Nigeria: Government support needed for farmers to fight desertification, experts say (IRIN)

| January 8, 2018

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When Abbas Gandi lost much of his crop to desertification and drought a few years ago in northwestern Nigeria, he was so disillusioned he considered abandoning his 10-hectare farm.

Drops of sweat running off his forehead, the 68-year-old farmer recalls: “It came as a shock; [it was a] very terrible year. Instead of getting at least 200 bags of [maize], I got between 25 and 30 bags. I would have stopped farming if I hadn’t been used to winning and losing.”

The father of 13 lives in Nigeria’s Sokoto State, close to the Sahara desert. Nigerian farmers like Mr. Gandi are taking steps to combat desertification, but experts say that without concerted government action, they won’t be able to stop their land from degrading.

Desertification threatens the livelihoods of 40 million people in 11 states in northern Nigeria, including Sokoto. When people cut down trees and remove plants, the soil becomes degraded. This puts the whole ecosystem at risk.

These 11 states account for more than a third of Nigeria’s total land area. They are key zones for livestock and crop production, including beans, soya beans, millet, sorghum, tomatoes, melons, peppers, and onions.

Professor Emmanuel Oladipo advises Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment on climate change issues. He says poor land use, unsustainable grazing practices, deforestation, and the food needs of a booming population all contribute to desertification.

Mr. Oladipo explains: “Soil surfaces not protected by permanent vegetation become subject to: erosion by water and wind, crusting by raindrop splash and trampling by animals, salinization by evaporation, and waterlogging.”

Farmers in the north are taking steps to adapt to desertification and more frequent droughts. They are planting trees to provide shade and windbreaks, using diesel-powered pumps for irrigation, and sowing hardier crops such as beans. But these measures aren’t enough.

Nigeria has an annual deforestation rate of about 3.5%, which means that up to 400,000 hectares of forest are cut down each year.

The government is fighting desertification through the National Agency for the Great Green Wall, launched in 2007. The plan is to create a 15-kilometre-wide swathe of trees along the southern edge of the Sahara. More than 20 countries in the Sahel are involved, and they expect to spend about US$8 billion on the initiative.

Nigeria started implementing the plan in 2013. The agency says it has planted five million forest and fruit tree seedlings, as well as hundreds of hectares of shelterbelts, and community woods and orchards.

However, critics say the plan doesn’t involve farmers in the design, implementation, and monitoring of the work.

Murtala Adogi Mohammed is a PhD researcher looking at the impact of climate change in northwestern Katsina State. He says: “Government-designed tree planting projects without the input of the local farmers and key rural stakeholders are not sustainable. To ensure stewardship, ownership, and sustainability, rural dwellers’ buy-in is very important.”

Experts say the government also needs to address the underlying factors that allow deforestation to happen, such as a lack of policy support to manage land and water resources, unmet funding promises, weak monitoring and regulations, and rural poverty.

As well, people’s increased use of land resources for food production, medicine, fuel, fodder, building materials, and household items cannot be sustained.

The soaring demand for fuelwood is one of the biggest concerns in the north. Half of the energy consumed in the country is in the form of fuelwood and charcoal. Rural communities burn over 32 million cubic metres of fuelwood every year.

Mr. Mohammed believes that providing economic incentives such as loans, microcredit schemes, and subsidies for agricultural machinery would reduce poverty and thereby ease the growing pressure on arid lands.

He adds, “Government should also improve the state of social amenities such as rural electricity, which would serve as an alternative to fuelwood as a source of local energy.”

This story was adapted from an article titled “Briefing: Nigerian farmers can’t fight desertification alone” published by IRIN. To read the original article, please see:

Photo: Abbas Gandi in his field. Credit: IRIN_Linus Unah