Nigerian farmers and desertification

Photo credit: Come to Nigeria

Sokoto State, located in the north-west of Nigeria

Desertification: Water scarcity hits Sokoto farmers

Written by Terkula Igidi


Desertification is a growing menace in most states of the north, which lie south of the Sahara desert, considered as the hottest and longest desert in the world. Desertification is ocassioned by land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities.

Desertification in Sokoto:
Desertification in Sokoto:

It has been estimated that one-third of the earth’s land areas and as many as 850 million of the world’s poorest people are potentially at risk. It is a global phenomenon, affecting both developed and developing nations. About 350 million hectares of land is affected by desertification world wide.

Experts have said the main causes of desertification arepoor land management and environmental pressure. Dry land soils, because of their inherently low fertility, are particularly susceptible to erosion, especially when the  vegetation covering them has been removed or degraded.

Farmland in Sokoto :
Farmland in Sokoto :

Nigeria is said to be currently losing about 350,000 square metres of its land mass to the enchroaching Sahara desert, which is advancing southwardly at an estimated rate of 0.6 kilometres a year. With increased population and livestock pressure on lands, desertification tends to be accelerating. In some areas, Pastoralists moving to less arid areas disrupt the local ecosystem and increase the rate of erosion of the land. Incidentally, pastoralists try to get away from the desert, but with their land use practices, obliviously set off another process of desertification in their new communities. They would move on soon after, taking with them their land use practices and leaving a trail of desert behind, and the chain goes on.

Environmentalists believe trees have stabilizing effect on the environment, stressing that when upland watersheds are left bare, heavy rains wash the soil with any crop planted on it into the valleys below. In the dry areas, trees are said to provide fertility to the soil and protect it from water and wind erosions.  With wood a main source of fuel in rural areas, when the populace exhausts the supply of firewood, the use of crop residues then comes handy. These residues, scientists say are relevant in  protecting the soil because they reduce water runoff thereby encouraging percolation. Where the water runs off quickly, soil erosion is accelerated and water levels drop underground causing wells to dry.

Arikwings in Sokoto :
Arikwings in Sokoto :

Desertification and land degradation have been identified as the major causes of poverty, hunger, social ills, and loss of bio-diversity as well as natural resources in the affected regions in Nigeria. And as recent reports on poverty in Nigeria have shown that there is more poverty in the North, desert encroachment may just be one of the causes.

Desertification also leads to conflicts amongst communities competing for farmlands. These conflicts can sometimes lead to clashes and eventual loss of lives and properties. The problem also leads to migration from the rural areas to the urban centres.

Read the full article: Sunday Trust

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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