Daily Trust (Abuja)

30 June 2012

Nigeria: Northern Communities Losing Territory to Desert

Sokoto — Several communities across some northern states are being eaten up by desertification, precipitating mass exodus of people and livestock southward.

Several communities across Borno, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara States are gradually being eaten up by desertification, with reported loss of farm lands and water sources. Livestock are said to be dying in their numbers from thirst and hunger, precipitating mass exodus by inhabitants elsewhere in search of greener pastures.

Borno and Yobe clearly lead the table of states that fall in the category of semi-arid zone in the north eastern part of Nigeria.

The two states with their almost seven million people who are mostly farmers are gripping with the excruciating effects of desertification, a southward encroachment of the Sahara desert.

More disturbing is the loss of vast arable land to desert encroachment, especially in northern parts of the two states where people are now scrambling for the limited arable land to cultivate crops.

Farmers, herders and fishermen are also using various methods to scoop water for human and animal consumption.

In Borno State for instance, the people in Abadam, Kukawa, Gamboru-Ngala Kala-Balge, Mafa Local Government Areas, among others, are facing difficult times as a result of gradual encroachment of the desert which has snatched away their lands.

Such are also the lot of the people in Geidam, Yunusari, Yusufari and Machina Local Government Areas, among others, in Yobe State.

To a greater extent, the famous Lake Chad which has served as a bed of roses for over 30 million people in Borno and Yobe in Nigeria as well as other communities in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Central African Republic in the last few decades has equally fall victim of climate change.

Baga, that once enjoyed a high profile as a fishing center in Borno State, that sat on the tail of the Lake Chad, is now a shadow of its former self. Fishermen hadmoved to other places, the few that remain only catch fingerlings instead of the big fishes that may likely swallow canoes while many others have metamorphosed into subsistent farmers.

Tijjani Doron Baga, a 69-year-old fisherman told Weekly Trust that in the 60s and 70s, when the Lake Chad had its crown, fishermen were kings and people were ever ready to give their daughters' hand in marriage to them.

"Gone are the days when we made money by simply catching fish," he said, while lamenting that the Lake Chad hasreceded significantly to the extent that many houses had been built on the hard land that have chased away the water and its content.

Statistics from experts show that the lake has shrunk from 25,000 to less than 2,000 square kilometers.

"It is unfortunate that the lake has reduced to less than 10 per cent of its original size in the last 50 years," Dr. Sulaiman Mohammed, a geologist said. He attributed the decline to human and climatic circumstances.

In Fatori, a community in Abadam Local Government Area of Borno State, more than half of the people are living like refugees in the war-ravaged town in makeshift houses. Sandstorm has continued to destroy schools and houses in Abadam and neighbouring Mobbar local government area, resulting in dropping of school enrolment and exodus of people.

In most parts of Borno and Yobe States, sand dune is a common sight while residents regularly cope with heavy windstorm that erodes earth surface and exposes it to the devastating effect of sunlight.

In Mallam Fatori, a border town between Nigeria and Niger on the northern fringes and many surrounding communities, the people constantly migrate from one location to another in search of favourable livelihood as a result of constant depletion of their land. Vetibari is a community in Mobbar local government area that is constantly losing its heritage. "We have to travel several kilometers to get water for drinking and other household chores," Mala Gana, a resident of the area told Weekly Trust.

Malam Mulima Idi Mato, Provost, College of Agriculture, Gujba in Yobe State said one of the negative effects of desertification, occasioned by windstorm is that it blows away soil fertility and renders the soil barren.

"The moisture in the land which can support crop production is obtained within 15-30 metres of the soil, but once there is desert manifestation, it will be difficult to have a good yield," he said.

He lamented that River Yobe is also threatened by siltation with attendant effect of fishing and irrigation. "Farmers hardly succeed after first planting, because of shortage of rainfall which does not last for more than 90 days in this part of the country," he said.

"Our famers now do what we call binne - a kind of dry sowing whereby they would plant their crops and wait for the arrival of the rain," he said.

Dr. Abba Kagu, a lecturer at the Department of Geography, University of Maiduguri said drought and desertification are the major environmental problems affecting most parts of the northern states of the country, which according to him, are responsible for the loss of about 351,000 square kilometers of the nation's land mass.

"It is advancing southward at the rate of 0.6kilometres per year, especially along the Niger Republic/Nigeria border," he said.

The Commissioner for Environment in Borno State, Alhaji Hassan Mustapha Aminami said the state government was not unmindful of the ecological challenges confronting it.

He said "tree planting takes centre stage in this administration, because tree planting has not been carried out in the ministry for over 10 years," the commissioner said.

"The governor has mandated the ministry to raise 20 million seedlings of varieties of trees and commence planting as soon as the rainy season sets in. Right here in Maiduguri, we have raised over three million seedlings and activities are going on in Monguno, Biu, Damasak, and Bama. In all these places, we are going to commence transplanting as soon as the rainy season stabilizes.

"We have about 10 million Gum Arabic seedlings; we have about 1.5 million seedlings of Jatropher which we are going to transplant and Jatropher you know provides bio-diesel. We are also going to transplant Moringa, Neem and other associated trees," he said.

In Yobe State, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam has also awarded multi million naira contract to dredge of the River Yobe to allow water to flow freely and to that will spur fishing, irrigation and other economic activities.

But the major problem that is fast tracking desertification in the two states is tree felling because over 85 per cent of the people rely on firewood for cooking.

"Any measure taken to address desertification will be in futility unless the poor people are provided with alternative means of cooking," Malam Ibrahim Aminu, a forestry expert in Maiduguri, said.

The situation in Borno and Yobe is not different from that of Katsina where desertification is ravaging mostly border communities. The most affected local government areas include Jibia, Kaita, Daura, Batsari, Zango and Mai'adua - and they share border with Niger republic.

Most of the farmlands and roads were consumed by desertification in most of the affected areas. In Jibia local government area, for instance, some farmers had deserted their communities due to the devastating effect of ecology.

Also in Daura Local Government Area, Weekly Trust observed that many farmlands and roads were washed away by erosion caused by desertification. The story is the same in Batsari, Mani, Mai'adua and Kaita Local Government Areas.

Although government has maintained the tempo of annual tree plantating, Weekly Trust learnt that the effort seems not to yield positive result.

Alhaji Aminu Ibrahim, a resident of Kaita, attributed the menace of desertification to lack of commitment from the government. "The problem is gradually increasing with government at both state and local government levels watch as erosion wash away our farmlands."

However, the state Commissioner for Environment, Alhaji Aminu Ibrahim Safana said the state government is raising four to five million seedlings every year for planting across the state, in a bid to fight desertification.

"We do not only raise seedlings, but we also promote tree plantating in the state. We have different models of planting trees. We have community and private woodlots and schools programmes, among others," he said.

Like in Katsina, communities in Sokoto State sharing bother with Niger Republic are mostly affected by the menace of desertification. The affected local government areas are Isa, Sabon Birnin, Gada, Ilella, Tangaza and Gudu.

Villagers in these areas said they had lost houses, farmlands and recorded decrease in harvests owing to the menace.

According to Director, Forestry, Sokoto State Ministry of Environment, Salisu Shehu Sayyinna, studies had shown that desert encroachment is moving inwards into the country at 0.4kms annually.

He said the state government has been making efforts towards curtailing the menace of desert encroachment and that it also collaborates with the Federal Government and donor agencies to support tree planting and management of forest towards checking the menace .

He also acknowledged the contribution of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which he said has been assisting the state government for the last 10 years in community-based projects as well as non-governmental organizations such as the Giginya Environmental Protection Agency, which he noted is also checking the desert encroachment by mobilizing people to plant trees at various places.

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