The Minister of the Environment, Mrs Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafiya penultimate week launched Nigeria's sector of the pan-African project of re-forestation in Bachaka, Kebbi State. Known as The Great Green Wall, the project consists of 15 km-wide and 7,775 km long from Dakar, in Senegal, to Djibouti, traversing eleven African countries.
The announcement would be most welcome barring the embarrassing fact that the same programme was first launched in 1984 by the then military government as Nigeria's component of the Great Green Wall project to be a bulwark against desertification.
In 2000, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration did another launching ceremony near Kazaure in Jigawa State. Some civil servants in the Ministry of Environment apparently pulled out a speech from an old file which Mrs Mailafiya read, making it look like a new initiative.
-The Great Green Wall initiative is a pan-African proposal to "green" the continent from west to east in order to battle desertification. It aims at tackling poverty and the degradation of soils in the Sahel-Saharan region, focusing on a strip of land of 15 km wide and 7,775 km long from Dakar in the West to Djibouti in the East, covering some eleven countries. The aim is rehabilitate about 225,000 hectares of degraded land, enhance food security, reduce poverty and generate employment for about half a million people in its first year of implementation.
A National Council on Afforestation and Shelterbelt chaired by the vice president that is supposed to move the initiative forward, with expert input by a standing National Technical Committee chaired by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment.
States in the desert prone belt were expected to set up similar structures for effective implementation of the programme.
Because desertification is a particularly serious problem, it is regrettable that such structures are yet to function in the face of the slow but relentless advance of desertification
Nigeria alone loses 2,168 square kilometres of rangeland and cropland every year to desertification, posing serious threats to the livelihoods of about 40 million people.
The implementation of the Green Wall project is decades been overdue; the rituals of launching the programme by succeeding governments should give way to concrete action to see it through.
Unless the project is off the ground and sustained, with the current advance of the Sahara Desert, it is not unlikely that in say one hundred or so years hence, vast swaths of the Northern region, and some parts of the middle belt could become desert, devoid of any population and vegetation activity. Indeed, 43.3 per cent of Nigeria's total land mass is prone to desertification, and the frontline states face the greatest hazards.
The notion of ensuring that communities own tree-planting drives should be encouraged and sustained. Religious and other community leaders should be urged to preach messages of tree-planting, as well as their duty to make demands on local and state government officials to provide seedlings of both economic and timber trees. Schools should be provided with seeds to encourage students and pupils to plant and nurture them until they mature
The relevant government agencies should evolve alternatives to communities felling trees for domestic fuel or sale as wood or charcoal. A cooperative effort with the Ministry of Education to demand inventive initiatives from polytechnics and departments of engineering should yield energy-saving cooking devices for households to use gas that is currently lost to flaring, and move away from wood. Nigerians do not want to come back another twelve years later to be invited by the Ministry of Environment to witness yet another 'novel' launch of a tree-planting ritual. When trees are planted, government officials, in collaboration with local communities, should do simple but vital things like protecting the young plants from many hazards, like herbivores.