Desertification is fast stealing and threatening many a livelihood in the affected areas. In some communities, it is so serious that there is poor agricultural yield, wells and other water sources are drying up and people are beginning to leave for fear of being swallowed by sand dunes.
Date palms is an important food crop and establishing its plantations in these areas will not only fight the environmental problem of desertification but will also improve agricultural and economic activities thereby improving the life of the people.
According Audu, E.B in his piece “Fuel wood consumption and desertification in Nigeria” in the International Journal of Science and Technology” published in January this year, it is estimated that more than 30 million people in Nigeria live under the hardship of desertification. “There are 19 states in Northern Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Of this number, 10 states are already affected by desertification. The affected states include Bauchi, Gombe, Borno, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi . Although, the magnitude of this environmental hazard is not equal, as one moves further north, it becomes more severe.
“Therefore, the extreme or boundary states of northern Nigeria which are Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Jigawa, Borno, Katsina and Kebbi experience severe desertification, while Bauchi, Gombe and Kano experience moderate desertification. Meanwhile, Adamawa, Taraba, Kaduna and Niger states are already witnessing the signs of desertification, while the ecological density of the guinea savanna in general is on the decline.”
He said over the years, Government at federal, regional and local levels have been discouraging indiscriminate cutting of trees, but this has not yielded the desired result thereby causing desertification in the northern states and deforestation in the southern states ,partly due to fuel wood consumption which is not only going on unabated but also increasing at alarming rate.
A researcher with the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Dr Chukwuemeka Eke in an interview with this reporter has said cultivating date palms using irrigation method as is being done in the United Arab Emirates (UAC) will help in addressing desertification in the Northern part of the country, adding that if government can employ the same method in the affected states, there will be tremendous changes there.
He said: “In the United Arab Emirates (UAC) what they have done is to transform their deserts by planting date palms, and then irrigating them through the construction of irrigation channels within the desert. Before you know it, the whole place is transformed. So you have the date palms growing there with water. Once they are planted and the irrigation procedures are adopted they can curb desertification.”
In the UAE, modern irrigation techniques like bubblers, drip and sprinklers are adapted irrigation methods.
Speaking on how biotechnology can improve date palm and oil palm production in the country, he said, “In the area of tissue culture, we are already addressing it by looking at those very high yielding palms whether the oil palm or date palm and then multiplying them. When we do that, we have yield gains, like the date palm we have those ones that yield from 50 and above kg per hectare per year and then we multiply them, all that we have in the farm will be now will be yielding as much. With such a system we will really be able to maximize what we will get in the date palm or oil palm production, that is what we are actually doing now,” he said.
He said in Jigawa State, NIFOR has a substation , has a lot of date palms and they are working to improve the date palm at least genetically , adding “the next thing we want to do is to sensitize state governments so that they can help the population for instance gathering about a hundred families and assisting them to plant one hectare every year to enable each family to come out of poverty.”
The United Arab Emirates University plant tissue culture laboratory , date palm research and development programme, also says the date palm provides protection to under-crops from the harshness of the climate like heat, wind and even cold weather, and it allows the cultivation of some fruit trees and annual crops.
Corroborating this, Loutfy I. El-Juhany in his piece “Degradation of date palm trees and date production in Arab countries: Causes and potential rehabilitation” in the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences said, “The date palm is considered a symbol of life in the desert, because it tolerates high temperatures, drought and salinity more than many other fruit crop plant species. It is one of the oldest trees from which man has derived benefit, and it has been cultivated since ancient times. The only indigenous wild desert plant definitely domesticated in its native harsh environments appears to be the date palm.
“The date palm is a crop capable of establishing a sustainable system in subsistence agricultural areas and thus plays an important social role in reinforcing the subsistence base of a large population group by helping them to settle in rural areas versus migration to urban centers.
“The tree is a spectacular palm for landscaping large areas. It provides shade and protection from wind. It also prevents soil degradation and desertification, thus protecting the environment.”