gum Arabic and how to nurture the trees or where to sell the product.
“But with support and guidance from experts, l am sure many farmers will take to Gum Arabic farming,’’ he added.
All in all, analysts argue that the increasing demand for Gum Arabic in the international market has somewhat provided Nigeria with an opportunity to provide employment for its citizens, while promoting economic growth and prosperity.
They urge the three tiers of government to put in place the necessary incentives, including setting up marketing boards, to encourage farmers to embrace Gum Arabic cultivation, while exploiting the vast economic and ecological potential of the plant.

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