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Saving our land from degradation

Nigeria’s total land mass of of 923,768 square kilometers (356,376 square miles) is facing severe threat as 924,000 square metres is lost to degradation daily while the population keeps growing very fast, according to Minister of Environment Suleiman Zarma. He spoke while on a recent familiarisation tour of the National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW). He said there is urgent need to recover and conserve the country’s land.

Desertification is one of the major environmental challenges in Nigeria. It is threatening the livelihoods of millions of people in the far northern states. Land degradation changes the character of our land for the worse. It is either natural or human induced but in both cases it negatively affects the land and its ability to support whole ecosystems. The damage, whether temporary or permanent, lowers the land’s productive capacity through soil degradation, adverse impacts on water resources, deforestation, and lowering the productive capacity of range lands.

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The phenomenon of land degradation in Nigeria is caused by many factors, which include deforestation, overgrazing, bush burning, excavation, mining and construction activities, land pollution, poor land management and neglect as well as poverty. Land degradation is among the worst environmental problems facing many people worldwide.  This is so because when land is degraded, people, plants and animals suffer.  The main effects of land degradation in Nigeria also includes soil erosion, desertification, low agricultural production, loss of arable land, poor land quality, reduced income and increased poverty.

Human induced land degradation is nonetheless preventable. This could be through soil conservation, afforestation, land management practices e.g. reclamation, clearing of pollutants, grazing control, discouraging bush burning and environmental education.

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The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative, which the Environment Minister visited recently, is one of the major efforts launched by government to try to save our land from desertification, in particular. It was launched in 2005 by the Obasanjo administration as a strong political response to serious challenges posed by desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, climate change and drought.

Towards this, a National Agency for the Great Green Wall NAGGW was established by an Act in 2015 with a mandate to implement the GGW programme. Challenges facing the programme include vandalization of boreholes and other investments in some areas, insurgency in some states, difficulty in accessing land in some states and low level of environmental awareness. Also, a Strategic Action Plan has been developed to serve as the programme implementation framework.

Within the framework of the GGW Programme, it has been envisaged that about 22,500sqkm of degraded land in the dry region of the country will be rehabilitated for agricultural production and the livelihoods of over 25 million people will be improved by the year 2030. However, the key to the future of African dry lands is the need for a bold initiative that could bring back to the continent food and water security, create jobs and new economic opportunities, help in fighting climate change and allow people not only to survive but thrive.

Policies to ensure the sustainable development of the dry lands, combat rural poverty and create hope for the affected people must be encouraged. For example, there should be increased reliance on alternative fuel. Forestry departments in federal, state and local levels should be upgraded, and tree planting should be encouraged especially among youths who should not only plant but nurture for proper sustenance.

Land is fundamental to human existence because all our needs including food, clothing, and shelter are based on land, which is the basic resource for agriculture, raw materials, shelter and basic infrastructure. It is a scarce resource whose management must be appropriate and productivity guaranteed in order to ensure its preservation for future generations. It is a matter of absolute importance therefore, to take care of land and prevent its degradation. While the figure of degraded land daily that the Minister quoted could be exaggerated, we must nevertheless rise to the occasion and protect all our land from degradation.

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