interviewBy Hamisu Kabir Matazu
Damaturu — Desertification is on the increase in the north with the desert receding at a rate scientists consider alarming. In this interview with Professor Musa Alabi, Vice Chancellor, Yobe State University, he speaks on how the Desert Research Monitoring and Control Centre (DRMCC) established at the university would spearhead efforts to mitigate desert encroachment and the moving sand dunes in the north, among other issues. Excerpts:
People would like to know what informed the decision by Yobe State University to establish the Desert Research Monitoring and Control Centre (DRMCC)?
We conceived this project because desert studies being conducted are merely academic studies like, sociology of desert, anthropology of desert, history of desert. All these are academic papers, it add value to academic work but, it does not address the real problems that is going out practically on the field, and seeing the desert itself and bringing in the mitigation factor and strategies in order to curve the movement of this desert. These sand dunes move around like human beings. You will see a lot of sand dunes in one place, the next time you go back in about four months, some kilometers must have been covered by the same moving sand dunes. So there are ways of mitigating those movements through what we called desert fixation and so on.
These are strategies that have been evolved by others around the world like Egypt, India, Israel and so many other desert prone areas around the world. And so the university basically contributes to its community, it looks for some immediate problems, how does it blend with its community, and does it solve some societal problems, and so we decided to pick one out of many. The one which is the plectrum of the problem, which is desert itself, it makes life unbearable, there is no economic activity, you cannot plant, and you cannot do anything. So we conceived that idea and fortunately the consultant is around.
The centre was established way back in 2009/2010 session with funds obtained from the Educational Trust Fund (ETF) now TETFUND, the project includes the equipment of so many varied nature worth N260 million.
After conceiving this concept and say okay let's call it Desert Research Monitoring and Control Centre, the idea came to us but we don't even know how to start it. We decided to pay a visit to Desert Research Centre Egypt and met the director there and discussed with him on the idea, telling him we didn't know where to start. He agree to come to Nigeria and help us build the centre, and finally we were able to recruit the Deputy Director of the Egypt Desert Research Centre in the person of Engineer Professor Galal about eight months ago
How were you able to overcome the complexity and the task ahead in developing the centre?
We visited other countries including India to see how such centres are operating and we are lucky to have found centres with world class resources to collaborate with.
We have laboratories where we carry out researches on how to monitor and at the same time control the movement of the desert, and also improve the social lives of those people staying in the desert. So this centre is a practical one that deals and solve problem of desert not just academic.
How far do you think the project will go?
I don't know how far this project will go but at least at the beginning this is what we have for now, we have put something and I hope those who will come after us will be able to put something that we will be proud of in years to come.
We know that establishing this centre is a capital intensive project, is the university buoyant enough to sponsor such a project?
The centre has equipment that has to be updated yearly and you know due to the capital intensive nature we cannot fund the centre alone. We are collaborating with other centres around the world.
What academic benefits are you expecting from this centre?
So many. You know in the university we used to say you publish or you perish, you can just stay there and you will not get promoted for years as long you don't have publication, so since we don't have enough researches going on in the desert, our people in geography, biology and even sociology, they can come together and look at particular problem and apply some solution, write papers and go to seminars and so on. And that will enhance their ability to move on the ladder of academic world.
Apart from that, we also hope to run something like international seminar on desert, that is if security situation permits. We hope to run so many things like that and we hope to engage the people around. This centre I can tell you will benefit all of us.
What are the socio-economic advantages people will tap from the centre?
When we went to Egypt we went to their animal husbandry section, we saw a lot of breeds of camels, ships, cows and so on, and the quantity of milk produced per cow or ship is astonishing. We hope that if we can have such cooperation with them, where they will help us inseminate our local breeds, make them more productive we will generate a lot of income, help our communities and so on. So there are so many benefits that the centre will bring and we only pray that whatever we dream of is accomplished.
Finally, I would like to say the contribution of press is something invaluable to this effort, because may be through this our discussion, the Federal Ministry for Environment or may be any interested NGO may just come across of what we have done now and indicate interest, sky they say is the limit.