Over the years, desertification and drought are two related disasters largely contributing to the occurrence of famine, especially in the Northern part of Nigeria.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) describes desertification as a process involving land degradation in a dry land 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.
Desertification and drought have continued 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, in Gwagwalada Area Council 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 overcrowded settlements could further intensify conflicts between herdsmen and farmers in the affected areas.
In its surveillance, YADI revealed that communal clashes have 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) 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 rainfall, harsh climate condition, over-cultivation which exhausts soil, overgrazing involving removal of vegetation and poorly drained irrigation.
In a bid to minimise the impact of this hazard on households in the vulnerable areas, Director General of NEMA Alhaji Sani Sidi in 2010 went 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, visualise the potential risk points of interest, highlight the possible safe areas for 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 has recommended that governments at all levels 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. It also urged 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.
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 include vegetable gardens, literacy and financial education, training in soap making and in making energy-efficient stoves for rural women.
Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster (YADI), and lives in Abuja.