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How not to fight desertification
By Ambrose Inusa Sule, mnes
In 2010, the Federal Ministry of Environment placed advertisement in several national newspapers for qualified contractors to apply and bid for the establishment of cactus plantations to fight erosion, drought and desertification; and to mitigate long term degradation of ecologically fragile areas across the country.
At the end of the day, powerful politicians in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), qualified or not were the beneficiaries.
The contracts running to billions of Naira were to be completed within six months. Three years on, most of the contracts have either been abandoned or haphazardly done.
The most intriguing is the contract awarded to a company, owned by a Senator who’s a prominent member of BoT of the PDP. The contract amounted to N588m for the Establishment of Cactus Plantations in six Northern states Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto and Borno.
Most environmentalists and stakeholders alike are worried due to the refusal of the contractor to carry out its own side of the bargain after collecting over N300m.
From all available information, the only notable work done by the company is the importation of miserable and implantable cactus plants dumped and rotting away at different locations, while the federal ministry of environment looks the other way.
It suffices to say that the ecologically increased importance of cacti, such as Opuntia species, in arid zones is because of their ability to grow in deserts and their drought tolerance; produce forage, fruit, and other useful products; and mitigate long-term degradation of ecologically fragile environments. According to experts, the cactus fruits are relished by many arid-land animals, chiefly birds, which thus help distribute the seeds. These plants also allow the assimilation of carbon dioxide during long periods of drought. In this way, acceptable productivity levels are attained even in years of severe drought.