Mitigating the impacts of desertification and drought
By Abubakar Jimoh
Over the years, desertification and drought are two related disasters largely contributing to high rate of famine, especially in the Northern part of Nigeria.
In the analysis of the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification was described as a process involving land degradation in a dryland area resulting to environmental crises, such as loss of biodiversity and global warming.
Similarly, drought is a condition of unusually dry weather in a geographic area, where rainfall is normally present; resulting to water shortage that seriously interferes with human activities such as water-supply reservoir emptiness, wells dry up, crop damage and other consequences which trigger ‘desertification’.
Unarguably, desertification and drought have continuous to sabotage the nation’s socio-economic, food security and employment opportunities. For instance, about 35 million people in northern part of the country are reportedly suffering from the dangers of desertification. While not less than 50,000 farmers in about 100 villages in Yobe state have been affected by sand dunes.
Also, it was estimated that over 55 million people have been seriously affected in Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states; and approximately 350,999 hectares of land is lost to desertification annually.
It is noteworthy to recall that phenomena of drought had triggered the recent crisis which erupted between Gwari farmers and Fulani herdsmen as a result of encroachment of herds of cattle into farmlands in Gwako, under Gwagwalada Local Government Area of the Federal Capital Territory.
Not surprisingly, after the crisis, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) observed that during the dry season, low feedstuff and low water in rivers would trigger an early movement of herds in search of pasture and water as early as December/January, thereby increasing the risk of conflicts between herdsmen and farmers. Overgrazing and overcrowding settlements could further intensify conflicts between herdsmen and farmers in the affected areas.
In its surveillance, YADI revealed that communal clash has remained a persistent phenomenon between farmers and herdsmen across the country, especially during the dry season starting from November/December every year.
Also, as struggles persist against low feed purchasing power and the general fall in prices of animals as a result of deterioration in animal body conditions in dry season, the country is expected to witness further Farmers-Herdsmen conflicts across the country.
More importantly, a study carried out by National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) under the leadership of leadership of the Director-General, Alhaji Muhammed Sani-Sidi in collaboration with United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) showed that both natural and human activities have contributed to the menace of desertification and drought.
Such activities include inadequate rain fall, harsh climate condition, over-cultivation which exhausts soil, overgrazing involving removal of vegetation that prevents and poorly drained irrigation.
In addition, Justin Uwazuruonye in 2010 reported that excessive heat and dust could further result in the upsurge of diseases such as meningitis and asthma. Millet the main crop in the north would experience crop failure and losses culminating into localised production shortages. The situation could lead to low food supply at market and household levels, unusually high food prices at harvest, reducing food access for the most affected population.
While low water levels in rivers and pounds will lead to low production of dry season farming and fishing, resulting in poor income. Low hydro power generation could hamper economic activities due to decline in electricity production earlier than usual.
In a bid to minimize the impact of this hazard on households in the vulnerable areas, Alhaji Sani Sidi in 2010 has gone into technical partnership with National Space Research and Development Agency (NSRDA) and United Nations Space Based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UNI-SPIDER). This led to the adoption of space-based technology to assist in obtaining instant information that could enhance disasters prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
The space technology is used to display spatial location of the drought vulnerable communities, visualize the potential risk points of interest, highlight the possible save areas for the evacuation purpose in case of emergency, and take inventory of critical facilities available. After this, earlier warning alert is issued to the population at risk.
YADI recommended that all levels of Government should make good drinking water available for both man and animals in water deficit areas, through the provision of sufficient wells or boreholes in the affected communities.
While urging farmers to start planting at the appropriate period, consciously use their food reserve, and improve feeds during the growing season in accordance with guidance and advice of state agriculture services.
Traditional rulers and community heads across the country should encourage the herdsmen to make adequate provisions for their animal feeds against dry season; through massive storage of animal feedstuffs during the growing season.
Traditional rulers and community heads should institute alternative means of conflict resolution, especially between their farmers and herdsmen to avoid undesirable elements that could capitalize on the insecurity in the country to attack innocent citizens.
In addition, YADI advises traditional rulers to encourage active participation of their community members in the ongoing NEMA’s campaigns and sensitization on Disaster Risks Reduction (DRR), which includes mitigating against the upsurge of desertification and drought across the country.
Among such measures instituted by Alhaji Sani Sidi since 2010 are constant seminars, workshops, public education and enlightenment involving advocacy visitation to states and grassroots, purposely to build disaster-resilient communities against the impacts of global warming.
Upholding ecological management practices such as planting of trees, shelterbelts to protect soil from wind and water erosion are found to have been effectively adopted in various developing nations like Bolivia, Mali, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, among others in combating their environmental challenges.
Nigerian Communities are advised to follow their counterparts and put in place appropriate ecosystem management to conserve major ecological services; and abide by ethical use of natural resources to meet the socioeconomic, political and cultural needs of current and future generations.
Encouraging local participation and community education on environmental matters and land use innovation is a proven solution to tackle the hazards of drought and desertification. This should include adequate sensitization concerning various aspects of drought and water scarcity to predict, and articulate local methods and strategies which could help to minimize the effects of drought and desertification.
Following a study conducted in 2009 by University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka to mitigate communities’ vulnerability to the effects of climate change, it was discovered that through community-based participatory risk assessment, the community coping capacity would be enhanced to share responsibilities to reduce risk, and take decision to battle water scarcity and seasonal droughts.
In area of education and enlightenment to enhance local skills and methods, farmers’ needs must be fully understood or met by the scientific community, especially the needs to adequately reduce the training to local language that every farmer and community members can understand. This will encourage a wide participation and achievement of the training objectives.
Effort should be made to reduce desertification by developing sustainable sources of income for rural women as an alternative to their commerce in wood. These alternative livelihoods in the words of include vegetable gardens, literacy and financial education, training in soap making and in making energy-efficient stoves for rural women.
The benefits of such project have been highlighted in the words of the Coordinator Malian Rural Women Development Programme, Johanna Togola in 2009 that diversification of the communities income sources, and reduction in wood-cutting, will mitigate the future threat of intensified climate change and weather-related hazards such as flooding, landslides, drought and desertification.
Empowering the communities with education about the environment, and giving them the skills to diversify their livelihoods is an environmentally conscious way that can lead to significant success in effecting change. The States’ Environmental Agencies can organize environmental education for the desertification and drought vulnerable communities to address challenges of deforestation, erosion, cutting wood, farming, and water, as well as to improve stoves and planting trees.
Communities must therefore avoid unethical land use practices like overgrazing, overexploitation of plants, trampling of soils, and unsustainable irrigation.
Moreover, instituting poverty eradication programs in the degraded communities will be a welcome development to secure the socio-economic and environmental conditions for prosperity, stability and equity. This can be achieved through the joint effort of local communities, regional organizations, governments, Non-Governmental Organizations, and other related stakeholders.
Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster (YADI), and lives in Abuja.