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Combating desertification in Nigeria: Lessons from Ankara

Promoting good land stewardship for the benefits of present and future generations has continued to attract global attention as the World Day to Combat Desertification held on June 17.

Desertification and land degradation are said to be serious challenges that can lead to hunger and poverty

This year’s global observance, which marked the 25th anniversary celebrations of the adoption of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), was held in Ankara, Turkey, with the theme “Let’s Grow the Future Together.”

The international community had in Paris on June 17, 1994, adopted the Convention out of concern that desertification and drought are problems of global dimension affecting all regions.

Some 196 countries and the European Union are parties to the Convention, out of which 169 are affected by desertification, land degradation or drought.

Setting the tone for the World Day to Combat Desertification, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called for urgent action to protect and restore the world’s degrading land in a bid to reduce forced migration, improve food security and address the global climate change emergency.

In his message to the event, the UN scribe noted that the world was losing 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil and dry land to degradation, pointing out that this had reduced national domestic product in developing countries by up to eight per cent annually.

Also speaking during the event, Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of UNCCD, said that land degradation and competition over access to land and water had triggered more bloody conflicts across the world.

“More lives have been claimed in conflicts over access to land and water than Boko Haram.

“Every day, you have more conflicts between people that are competing for access to land and water.

“The root cause of the competition is access to natural resources,” the UN official said on the side-lines of 2019 World Day jointly hosted by the Government of Turkey and UNCCD, with thousands of global stakeholders including ministers from 10 countries in attendance.

He said that land restoration could not be left in the hands of governments alone and called for a review of the land tenure system in order to mobilise private business investment into the programme.

“This means there should be some concession for the business sector to participate in land restoration.

“It means that if a business restores a land, it gets concession on the land for 50 years or more, so that the land remains restored rather than leave it barren.

“Otherwise, why would I invest in land restoration if I had no right on that land and if the land continues to belong to someone else,” said the UNCCD boss.

According to him, restoring land will also reduce risks of irregular and forced migration because restoring land will reduce forced migration and keep people on the ground to generate their own incomes and live their own lives.

“Land restoration is about security, reducing clashes between farmers and herdsmen over access to land and water,” he said.

According to him, one out of every four hectares of productive land has become unusable, while three out of every four hectares have been altered completely from their natural state.

Indeed, the international community in 2015 agreed to achieve a balance in the rate at which land is degraded and restored by taking concrete actions to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation

This is generally referred to as achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and mitigating the effects of drought.

Instructively, Nigeria and 121 other countries in the last four years have committed to taking voluntary and measurable actions to arrest land degradation by 2030.

At present, only 10 per cent of Nigeria’s 923,786 square kilometre land area have forest cover as the country hopes to increase this to 20 per cent by 2030 in line with its national LDN target.

Nigeria’s LDN national target is to reduce land degradation by 20 per cent by 2030 in degraded hotspots of the country, according to reports obtained from the Drought and Desertification Department of Federal Ministry of Environment.

Interestingly, Nigeria is also a key participant in the Great Green Wall for Sahara and Sahel region, an Africa-led initiative against desertification launched in 2007 by the African Union to restore the continent’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives.

Once completed, the 8,000-kilometre-long wall and natural wonder of the world, stretching across the entire width of over 20 countries in the continent, will be the largest living structure on the planet.

Over $8 billion have been mobilised and pledged in its support by African countries and international partners under the leadership of the African Union Commission and Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall.

The ambition of the initiative is to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, sequester 250 million tons of carbon and create 10 million green jobs by 2030.

It is heartening that Nigeria has restored about five million hectares of degraded land, coming behind Ethiopia which restored 15 million hectares and improved land tenure security in affected areas.

Pima Hoffman of African Climate Reporters, an NGO, however, called on the African Union (AU) to declare a state of emergency on forestry to halt continuing desertification among the 55-member states.

“Millions of animals were forced to migrate while some have gone extinct due to continuous hunting activities, bush burning, wood cutters, timber commercial sellers.

“Such irrational human activities need to stop if we wish to survive in this planet because without forestry, no one will live in this earth.

“Many African forests today face serious extinction problems; this has brought about reduction of visiting tourists and archaeologists and other forestry experts to the region,’’ he said.

Hoffman said that the AU needed to authorise all member states to be more committed to tree planting to combat increasing desertification turning African forest to Sahara Desert and exposing natural vegetation to soil surface.

He also urged the AU to be more committed in supporting the Great Green World Project (GGWP) to halt the speed of Sahara Desert encroaching the forestry.

Also, Nasiru Idris, Professor of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria, says desertification and drought remain the most pressing environmental problems facing Nigeria.

“Indeed, Nigeria loses over 350,000 hectares annually to advancing desert, the dunes are threatening life-supporting oasis, burying water points, and in some cases engulfing major roads in the affected areas,’’ Idris said.

He said that trees planted by government as shelter belts to check the advancing dunes and erosion were withering due to lack of attention.

“Increasing agricultural intensity and livestock over-grazing, combined with increasing demands for fuel wood have led to a rate of deforestation estimated to be 3.5 per cent, one of the highest in the world,” he said.

But Turkey at the Ankara forum had an interesting story to tell on its exploits in land stewardship.

Speaking during the World Day in Ankara, Turkey’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Bekir Pakdimilri, says his country has planted 4.5 billion tree seedlings in the past 16 years as part of its afforestation and erosion control activities.

He said that Turkey had used afforestation, irrigation, modern grassing and erosion control studies to reduce soil swept away by floods to 154 million tons annually from about 500 million tons per year back in the 1970s.

About 50 per cent of Turkey’s total land area of 80 million hectares is degraded.

According to the minister, Turkey is not only focusing on afforestation and erosion control activities, but also putting in efforts to protect its forests against fires, pests and diseases, as part of combating the global climate change emergency.

He said that the country had also prepared a “National Desertification Model’’ and “National Desertification Risk Map” in order to identify desertification-sensitive areas and execute projects in priority areas.

Analysts express the hope that desertification will continue to receive more serious and proactive attention by Nigeria ahead of UNCCD 14th Conference of the Parties (COP) in New Delhi, India in September where the world will review the progress made to control and reverse further loss of productive land from desertification, land degradation and drought.

This is because Nigeria is among countries mostly affected by this menace more than all the European Union parties to the Convention combined.

More than 5,000 representatives from over 196 countries will address these issues during the two-week event in India.

By Wale Ojetimi, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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